Martyn Brown on Christy Clark

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maple leaf
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Martyn Brown on Christy Clark

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A Liberal view of Christy Clark

DID CHRISTY CLARK actually spoil her own ballot? Yes.

No, I’m not just talking about the one in which she happily wrote down two names, before the cameras.

I mean, she’s the author of her own widely expected defeat on Tuesday, and deservedly so.

Although, like so many mistakes Clark has made, her botched advance ballot was also a classic example of her putting politics ahead of the serious task at hand, while also demonstrating how not to vote.

She was so consumed with the photo op and with putting her own name first—sigh—that she almost forgot who she was really voting for.

In writing down Margaret MacDiarmid’s name as an afterthought, she may have cost her Health Minister a vote she can ill afford to lose in a swing riding that could come to down to a single vote.

Note to all voters: if you really want to help your chosen candidate, it’s best to ensure your vote is valid.

Not that the Premier was too worried about her blown ballot. The cameras were there and they loved her, as they have the entire campaign.

In a battle of images vying for all that camera love—pearly-white teeth, irresistible smiles, passion and emotion—Adrian Dix can’t compete with Clark.

Trouble is, that’s not leadership. It’s empty imagery that is about as important to governing as the bombast and tarradiddles that are “Christy’s” defining stock-in-trade.

Campaigns are curious adventures in voter manipulation. They tend to bury substance with style and to reward those who look the best in making their opponents look worse.

It’s funny to think that Dix should have lost some support for looking too serious, too cerebral, and too bookish for a job that demands those attributes. It’s not so funny that anyone would somehow misconstrue him as a “weak” leader, when his performance in contrast to Clark’s over the last two years has demonstrated anything but.

Dix has pursued a thoughtful, transparent, and laudable course that is still short on vision, but that is long on realism, moderation and conciliation. That should serve his government well in building new relationships that can begin to transcend the ideological divide that all parties have historically fostered for partisan advantage.

Meanwhile, Clark has gained a few points in recent opinion polls by simply being a better-animated version of her passionately partisan self. Like Seinfeld’s Bizarro World, through the magic of television, she has flipped her own image on its head.

The person whose weak leadership was only a few weeks ago her campaign’s Achilles’ heel has made her strength of leadership a vote-winning issue. Go figure. She is a born campaigner.

Be that as it may, through a series of successive mistakes made by her own hand, Premier Clark has also spoiled her party’s reelection chances.

Certainly, she was dealt a tough hand, saddled as she was with the HST, with a massive deficit, and with 12 years of B.C. Liberal baggage that she also largely helped author as Gordon Campbell’s deputy premier.

That alone, however, does not account for why Clark went from leading in the opinion polls in the wake of winning the Liberal leadership to so profoundly losing public trust and confidence.

Some 61 percent of all voters now disapprove of her performance.

Imagine if she had been true to herself and simply acted like the liberal she is, instead of trying to pretend that she is the “Iron Snowbird” of Canada, as Preston Manning put it.

The air of authenticity that was her strongest asset as a radio host might have rung true, instead of being rendered hollow. The conservatives who were alienated in any case might have left her fold, but she would not have lost the crucial center to the NDP and to the Green Party. That loss of support is the Liberals’ main undoing.

Imagine if she had led with real vision and honest conviction in advancing the “family’s first” agenda that she initially said was her driving purpose.

Or if she had sought a mandate from the people in 2011, instead of succumbing to her colleagues’ fears of facing the music.

She could have adopted a new style of politics that is less partisan, less polarizing, and aimed at bringing people together. Instead, she chose the opposite direction and made Dix that positive agent of change.

She could have simply acknowledged that the HST fiasco was an egregious mistake and acted to correct it. Even apologizing for that abuse of public trust that was unanimously supported by her caucus colleagues might have made a world of difference.

Instead, she defended it and wasted time and money fighting to keep it.

Even after last year’s two humiliating byelection losses, her government showed no sign that it had heard the voters’ message.

Instead, it defiantly claimed a “victory” in the comfort of a second place finish that managed to “beat” the B.C. Conservatives. Were it not for that party’s self-immolation, the B.C. Liberals would still be facing a wipeout scenario.

Clark could have championed parliamentary reforms and acted to change Victoria’s “sick culture.”

