Why B.C. Liberals are keeping Christy Clark under wraps to turn around a battered brand
The B.C. Liberals have a big problem.
A significant portion of the public perceives that Premier Christy Clark is a bit of a dolt.
A recent online Straight poll showed that about 90 percent don't feel sorry for her, even though several B.C. Liberal MLAs won't run again and she inherited a mess from her predecessor, Gordon Campbell.
After I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about Clark wearing spectacles, a poll asked readers if they question the motives when a politician suddenly starts wearing glasses in public. More than half said "yes", and another 21 percent responded with it depends on who the politician is.
Another online Straight poll asked if Clark's only caucus supporter in the B.C. Liberal leadership race, Harry Bloy, "was acting alone when he verbally mugged Adrian Dix". Four in five said no, indicating a deep level of mistrust for the Clark-led government.
The B.C. Liberals were clobbered in the Port Moody–Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope by-elections. And there has been a revolving door of spin doctors in the premier's office advising Clark on how to turn around the polls, which point to a large NDP majority in 2013.
The B.C. Liberals used to trot out Clark at every opportunity—even to watch her kid's hockey game with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The current strategy appears to be to keep Clark out of the spotlight and highlight some her more well-regarded lieutenants.
Earlier this week, Education Minister George Abbott was in Vancouver to announce agreements with the Vancouver board of education for a new International Village elementary school, plus the replacement of General Gordon elementary school in Kitsilano.
The other school will be built in the hotly contested constituency of Vancouver–False Creek, which is held by B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Mary McNeil.
At the risk of sounding cynical, perhaps the ruling party can pry a decent-sized political donation out of Hong Kong billionaire Lee Shau Kee's Henderson Development—owner of the sometimes troubled International Village mall—by naming the new school "International Village" and enhancing the brand of the neighbourhood.
Given its proximity to Chinatown, Milton Wong elementary would have been a more appropriate name, considering his contributions to the city, province, and nation.
Also this week, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mary Polak—and not Premier Clark—commented on behalf of the government when members of the Tla'amin First Nation voted in favour of a historic final agreement, clearing the way for ratification of new treaty.
That was followed up with a dozen grants worth more than a half-million dollars from B.C.'s First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund for Native bands across the province. Once again, Polak's name, and not Clark's, was attached to the news release.
That's three good-news announcements—new schools, a major breakthrough in aboriginal relations, and grants to First Nations—in which the spin doctors kept the premier away.
To cap off the week, the B.C. Liberals put another one of their more respected caucus members in the spotlight, Dr. Moira Stilwell, in announcing that she will be acclaimed to run in Vancouver-Langara.
This came after two veteran B.C. Liberal MLAs, Murray Coell and Dave Hayer, both publicly declared that they won't seek reelection.
The new strategy appears to be to keep Clark in a bubble and out of the news. What's next? A cabinet post for Ralph Sultan after the former Harvard economics prof toiled on the backbenches for 11 years? A promotion for Stilwell, who was kept out of cabinet after she criticized Clark during the leadership race?
In this crazy political environment, anything's possible if there's a whiff of a chance that it could boost the B.C. Liberals' fortunes.
I have a hunch that they have already privately conceded that they won't win the next election. The goal appears to retain as many seats as possible. The B.C. Liberals also must retain the confidence of the business community to keep the contributions flowing.
The last thing that Clark and her friends want to hear is any talk of them being slaughtered on the scale of what happened to the Social Credit in 1991, the federal Conservatives in 1993, and the B.C. NDP in 2001.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.