Martyn Brown: The irony in Christy Clark’s demise

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      Christy Clark is going down. Sunk by her hubris and by her bad bet on Big Oil.

      Life’s a bitumen, ain’t it?

      In the end, it was her devotion to the Kinder Morgan project, her delusions of grandeur on LNG, and her disregard for climate change that did her government in.

      I know, it’s far too soon to gloat.

      This is British Columbia politics, after all. Crazy shit happens.

      Until the Clark government actually loses the vote of confidence that everyone expects will be a slam-dunk win for the NDP-Green alliance, we shouldn’t get too cocky.

      God knows, Clark is half Houdini and half Ripley: believe her, or not.

      No one should underestimate her ability to wriggle out of a seemingly impossible situation. Nor should anyone should ever discount her flair for the unbelievable.

      What amazing things might the Liberals’ throne speech contain, to shock and astound us? I can’t imagine.

      Yet one thing is for sure: we will all be holding our breath until we see that last pathetic "help!" bubble popped, and the Clark government officially lose its grip on life.

      Maybe then B.C.’s outgoing premier will look in the mirror and admit to herself that her government must have had a death wish to so badly bungle its advantage.

      The morning after the election, she refused to accept any personal responsibility for her party’s crushing loss of popular support and its legislative majority.

      What did she learn from the people’s vote of non-confidence in her government?

      "British Columbians sent a very strong message to all sides of the legislature," Clark said. "They want us to work together collaboratively and across partisan lines." 

      Yup. Like that’s going to happen. Then again, I’m sure premier Horgan will give her plenty of opportunity to let her prove that proposition.

      That failing only strengthened the Greens’ relevance in this past election, as it also bolstered their call to arms on the need for proportional representation—a change that could decimate the Liberal coalition.

      Clearly, Clark still did not get that message, even after she mouthed it at this news conference.

      If she had, she might have seen fit to reach out personally to Andrew Weaver at the negotiating table. Instead, she waited until he and Horgan were on their way to the press conference to announce the NDP-Green alliance to make her call, which went to voicemail.

      She also texted Weaver, we are told.

      I wonder if that will show up in her documentation, when the indefatigable Bob Mackin makes his inevitable freedom-of-information request, if he hasn’t already.

      If Clark had been serious about working "collaboratively" with the opposition, "across partisan lines", she might have long ago realized the strategic folly of taking Weaver—and those opposed to Kinder Morgan—for granted.

      Oh, well. Hindsight is 20/20. That is, assuming you even care to learn from your mistakes.

      In her pre-emptive news conference last Tuesday, just minutes before all 44 elected members of the NDP and Green party were publicly signing their "confidence and supply agreement", Clark was not interested in what went wrong.

      "It’s your job to sit around and figure out what went wrong—I’ll let you do that, she sneered to the media.

      Remarkable. But classic Clark.

      I have my own theory on that point.

      Of the many mistakes that she made, the most strategically significant was in abdicating her responsibility to lead the shift to a new low-carbon economy.

      Bear with me. That statement is not the stretch it seems.

      Clark’s radical shift from the Campbell government’s climate leadership may have politically served her party well enough in 2013, but it likely cost it the election in 2017, and may well prevent it from forming another government for many years.

      How do I spell IRONY?

      Let me count the ways.

      First, it is ironic how Clark’s betrayal of her predecessor’s climate-action commitment led us all to this pivotal moment in B.C. history, which has produced an NDP-Green alliance that will shortly replace her government.

      Second, it is ironic how her zeal for Big Oil and for a more carbon-intensive economy inadvertently served as a catalyst to hold that change in check, under a new government that is decidedly green in hue.

      Third, it is ironic that Clark’s ploy to champion carbon-intensive resource development as a wedge issue, aimed at dividing the NDP, ultimately served to elect an NDP minority government under a united NDP-Green partnership.

      Instead of dividing the left in a way that kept her party on the right in power, Clark’s ultimate "wedge issue" turned out to be a pivotal issue in consolidating the new NDP-Green partnership.

