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The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark backs off early B.C. vote

With her government still reeling from the public's decision to kill the HST, Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday she is backing down from her goal to have an earlier-than-scheduled provincial election this fall.

Instead, the B.C. Liberal Premier says she will stick to a legislated fixed election date – meaning British Columbians will not go to the polls until May, 2013, and Ms. Clark will govern more than two years without a direct mandate of her own.

"I've listened to a lot of people on this subject and what has changed in particular over the last while is the international financial situation and the instability we have seen flow from that," Ms. Clark said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "And the people I've talked to have told me that they don't want the instability that would come from an election."

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The Premier has notified Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point that she would like to bring politicians back to Victoria on Oct. 3 to open a new session of the legislature.

As recently as last Friday, Ms. Clark had refused to rule out an election this fall. But in the interview Wednesday she said the increasing instability of the global economy began to change her thinking.

The move comes just five days after the defeat of the unpopular HST, which saw voters in more than half of provincial ridings held by Liberal MLAs vote against the tax in a referendum.

Putting off an election allows Ms. Clark to avoid a confrontation with an increasingly grumpy electorate that has recently turned on established parties. The last federal election saw both the Bloc Quebecois and Liberal Party annihilated. The same voter frustration with traditional political institutions was at the root of Rob Ford's triumphant run for mayor in Toronto last year.

Dalton McGuinty's Liberals face an uphill battle getting re-elected in the upcoming Ontario election – one of six provincial and territorial elections slated for this fall.

When she was elected Liberal Leader in February, Ms. Clark said she only had a mandate to govern from party members and not the public at large. Back then, she was flying high in the polls, and seeking a fresh mandate ahead of the fixed election date in 2013 seemed like a good idea.

But the first six months of Ms. Clark's time in office have not been the smoothest of rides, and some of the glow from her victory has definitely begun to dim. The Liberals – a coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives – have seen polling which shows that the race between them and the NDP now is a statistical dead-heat at best.

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In fact, a new poll by Canadian Press Harris-Decima out Wednesday indicates that Jack Layton's death has triggered a wave of NDP support across the country. In B.C., the poll shows federal New Democrats with 40 per cent, compared to 34 per cent for the Conservatives.

It's difficult to imagine this phenomenon not having a spillover effect on the provincial scene.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said Wednesday Ms. Clark's decision has nothing to do with her listening to the public and everything to do with seeing a looming loss. "She was going to call an election and the only thing that was going to stop her from doing so was her polling results," he said, adding that the move "shows a government that is out of ideas and out of gas."

Ms. Clark said she is adhering to the wishes of the public. "Look," she said, "I did say I wanted to seek an earlier mandate. But I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with a politician listening to people and taking their advice. And that's what I'm doing here.

"I think there are merits on both sides of this question – going early or waiting. But what I've heard from certainly thousands of people, and the feeling is pretty universal, they don't want an early election. So there isn't going to be."

But the delay in an election is not without risks. It will give Mr. Dix, who has been opposition leader for just over four months, more time to introduce himself to British Columbians. And putting off the vote will give the B.C. Conservative Party – not a branch of the federal Tories, although their supporters overlap – the chance to further grow in strength under the direction of John Cummins. The long-time Tory MP is the most high-profile and effective leader the moribund party has had in years and now poses a legitimate threat to the Liberals' right flank.

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If Ms. Clark does indeed govern until the spring of 2013, it means she will have served just over 26 months without a mandate from the population at large. That is not a record. Harry Strom served as the premier of Alberta for 33 months without winning a general election.

Ms. Clark conceded that among those who did not want an early election were members of her own caucus. "But there were some who did, so I'd say the opinion from caucus was mixed."

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