Is Premier Christy Clark going to be like Ralph Klein or Kim Campbell?
Sometimes when political parties are discredited after many years in power, they throw the leadership baton to a woman, who gets thumped in the subsequent election.
We saw that back in 1991 when the hopelessly divided B.C. Social Credit Party selected Rita Johnston as premier. She lasted seven months in office before her party was annihilated, winning only seven seats in the election.
A third party emerged in that campaign, the B.C. Liberals, which siphoned off many votes from traditional Socred supporters. The B.C. Liberals captured 17 seats and formed the Official Opposition.
Then-premier Johnston lost her seat to future NDP cabinet minister Penny Priddy.
Two years later, it was Kim Campbell's turn. She took over from two-term prime minister Brian Mulroney.
The party was divided, with many Tories feeling that Jean Charest should have won the leadership race. Campbell went into the 1993 election riding high in the polls, but her party was nearly obliterated on election day.
The Progressive Conservatives won just two seats, and the leader lost Vancouver Centre to Liberal Hedy Fry.
Compounding the problem for Campbell was the rise of two new parties: the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the Reform Party of Canada in the western provinces. The Bloc, led by the charismatic Lucien Bouchard, won 54 seats. Preston Manning's Reformers took 52 seats.
The female-leader jinx happened again in 2002 when the Vancouver NPA nominated Jennifer Clarke as its mayoral candidate. This was after the party had controlled city hall for 16 years, and was seen as tired and out of touch.
Clarke and her party were wiped out in the municipal election, thanks in part to a third party created by former NPA politicians Art Cowie, Nancy Chiavario, and Alan Herbert.
Clark also faces nascent right-wing rivals
In B.C., Clark may face the prospect of one or two rising right-wing parties siphoning off votes from the B.C. Liberals.
The Conservative Party—supported by former premier Johnston as well as Conservative MP John Cummins and long-time Reform and Canadian Alliance MP Randy White—is positioned to attract votes from those who think Clark is a left-wing Trojan horse (which is also exactly how they viewed Kim Campbell).
Compounding Clark's problem is the pesky B.C. First, another right-wing party run by some of Bill Vander Zalm's friends, who participated in the fight against the B.C. Liberals' harmonized sales tax.
If some right-wing businesspeople decide to cough up some money to give either B.C. First or the B.C. Conservatives a chance to compete in a few constituencies, it could spell the end of Clark's premiership. The anti-NDP vote will be split among different parties, just like in 1991.
It's worth noting that many of the province's most politically engaged business people were backing Clark's rival, Kevin Falcon, in the B.C. Liberal leadership race. They've already demonstrated that they're not big fans of Clark.
Is Clark another Ralph Klein?
However, Clark could survive if she continues emulating Ralph Klein, who won the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in 1992 and remained premier until 2006.
Like Clark, Klein ran as the candidate of change and had virtually no caucus support. Also like Clark, Klein had maintained ties in the past to the federal Liberals. In another eerie coincidence, Klein, like Clark, had vast experience in broadcasting, working as a television reporter before entering politics.
Both Clark and Klein are renowned for their senses of humour. And as politicians, Clark and Klein played up their populist images, conveying the impression that they're ordinary folks, unlike most other elected officials.
They also both made a big production out of wanting to hear from the people, even though Clark, as education minister, refused to meet with a group of parents and educators concerned about funding cuts. Klein came to be known as "King Ralph" because he was such an autocrat.
In the end, Klein turned out to be one of Canada's most right-wing premiers, notwithstanding his former ties to the federal Grits and his man-of-the-people persona. He's now a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, a right-wing, Vancouver-based think tank.
Clark will probably also try to cater to her party's right wing to stave off defections to either the B.C. Conservatives or B.C. First.
Given the rising strength of the far-right parties and the tired state of the B.C. Liberals after so many years in office, it's easy to see how Clark probably won't last too long as premier.
Maybe we should start getting used to hearing the name Premier Dix. Or Premier Farnworth. Or maybe even Premier Horgan or Premier Cummins.
Unless, of course, Clark's impersonation of Klein catches on with the electorate. That's the wild card, and something her opponents will have to prepare for.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.