      It is now united in its goal of permanently changing the electoral system to one of proportional representation that stands to newly divide the right, as it rewards smaller parties like the Conservatives.

      Well done, premier! Hubris has reaped its own rewards.

      Andrew Weaver and John Horgan were pushed more closely together by the premier's uncompromising support for Big Oil.

      To fully appreciate the scale of that irony, you have to go back to 2011.

      Almost from the first moment she became premier, Clark’s government started distancing itself from Gordon Campbell’s climate action plan. It basically tubed Campbell’s serious commitment to reducing fossil fuel emissions.

      Many, including myself, viewed Clark’s abandonment of B.C.’s globally lauded climate action plan as a hare-brained error. It was as environmentally reckless as it was politically short-sighted.

      In retrospect, it was probably more responsible than anything else that Clark did for creating the new political reality that we have today.

      Consider what Andrew Weaver said last Tuesday, in explaining his party’s new strategic alliance with the NDP. [Emphasis added.]

      "Some will ask, why did the B.C. Greens ultimately choose to work with the B.C. NDP over the B.C. Liberals. There’s many shared values that we have with the B.C. NDP. Most importantly, I go back to what got us into politics in the first place. When I entered politics, back in 2013, I did so because I could not stand by and watch the dismantling of our climate leadership here in the province of British Columbia. I could not stand by and watch the dismantling of an economy that was growing in the new 21st century fashion.

      "With the B.C. NDP, I find a partner that will actually position British Columbia in the new economy, create distributed jobs, from north to south and east to west, in a bottom-up fashion, putting people first. And that, ultimately, in the framework of climate leadership brought the B.C. Greens here today, to work with the B.C. NDP."

      The Green party that Clark hoped would only splinter the NDP coalition also grew at the Liberals’ expense.

      Her government’s indifference to climate change and to voters’ legitimate opposition to the threats to our environment posed by bitumen exports, by increased fracking, and by a massive increase in natural gas extraction activities, alienated those of all ideological stripes who are committed to the goal of green economy.

      Were it not for the Clark government’s obsession with fossil fuel development and its support of projects like Kinder Morgan or Pacific Northwest LNG, Weaver’s party would not have won the seats it did.

      At least 100,000 previous B.C. Liberal supporters voted Green this election. They were largely motivated by Weaver’s leadership and by his party’s unflagging commitment to fighting those and other projects, to fighting for renewable energy and for a green economy, and to reclaiming B.C.’s global leadership on climate action.

      And here is the thing: the mainstream media also got it wrong in misjudging how Clark’s so-called "pro jobs" crusade would play out.

      It, too, only saw that wedge issue as being mostly problematic for the NDP.

      It spent four years pushing the false narrative that the NDP had lost the 2013 election because of then leader Adrian Dix’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan project.

      Brilliant Christy, the pundits all said. Poor, dumb Dix. "Everyone knows" that jobs trumps the environment at the ballot box. Elections are "always" about jobs and Premier Hardhat was so shrewd to pit Weaver and Horgan against each other in vying to lead the "forces of NO."

      What a genius Christy was in splitting the NDP vote! What a master stroke it was of her to force Horgan ever further to the left, in an effort to keep his green caucus onside!


      The environment and climate action are issues that cut across ideological lines. They are neither "left" or "right", as such, any more than the issues of affordable housing, child care, health, education, transit, tolls, and the cost of ICBC premiums, MSP premiums, BC Hydro rates, or BC Ferry fares are.

      With the exception of regional bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver, all of those issues were amplified by the Greens, in tandem with the NDP.

      That only happened because of the credibility that Weaver brought to the Greens, which in turn only happened because he felt obliged to get political in fighting Clark’s betrayal of the climate action plan that he had helped to develop.

      In the midst of the 2013 campaign, then NDP leader Adrian Dix surprised many observers by declaring his opposition to the Kinder Morgan project.
      Stephen Hui

      Kinder Morgan has been Ground Zero for that fight since at least 2013, after it was clear that Northern Gateway was mercifully stone-cold dead.

