By Dave Brindle
As one crusty but well-connected B.C. political observer DM’d me the other day, Christy Clark is not a deep thinker.
Her chief rival to become leader of the B.C. Liberals and Premier, Kevin Falcon, may have had it right when he shot back at Ms. Clark’s recent criticism of his business backers as “insiders.”
“Glib, off-the-cuff comments might make for good ratings on a talk show,” Falcon responded, “but if you want to be leader of our party and Premier of our province you have to know that your words have power. So, pick them carefully.”
I had a talk show once on which I made a lot of glib, off-the-cuff comments. They didn’t help my ratings, but content did. In fact, a successful political campaign and a top-notch talk show share the same simple formula: a star host, which Ms. Clark is, and a high, clear concept, which her campaign has not.
Ms. Clark has not been careful or thoughtful, and is fast becoming, in my opinion, the Sarah Palin of the BC Liberal leadership campaign. Witness her latest back-pedaling on her very first big idea when she entered the race: a free vote in the legislature on the HST. That’s now out.
For god’s sake, don’t ask her what newspapers she reads.
Writes Gary Mason in The Globe: “[Clark’s] lack of depth on policy matters has been exposed during the candidate debates. Her flip-flop on the HST represented the first major gaffe of any of the candidates. Her plan to fund the ‘No’ forces in the lead-up to the HST referendum has also angered many. And now the cat.”
“Lack of depth.” “Flip-flop.” Both should be an albatross around the neck of the Clark campaign (and now the cat). Surely, she’s finished. But not so. Clark continues to lead the polls as the choice of party members and British Columbians alike. Nine lives? No need for superstition. Voters have based their decision on name recognition and her likability. And now they’ve tuned out, like a feline bored with a toy mouse.
Ah yes, the cat. Olympia, owned by a volunteer member of the Clark organization, inexplicably wound up as a registered voter for the Liberals’ February 26th election. The puns have come fast and furious since: “The cat is out of the bag”; “Fur flies over alleged fraud”; “Scratch” the cat from the membership list.
It’s been a giggle, but that’s about all Clark’s campaign has offered. She’s paraded a few pretty presents before us, but a closer look shows she’s re-gifting. The shiny bauble of a “family holiday” in February is a benefit Albertans have been enjoying since Don Getty’s son was busted on a cocaine charge back in whenever. That’s part of her “families first” policy — which sounds a lot like the one Michael Ignatieff pitched during his federal Liberal road-show last summer. And given a chance to really advocate for families, by outlining a strategy for reducing child poverty in BC, following a disturbing report from the province’s children’s watchdog, Clark’s campaign went silent.
To be fair, none of the six would-be Liberal leaders and Premiers have displayed, in their platforms and their gentle sparring, an embrace of big ideas. When they do approach one, it’s usually with the caveat: after public consultation. Can this be attributed to the post-HST fallout from their accumulated governing tactics; the renunciaton and resignation of quick-draw Gordon Campbell; a dearth of imagination; a collective defensive political strategy to wait for the other guy to go for the holster first? As The Globe‘s Rod Mickleburgh tweeted me, nobody has any ideas until after they’re Premier.
Sent questions about education by The Vancouver Sun‘s Janet Steffenhaggen on Jan. 25th, the best that the Clark, Falcon, and Mike de Jong campaigns had come up with a week later was an “acknowledgement.” Not a word from George Abbott or Ed Mayne. Only Moira Stillwell subsequently called for “beefed up” discussion on the subject, with a release stating “it’s time to stop fighting about education in British Columbia and to start fighting for it.”
According to Gary Mason, tweeting from last week’s Kamloop’s leadership forum, Clark’s answer to the education question was: “… ed system needs to include more people than just BCTF. System is supposed to serve students and families not union leaders.” But on the whole, the policy pickings were slim. “Kamloops Lib forum gives the word ‘debate’ a bad name,” another Mason tweet reported. “No debate, no new ideas, impossible to say how the candidates differed.”
It’s something of a surprise that Ms. Clark continues to be a fervent opponent of the BC Federation of Teachers. That was her brand back when she held the education portfolio in Campbell’s first term, and she did manage to orchestrate more inclusiveness for parents in education, but here was a missed opportunity to reach out to the province’s teachers, who are every bit as vital to education as parents (or even more so). She might, like Palin, and as one political scientist has suggested, be trying to hold a “populist hand” in what will, ultimately, amount to a Liberal backroom poker game. But she’s bluffing. She doesn’t have the cards. In fact, the deck is stacked against her.
Endorsements are the face cards in this game, and Kevin Falcon holds the winning hand. The Liberals will choose the party’s leader and BC’s Premier through a system called preferential voting. Thus, while voters may continue to prefer Ms. Clark, the math doesn’t. You know, math? A subject taught by teachers? Christy Clark is about to learn a harsh lesson, now that the Liberal party membership drive is over and the leadership campaign has become all about acing the final exam.