Christy Clark takes all the marbles on Saturday – photo: Vancouver Sun
I did not support Christy Clark's candidacy in the BC Liberal leadership campaign, but I will now proudly stand behind the party's new leader. Last night was a revelation for this long time political operative, and I'm still trying to process the thousand snapshots now in my head I took away from last night's event.
The hall in the brand new Vancouver Convention Centre never looked better, as everyone I could think of in our province's media and political sphere was in the room. Smart phones were the star, as many of us took photos and tweeted madly our thoughts and observations to those in the corners of our snow-bound country who couldn't be in downtown Vancouver.
Vancouver's media came out in force – lights, cables, cameras, crews and of course the anchors and reporters. Amazingly it was people like my colleague Daniel, myself and so many others, who paced the room snapping photos and sharing conversations on Twitter, who complemented the mainstream media presence. We retweeted their words, and they ours.
Social media was an overpowering factor in this campaign. Christy Clark captured the imagination of so many young people, in part thanks to her anti-bullying campaign launched during her radio career. Young Twitterati propelled Christy into the number seven trending topic for Twitter in Canada yesterday, with none of the other candidates cracking the top ten.
Internet voting was used for the first time in British Columbia on a large scale, and there's no question it had its bumps. Thousands of pin numbers supposedly mailed out a week earlier didn't arrive in mail in time for Saturday's vote. It will be interesting to see how many members get those letters next week, and whether it's the BC Liberal party, the mailing company or even Canada Post itself who will wear some of the blame. Regardless of the gaffe, internet voting is now here to stay and watch for it to come soon to a general election.
Marching around the room trying to get their piece of the spotlight were NDP MLAs and leadership candidates, along with their union boss allies. Of course, they shrugged off the profound energy and excitement which built up around the BC Liberal leadership candidates, claiming that only "real" change happens when you throw out the BC Liberals and replace them with NDPers.
If you were Sue Lambert of the BCTF, Jim Sinclair of the BC Fed, Adrian Dix, or Mike Farnworth, you couldn't be a happy camper in that room. The NDP's challenge now will be to attract anything remotely close to what happened last night, with their measly 35,000 membership list, long since closed off, and their one-member, one-vote system that ensures that the urban centres, not the entire province, will have a say in who replaces Carol James.
Also roaming the room were federal Conservatives and many other in the party establishment who for the most part backed Kevin Falcon's campaign. It was a close count in the end – 52-percent for Christy Clark over 48-percent for Falcon. Kevin's supporters can take solace in that they ran an excellent campaign, but now like the candidate they supported, they too must return to the fold in order to beat the NDP.
Christy Clark has mapped out some basic directions for herself in the months ahead. She has indicated that she might run in Vancouver-Point Grey, the riding currently occupied by Gordon Campbell. It's a swing riding with some bedrock NDP support left over from the days of the New Left movement. Campbell took the riding by over 2500 votes in 2009, and I expect that Christy Clark could take it by an even wider margin.
Funny to see that many NDP supporters are encouraging Vision Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus to run against Clark in Point Grey. Thanks to Clark's massive popularity and impressive political machinery Bacchus would be roadkill of course. But Bacchus will get a lot of encouragement and financial backing from the intransigent BCTF leadership, whose perpetual war footing will get turned up in advance of the expiration of their collective agreement. The only upside for Patti is the profile she'd gain in her bid for a Vision city council seat.
Clark talked about a "families first" agenda. There's not much meat on the bones of that political promise yet, but I think I know where Christy is going on that one. It won't mean just a holiday in February, which is now a certainty. I couldn't help think of how much that 'families first' message resonated within B.C.'s multicultural communities, given the strength her campaign gained from Filipino, Indo-Canadian and Chinese supporters.
Clark has also hinted at a general election before May 2013. While a fall election might seem like an obvious plan, it runs smack into municipal campaigns and a November election for cities. Clark would be wise not to call an election before 2012.
While Clark addressed the crowd during last night's victory speech, she welcomed up on stage her opponents. Clark linked hands with Falcon, Abbott, De Jong and Stilwell in a sign of unity. The first member of the BC Liberal caucus who bounded up on stage after that is the man I suspect will broker the peace between Conservatives and Clark – Rich Coleman. Coleman was planning to run for leader, but decided to let the Tory machinery focus on Falcon.
Having taken one for the team, Coleman will call in his markers and urge everyone to get behind the new leader. Clark will almost immediately be working the phones with Coleman, and the big man will have an important place in her government. As will Mike De Jong, who played the smart money during his campaign and didn't endorse other candidates for number two. The number two picks of De Jong supporters made the difference for Clark over Falcon.
The other concern I've heard about Clark's leadership is the potential for friction with other strong women in her caucus. Clark is a bit of a Type A personality – extroverted and straight-talking. She now has some amazing women in her caucus, and she needs to bond with the other gals fast in order to succeed. I can see Clark asking the boys to leave the room and only meeting with Margaret MacDiarmid, Shirley Bond, Stephanie Cadieux, Moira Stilwell, Ida Chong, Linda Reid, Mary McNeil, Mary Polak and other women in her caucus.
Such a meeting would not only dissipate tensions created during the recent campaign (no caucus members other than Harry Bloy supported Clark's leadership), but it would allow Clark to create a government where women are truly represented.
Another woman important to Clark's political success was Pamela Martin, who ended her media career on a high note last December and jumped on the Clark bandwagon as her most high-profile supporter. Martin will be looking around for a West Vancouver riding to run in soon, and so will, I'm told West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones. The two Pamelas will both be eyeing up West Van ridings, which suggests MLA Ralph Sultan might be looking for new work before the year end.
The HST referendum will now be moved up to June. I think Clark will put a bunch of her political capital into a pro-HST campaign, provided the polls continue to show increasing support for that tax. Some business sectors such as the film industry are benefitting big time from the HST shift (can you say "Tom Cruise"), and Clark has always been an HST backer. Furthermore, Clark can rightly claim that she had nothing to do with the decision to adopt the tax, and remain focused on its advantages for our economy.
Finally, a word about Christy Clark herself. There have been more than a few pundits making comparisons between Clark and Bill Vander Zalm, mainly because of the deja vu surrounding her populist campaign. Both Vander Zalm and Clark were former Ministers of Education, who both ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Vancouver, and who ran against the party's establishment and became Premier.
But the comparisons ends there in my opinion. We know now that Bill Vander Zalm wears a tinfoil hat to prevent the New World Order from reading his brainwaves. Clark may be a populist and nowhere near the policy wonk that Gordon Campbell is, but she's far more pragmatic than her critics suggest.
What I saw last night was someone who knew since she was a kid that she would go on to the job she has now. Her outgoing personality, her sense of justice, her ability to make mistakes and move on, all made her into a natural leader. The reason Christy Clark is now going to lead our province, I think, is because she always knew the job was hers.
I wrote this week that it's harder for women to lead in our country, and that Clark has a chance to prove otherwise. She has a steep hill to climb at the moment, but a lot of people are mobilized behind her to see that she succeeds.
Congratulations, premier-designate Christy Clark. I wish you success and will support your efforts to make British Columbia an even greater place to live, work and grow.
- post by Mike