      I had always maintained that Dix was right to oppose the so-called Kinder Morgan project.

      His mistake was not in taking a firm stand against that Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which proposes to increase pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day, and to increase oil supertanker traffic by 700 percent in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

      His mistake was not to reject that widely opposed project that will so threaten B.C.’s land and marine ecosystems, and that is resolutely disapproved of by so many local governments in Metro Vancouver, by so many First Nations, and by so many voters of all political persuasions.

      Rather, Dix’s mistake was mostly in how he announced that position, in the middle of an election, seemingly in conflict with his earlier statements on the issue.

      His mistake was not the policy, but rather his "Kinder surprise". And also, his mistake was in not making his opposition to Kinder Morgan a cause célèbre.

      I maintain, he would have won that election if he had campaigned hard on that issue. Something that neither Horgan nor Weaver really did either, this past election.

      To his great credit, however, Horgan did not allow himself to be sucked in by the mainstream media’s post-2013 election narrative.

      He did not abandon Dix’s position on Kinder Morgan. Instead, he doubled down, much to my delight.

      He stood up strongly against the Petronas precedent, against the flawed Pacific Northwest LNG project, and for a renewed commitment to climate action that, if anything, didn’t go far enough in matching Weaver’s worthy war on climate apathy.

      Still, the NDP’s position on that issue was not dissimilar to that of the Greens.

      If climate change was the catalyst that drove Weaver to run for the Green party, who breathed new life into that party as an exciting and credible new political option, it also indirectly shaped the NDP’s campaign platform in other ways.

      With the Greens suddenly a real and growing threat, it forced the NDP to take a bold leap to the left on other issues, which it could not afford to let Weaver own.

      Hence the symmetry between the Greens’ platform and the New Democrats’ platform, which served to form the basis for their "confidence and supply" accord.

      That common NDP-Green commitment to bold strokes for change and to a concerted vision for sustainable growth was utterly rooted in a low-carbon economy.

      It put people and the environment front and centre.

      Ultimately, that was a bridge too far for the B.C. Liberals to accept, in competing for the Greens’ support in forming a minority government. Because Clark positioned herself and her party as the anti-NDP, anti-Green party—the party that paid lip service to climate action and that got paid, big time, by Big Oil to "get to yes", come hell or high water.

      The difference between Horgan and Clark is that he listened, learned, and acted to address his party’s perceived shortcomings on climate action, whereas she did the opposite.

      Unlike Clark, Horgan actually did personally reach out to Weaver. She let her minions do the talking.

      In so doing, he bridged the relatively minor cracks between the NDP and Green platforms that were unwittingly minimized because of Clark’s boon to Big Oil and to Big Money.

      From her first day in office, she was too clever by half.

      Instead of driving a wedge in the NDP, Clark obliged the NDP to take winning positions that were mostly aligned with the Greens.

      Instead of hurting the NDP—as she thought that her all-in gambit on LNG and Dix's opposition to Kinder Morgan had succeeded in doing—she actually obliged it to take winning positions on those and other issues that were clearly popular in Metro Vancouver.

      Instead of only diluting the NDP’s support, by essentially pitting the election as a false contest between jobs and the environment, Clark also drove many former Liberal supporters to the Greens.

      She lost the ballot question in the process.

      The issue for most voters in the 2017 election was not the economy. It was the need for change.

      That was always the NDP’s winning issue. It was the one issue the B.C. Liberals could not afford to let become the ballot question.

      Clark made the word "green"—and all of the values it suggests—the central pivot point of the campaign.

      Green meant change, including for disaffected Liberals, especially those who cared about climate change and doing things differently in Victoria.

      The Green-NDP dichotomy put those two parties’ competition front and centre.

      And the slight differences in their positions always contrasted to the Liberals’ "status quo" agenda, which was fundamentally anathema to their opponents’ change agenda, for social democracy.

      All of that was the result of Clark’s initial and ongoing strategic misreading of the Green phenomena. Which she ironically unleashed by motivating Weaver to political action, because of her government’s inaction on climate change.

