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b.c. dispatch

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark delivers coffee to Port Moody-Coquitlam Liberal byelection candidate Dennis Marsden's campaign office in Port Moody, B.C., on Thursday April 19, 2012.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has a year to figure out a strategy to win the next provincial election. The omens are not good.

Polls show her B.C. Liberal Party scraping along with the upstart B.C. Conservative Party far behind the NDP in public opinion, Ms. Clark's approval ratings seem to fall with every photo op, and the New Democrats recently claimed thumping by-election victories in two ridings they had never come close to winning before.

But for the first time in a while, Ms. Clark can rise in the morning, get her son Hamish off to school, and reflect: Things could be worse.

Last week's stunning re-election of the Progressive Conservative Party in Alberta, against all predictions, was good news for the B.C. Premier.

Not only did the result defy pollster predictions with a last-minute surge towards the PCs, it was a triumph that continued a remarkable tradition across the country.

Canadians are not voting for change. They are sticking with the devil they know, returning the incumbent government in each of the last six provincial elections.

As well, Albertans did not swing right. That's of interest to Ms. Clark, who has been frantically tacking rightward, herself, to ward off the revitalized B.C. Conservative Party and lay claim to leadership of the province's so-called free enterprise forces.

Last month, Ms. Clark astonished many by travelling all the way to Ottawa to speak at Reform Party founder Preston Manning's annual conference under the banner "A Conservative family reunion." Mr. Manning appeared to lump the B.C. Premier in with "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, calling her Canada's "Iron Snowbird".

But Ms. Clark's new-found conservatism has been an awkward fit for the long-time federal Liberal supporter. Now, given the solid rejection of the right-wing Wildrose Party in Alberta, the Premier is already signalling she is ready to move back towards the centre, where she is much more comfortable.

Finally, the by-election results were not quite the disaster they might have been for the Liberals.

The party poured a surprising amount of resources – financial and volunteers – into a pair of contests they were not really expected to win.

Why? Not to win, but to make sure they finished second, ahead of the rising Conservatives. This they did. A third place finish in either riding might have finished off Ms. Clark as a credible leader.

But the Liberal machine scooped up every single vote it could muster, while the Conservatives, without money or organization, struggled.

There was also evidence of a late softening of Conservative support on voting day. It was not as dramatic a shift as in Alberta, but it must have been heartening to B.C.'s beleaguered Premier.

Stay tuned for Ms. Clark's new slogan: Nowhere to go but up.

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