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Transition team putting an imprint on a Clark government

British Columbia premier-designate Christy Clark laughs as she watches her nine-year-old son's hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday February 27, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Christy Clark launched her "countdown to change" well before she won the B.C. Liberal leadership. Now the premier-designate has some tremendous hurdles to clear before she can demonstrate change to the public.

She won't move into the premier's office for two weeks, when she is sworn in. Right now, her base camp is a downtown hotel room, where she's meeting with her caucus members and taking delivery of transition binders of every kind - from the premier's office, the civil service and each ministry - charting priorities and challenges across government.

Her transition team has already, subtly, put a stamp on the direction of her government. There is Gwyn Morgan, a former oil-patch CEO who has been a major fundraiser for the former federal Reform party and the federal Conservatives. Sharon White is another prominent Tory organizer and a former Social Credit candidate. Mike McDonald has deep roots in the B.C. Liberal Party, long before Gordon Campbell joined. And Roger Harris, a former B.C. Liberal MLA, is working for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines.

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It's a team crafted to send the right signals to the party brokers who feared Ms. Clark would hew too far to the federal Liberal wing of the B.C. Liberal coalition.

But for the public eye, the main changes will come when Ms. Clark unveils her new cabinet, likely on March 14. Although she campaigned as an outsider, Ms. Clark will be choosing from the existing set of 47 Liberal MLAs - only one of whom endorsed her for the job. The trick is to shuffle the lineup to represent change, without losing the already tenuous support of the most powerful party insiders. Her first caucus meeting is Wednesday, in Vancouver.

The legislature will have to be recalled almost immediately once the cabinet is in place, because Ms. Clark promised to fast-track the referendum on the harmonized sales tax. To hold the vote on her date of June 24 requires 90 days of official notice, so the legislature must approve the new plan no later than March 25.

Ms. Clark meanwhile must decide where she wants to seek a seat in the legislature, and she'll need to persuade one of her caucus members to resign in order to allow for a by-election.

Since winning the Liberal leadership on Saturday, Ms. Clark has met with outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell.

Mr. Campbell said on Monday he would be happy to give up his riding for Ms. Clark, but he indicated she has not yet made up her mind.

"I will talk with Christy about what she thinks is best for the party, and I'll follow through on what her recommendations are. … If she wants to run in Vancouver Point-Grey, I'd be glad to step aside," said Mr. Campbell.

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The departing Premier met the media as a location for a provincial autism centre was made official in an East Vancouver ceremony - his last official announcement, ending his 10 years in the post.

Mr. Campbell recruited Ms. Clark into elected provincial politics. He did not endorse any of the candidates. Ms. Clark was not the choice of the party establishment. Mr. Campbell cautiously acknowledged her as "the choice the party felt was the best to lead them forward."

But he added: "She's someone who is passionate about the things she believes in. She's got an agenda that she wants to pursue with the caucus. … She understands completely it's the whole team that moves her forward."

Mr. Campbell was asked what advice he would offer Ms. Clark in maintaining the B.C. Liberal coalition, which spans the centre right and includes federal Liberals and Conservatives.

"I think there's about 162 different secrets. I think you have to treat everybody with respect. I think you have to recognize there can be differences of opinion within a large group, and you embrace those."

He rejected the suggestion that as a female premier Ms. Clark would have wider appeal to voters who have been occasionally uneasy about the Liberals.

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"Whether you're a woman or man, you want people to recognize the importance of the family today, and the challenges they face and how can government help with that."

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