      It was that trigger, indirectly, that ultimately led to the policy convergence between the NDP and Greens. Without Weaver, it wouldn’t have happened. The Greens would have continued on the far fringes.

      That NDP-Green policy convergence was largely prompted by those two parties competing for market share. Those populist, centrist, and socially responsible policies also proved to be attractive to many a former Liberal.

      I call that irony.

      The double irony is this: if the NDP and Greens are successful in winning public support to put a new system of proportional representation in place, we might expect their minority governments to rule for quite some time.

      We might expect that to result in the further fracturing of the Liberals’ coalition. An outcome that could deny them power for many years to come.

      Then again, that assumes that Horgan and Weaver continue to play it smart in consolidating the combined support base they have won.

      The fight for B.C. on Kinder Morgan will be unlike anything Canada has ever seen. I suspect it stands to make both leaders much more popular, if they play their cards wisely.

      Aboriginal Canadians will have much to say about that. Don’t forget, over 100 First Nations and tribes have pledged that the project "will never see the light of day".

      The president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, reiterated that vow just last Friday. My money’s on him. Big time.

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and David Suzuki have been two key voices mobilizing the public against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
      Stephen Thomson

      The NDP and Greens have many tools at their disposal for fighting that project, however much Justin Trudeau or Clark want it to proceed.

      Case in point: in the election campaign, Clark committed to putting an industry-specific carbon tax on thermal coal exports—an idea that Trudeau promised "to consider."

      Why not do the same thing on bitumen exports?

      Why not put a special carbon tax rate on emissions from fossil fuel extraction, including those associated with building the Trans Mountain pipeline?

      That would be one way for Horgan and Weaver to continue driving their right and popular position on that issue, in reasserting B.C.’s leadership on climate action. I would love to see them make the B.C. Liberals vote against that bill in the legislature.

      We know Clark is resilient. She will be the first to tell you that the rumours of her death as premier have been greatly exaggerated.

      Time will tell whether that is true or not, in the long run.

      But my hunch is, she will do herself and her party no favours by continuing to stick her head in the (oil)sand(s) and ignore the damage she inflicted upon herself by turning her back on climate action and by continuing to shill for projects like Kinder Morgan.

      As the Straight's Charlie Smith has so aptly observed, both Clark and the B.C. Liberals will be doomed if they don't do an about-face on climate change.

      Weaver is bang-on to highlight the urgent need to get vocal and dead-serious about climate action, in view of Donald Trump's shameful decision to have the world's largest climate polluter walk away from the Paris agreement that it had committed to honour.

      Partnering with the Pacific Coast Collaborative states and others subnational governments was a key part of the Campbell government's climate action plan. It should play an even bigger role on the incoming government's climate action strategy, leaning on Weaver to help spearhead that initiative

      At this point, in a Houdini sense, Clark has nothing to lose but her chains. Specifically, those that bind her so completely to Big Oil and Big Money.

      If she is smart, she will free herself of that straightjacket that has all but sunk her government.

      Regardless, her government is going down in short order.

      And for that, we should all be grateful.

      Postscript: To be clear, I am not at all arguing above that the issues of climate change or the Kinder Morgan project were the key election issues at the ballot box. As I wrote, "change" was the winning issue for both the NDP and the Greens, along with issues of affordability that were so central to both the NDP's and Greens' populist platforms.

      This analysis was aimed at highlighting the IRONY of the role that climate change, KM, and other related issues played in motivating Andrew Weaver to enter politics, and in the change of events that largely flowed from that event, which all can be traced back to Christy Clark's abandonment of her predecessor's climate action plan.

      My main point, which has apparently been lost on some, was not to suggest that the election was about climate change or any environmental issue per se. Rather, it was to note the irony inherent in how that pivotal event of Weaver's entry into politics came to be, and how it served to shape the Greens' success, as it also indirectly served to inform the content of the NDP's bold and popular platform, and the NDP-Green alliance that led to the Clark government's likely demise.

      Apologies if I was unclear.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, and he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact Brown at