Instead, she thumbed her nose at the parliamentary calendar, she showed contempt for the legislature, and she sadly confirmed that when it came to changing a backwards institution, the lady wasn’t for turning.

Clark’s hiring decisions were often equally disastrous.

She appointed her lone caucus supporter, Harry Bloy, to cabinet and appointed him a second time, even after he failed in his first portfolio. With him came the Community Living B.C. disaster, the appointment of Brian Bonney, the Burnaby hospital fiasco, and the “quick wins” scandal.

Clark appointed the Harperites who hurt her office. One of them was her former chief of staff, who was forced to resign for inappropriate conduct. Her government’s paperless “review” of that incident added further insult to injury that diminished the Public Service Agency.

The Premier appointed her former deputy chief of staff, who was fired for coordinating the “quick wins” scheme. She must bear the ultimate responsibility for that scandal that so discredited her government and that so offended multicultural communities.

It was Clark’s choice to waste $16 million of taxpayers’ money for partisan political advertising, which mostly served to undermine her government’s claim to responsible fiscal management. Every penny of that was borrowed and added to the deficit.

Time and again, she overplayed her hand with ludicrous claims about eliminating the sales tax and a “debt-free B.C.”, all supposedly through the miracle of future LNG revenues, sometime after the 2017 election.

It was Clark who drove the Green Party to new heights, by turning her back on Campbell’s climate action plan.

Now her party is running full-page ads in Victoria to prop up the Green Party leader in the misguided hope of splitting the traditional NDP vote.

Clark spent a year passively supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline. When the politics got rough she turned on a dime and lashed out at Alberta with a new policy that suggests her government’s support for oil sands pipelines can be bought for the right price.

Now she hopes to win votes by attacking Dix for changing course and clearly stating his position that Vancouver should not become a major oil exporting port.

Is Clark a fan of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline? She won’t say.

She is, however, an avowed supporter of David Black’s imagined heavy oil refinery and oil sands pipeline project, even if it seems pie-in-the-sky.

It was Clark’s government that repeatedly missed its own deficit targets. And now she has the audacity to campaign on eliminating a debt that she proposes to increase by 50 percent by 2015, if all goes according to plan.

It was Clark who defied her own finance minister and Treasury Board by promising Prince George the “world’s tallest wood building”, which gave rise instead to yet another scandal.

It was her government that betrayed Telus on the BC Place naming rights controversy and cost B.C. taxpayers’ $40 million.

On and on it goes.

Those are just some of the problems over the last two years that have all landed straight on the Premier’s doorstep and that cast a pall on her leadership.

It is the collective weight of her government’s failure, on top of the HST fiasco and the voters’ fatigue after 12 long years of Liberal rule, that will likely sink the Clark government on Tuesday (May 14).

What will happen from here is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain.

Regardless of the size of the NDP’s majority, or the number of seats that the BC Liberals salvage, if Clark loses her seat, no amount of bravado will save her leadership. Her days as leader will be numbered.

Paradoxically, that might be the kindest blessing that the B.C. Liberals could hope for at this point, barring a miracle victory.

A drawn-out leadership battle that divides the newly humbled B.C. Liberal opposition against itself is not in anyone’s interests, tough as it will be to avoid that prospect under any circumstance.

If Clark wins her own seat, she will surely fight on in opposition, not only against the NDP, but also against those within her party and on her side of the legislature who will never abide by her leadership.

The voters in Vancouver-Point Grey may thus decide whether the B.C. Liberals will spend the next term embroiled in an internecine battle that further splits the liberal and conservative factions apart, or whether they will expedite change by voting for one of the alternatives.

Either way, change is coming to British Columbia, in large measure, because Christy Clark spoiled her chance to prove that she was better than Dix to lead B.C. forward.

She squandered her time and the privilege of power by embracing the politics of the past instead of leading with vision and conviction that reaches higher for British Columbia.

On Tuesday, it will be the people who will again hold the power in choosing a government.

If the polls are accurate, the self-described “comeback kid” is about to get a rude reminder that there is more than one way for voters to spoil her ballot.

They will do that decisively by carefully making a confident mark for positive change that will leave no doubt about their voting intent.

Martyn Brown is the author of the new e-book Towards a New Government in British Columbia, available on Amazon. He was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, a top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia.
“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
— Albert Einstein__________________________

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