Premier Christy Clark has decided to try a heretical approach to boost B.C. Liberal fortunes among female voters.
According to Mike Smyth's column in this morning's Province newspaper, she's holding a series of events where only women are allowed to attend.
It's the type of thing that will cause right wingers (her natural constituency) to go berserk because they recoil from anything that smacks of affirmative action or levelling the playing field for disadvantaged groups.
It's easy to see why Clark is holding these meetings. Pollsters have been reporting for months that Clark has a repellent effect on most female voters.
The premier and her spin doctors want to find out why—or, at the very least, leave the impression that they want to discover the reason for this. Here are my explanations for why Clark is doing so poorly with women (in no particular order):
• Trust: Female voters are less likely to trust Clark than men because more of them see her as a phony. Many remember Clark's claim in 2004 that she was quitting politics to spend more time with her family, only to see that the very next year, she was trying to become mayor of Vancouver. Her "Families First" slogan looked like a cruel joke to parents of mentally challenged adults, who were being treated dismally by Community Living B.C.
• Education: Women are more likely to make education a voting issue—and here, Clark's record is poor. Not only did she not make it through university, but as education minister, she oversaw the introduction of a law, later deemed unconstitutional, that ripped up teachers' contracts. This legislation allowed for larger student groupings and more special-needs kids in regular classrooms.
• Union basher The premier has never been a friend of organized labour (see above), and particularly of public-sector workers. That was clear during the recent teachers' dispute and also in the negotiations with B.C. government workers. Women form a significant part of the government workforce. When they see Clark ready to privatize liquor distribution without serious public consultation and issue fiats about net-zero negotiating mandates, this raises questions about their own income and job security.
• Harper's pal: Clark has been extremely friendly to federal Conservatives, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is loathed by many female voters. The image of Clark watching her son's hockey game with Harper won't win her many female votes in urban areas of the province. Clark's decision to hire several of Harper's cronies in the premier's office only added to her problems with female voters.
• HST hangover Women often make household purchasing decisions. And many of them were furious about the B.C. Liberal government's decision to introduce the harmonized-sales tax with zero consultation. Clark's support for the tax did nothing to mollify them.
• Class issues This is going to get me in hot water with some, but I've often felt that the public is prepared to cut a male politician more slack if he comes across as a hayseed. Ralph Klein, Bill Vander Zalm, W.A.C. Bennett, and Corky Evans all did exceptionally well in politics by not appearing to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Evans happens to be extremely well read, but he never seemed that way because of the way he delivered speeches and commented on public issues. Female politicians who drop the "g" at the end of words and occasionally sound "kinda stoopid"—like Clark—can really alienate well-educated female voters. It didn't help Clark that her gum-chewing press secretary reinforced a trailer-trash perception of her administration during her first major televised encounter with the media. This isn't a problem that former finance minister Carole Taylor ever encountered as a politician.
Sara McIntyre restricts media access to the premier.