Christy Clark's leadership bid echoes Bill Vander Zalm's

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      Bill Vander Zalm is experiencing a blast from the past with Christy Clark’s bid for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party.

      “It’s an amazing replay!” the former premier exclaimed, drawing parallels between Clark’s campaign and his own rise to the helm of the then-ruling Social Credit party in 1986.

      However, Vander Zalm warned in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight that stories like these do not always have a happy ending.

      “She might do okay initially, but she’s going to be faced with dissension and such very shortly thereafter [if she wins the leadership],” he said.

      Like Clark, who has been out of the B.C. Liberal government since 2005, Vander Zalm was an “outsider” when he entered the contest to replace outgoing Socred leader Bill Bennett. This proved to be Vander Zalm’s undoing later as premier.

      “I had to accommodate all the people that ran against me or I against them that thought they could be much better than me,” he said. “I did accommodate them somehow, but life became very difficult after that because they’re always there; they’re not making things easier. They’re still hoping that somehow they can take over.”

      According to Vander Zalm, his own caucus undermined him through “information getting out incorrectly, by information getting out at the wrong times, by people speaking out against me”¦mostly subtly so”.

      Vander Zalm resigned as premier “after suffering from a number of internal political maneuverings”, according to a short biography on the website of Fight HST, a movement against the harmonized sales tax that he is currently leading. It was the uproar over the HST that brought down Premier Gordon Campbell and paved the way for the leadership race Clark is involved in.

      Vander Zalm laughed heartily when he noted that, like Clark, he was also a former education minister. He neglected to mention that the two of them also tried but failed to become the mayor of Vancouver.

      Like Clark, he didn’t have many endorsers among elected MLAs. He had three, while Clark had only one as of December 28.

      “So it’s a replay,” Vander Zalm said. “And if Christy Clark gets the nod, she may suffer the same replay throughout her time remaining as premier.”

      Former education minister George Abbott leads B.C. Liberal leadership hopefuls in terms of caucus support. The Shuswap representative has the backing of 14 MLAs, followed closely by Kevin Falcon with 13, while Mike de Jong and Moira Stilwell have none.

      In a phone interview, Abbott indicated that he’s pleased with the support he’s garnered. “They don’t guarantee anything, but they’re important,” Abbott told the Straight of the endorsements. “They’re a good indicator of how colleagues feel about working with you.”

      Abbott said he expects more MLAs to come forward to back his nomination.

      Clark’s camp didn’t respond to a request for an interview. A poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion on December 20 and 21 showed that 66 percent of B.C. Liberal voters consider Clark a good choice to replace Campbell.

      According to political commentator Norman Ruff, both Vander Zalm and Clark are popular figures who can appeal to the grassroots.

      “At the moment at least, the polls suggest that Christy Clark would greatly enhance the fortunes of the Liberal party if an election is called,” Ruff told the Straight in a phone interview.

      However, the former University of Victoria political-science professor noted that the similarities end there. He explained that although Vander Zalm was seen as someone who embodied a return to the roots of the Socred party, Clark appears to represent a faction within the B.C. Liberal party.

      “She’s seen as coming from one narrow, particular wing of the party, the federal Liberal wing,” Ruff said. “So she fails in that respect. She could be a divisive force within the party.”

      How important are caucus endorsements in party leadership contests?

      Moira Stilwell
      B.C. Liberal leadership candidate

      “Everybody in the province has a chance to pick the new premier. I think people will decide based on ideas. So if people watch my website and Facebook over the next period of the campaign, they’ll see my platform, and I think they’re going to agree that I have fresh ideas and a fresh perspective and I’m bringing something different. So I have a lot of confidence in the people of British Columbia that once they start to see my ideas, I’m going to gain support. So I’m very happy.”

      Mario Canseco
      Vice president, Angus Reid Public Opinion

      “Leadership races in B.C. are not like the U.S.–style primary elections, where registered voters get to vote. The races will be decided by the members of the parties, and the endorsement of key elements of the caucus certainly helps. However, the big decision for the people who will take part in the process will be whether to have a candidate who might be closely tied to the party apparatus and could motivate the base, or a person who may have broader appeal to win the centre, which is where the next provincial election will be won or lost.”

      Gabriel Yiu
      Former B.C. NDP candidate

      “It’s important for anyone hoping to become leader to show that he or she has the ability to lead the caucus, whether the party is in government or in opposition. Otherwise it will be a big problem down the road. How could party members and the public as well evaluate a contestant properly if he or she couldn’t show support from within the caucus? I am quite amazed that a serious leadership contender like Christy Clark, for example, can have only minimal caucus member support. It’s quite incomprehensible for me.”

      Dennis Pilon
      University of Victoria assistant professor of political science and author of The Politics of Voting

      “In one sense, the endorsements mean little, as the leaders will be chosen by a broad group of party members. For them, an endorsement might act as a proxy for getting into the details about the different candidates. Something like, ”˜Who’s for so and so, and do I like them”¦’ More organizationally, endorsements could be very important if they lead to organizational resources flowing from the endorser to the endorsee’s candidacy, which could allow them to sign more new members.”



      glen p robbins

      Dec 30, 2010 at 11:24am

      It is amazing how one can speak of political events in BC - and have no knowledge of the simple math of political science.

      Did Bill Vander Zalm at any time - state he would not stay on if he lost that BC Socred leadership?

      The press is stalling for time - so that Christy can sing and dance for the party -- and cut a deal for Vancouver (see $$$ largesse in post on BC municipalities herein). The elephant in the room is -- Will CClark stay on and run as a candidate for the BC Liberals in the next general provincial election --- if she loses the leadership?

      This question needs to be satisfactorily answered- or we are witnessing another political con job by the BC Liberals imo

      Ken Lawson

      Dec 30, 2010 at 12:41pm

      No matter who is the Leader of any Party they must address the 7 questions posed by City Caucas, very good questions that all straight readers should read.


      Dec 30, 2010 at 12:54pm

      Mr. Yiu makes an interesting point: when has someone who supposedly has a large lead been so unpopular with her own caucus? You would think MLAs would be jumping out of the woodwork to support her to curry favour if she forms the next government, and yet only Harry Bloy (he who fires his staff every five days) was willing to support her.


      Dec 30, 2010 at 1:20pm

      Who cares what Vander Zalm thinks or says. This man was the most vile politician I can remember. His religious fundamentalism fuled such hatred as refusing to fund AIDS drugs, anti-gay and anti-feminist legislation and policies. My favourite Zalm quote was how food banks make people hungry..look it up. This really shows how desparate the left is in BC when they have to rely on the moral majority freak show to attack the liberals.


      Dec 30, 2010 at 2:15pm

      I can think of one obvious difference. VZ did not have the BC Rail Scandal lurking just over his shoulder.
      If the BC LIBs select Clark, she'll quickly have more in common with Rita J, than she ever had with VZ!
      I'm a little disappointed the Straight is buying into the BC LIB spin that she's an "outsider". She's so inside she has Campbell's lint in her eyes!


      Dec 30, 2010 at 2:47pm

      never ending crappy sitcom on tv without pee breaks is what bc politics is like

      Jaded in Vancouver

      Dec 30, 2010 at 4:34pm

      An echo requires lots of empty space, vacuous airhead that she is.


      Nov 10, 2011 at 7:50pm

      Clark isn't like Vanderzalm, Clark is like Grace McCarthy.