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New B.C. Liberal chief of staff is staunch Tory, signed 'firewall' letter

VANCOUVER - B.C. Premier Christy Clark's new chief of staff is a man who claims that he "came out of the womb right wing" and has publicly supported of some of the more controversial moves made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ken Boessenkool, 42, has held down a long list of jobs including being a Harper advisor, Tory election strategist and lobbyist for companies such as Enbridge Inc., Taser International, and several pharmaceutical firms.

In 2001, Boessenkool signed the notorious firewall letter that raged against the policies of Jean Chretien's Liberal government.

An open letter to then Alberta premier Ralph Klein urged him to pull the province out of the Canada Pension Plan, collect its own revenue from personal income tax and not to renew the RCMP contract and resume provincial responsibility for health-care.

It urged Klein to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent that a hostile federal government can encroach upon a provincial jurisdiction.

Stephen Harper, who was president of the National Citizens' Coalition at the time, also signed the letter.

During a debate at the Manning Centre in 2009, Boessenkool praised the Harper government for getting out of bad policy decisions of Liberal previous government.

"On political correctness, there is no longer any credibility in this country for the Kelowna Accord, the Kyoto Accord or for court challenge programs," he said during the debate still available on Youtube.

At one time the government funded the court challenge program for cases considered important, but the Conservatives reduced funding to the program after taking office.

Boessenkool also said during the debate that by far the most important thing the Conservative government has done is it "stopped cold...a national, government-run, unionized child-care system and instead redirected billion of dollars so parents can make their own choices about their families."

As his voice broke, he admitted being passionate about the issue.

"I've given a lot of my life to promote these values."

His new job will make him one of Clark's closest advisors.

Clark, whose government mantra is "Families First," has spent most of her life in politics as a staunch federal Liberal supporter.

But she well knows the reality of B.C. politics is that forming a centre-right coalition is crucial to defeating the New Democrats.

As B.C. Liberal support plummeted over the government's disastrous introduction of the HST, support for the provincial Conservatives has been on the march, reaching 23 per cent in at least one poll.

Clark didn't deny Boessenkool's Conservative roots may help during the next election.

"Well we're a coalition party, there's no question about it. New Democrats get to run the economy every time our coalition breaks up."

In that vein, Clark said Boessenkool's main focus will be her jobs plan because he's a man who get's things done.

"He also understands that if we are going to make sure people get put to work in British Columbia, that we protect our economy, we have to come together as a coalition and make sure that we deliver on the jobs plan that we put every region in British Columbia to work," Clark said in an interview Friday.

"Once we've done that, I think people will look at us and say we want a free-enterprise government after the next election."

In 1996, Gordon Campbell's Liberal Party lost the provincial election to Glen Clark's New Democrats even though the Liberals had a larger percentage of the popular vote. The right-wing Reform party took more than nine per cent of that vote.

Campbell worked diligently afterwards to bring all right-leaning parties under one banner to defeat the NDP.

In 2001, Campbell's party won 77 seats, the NDP won just two.

Last year, Boessenkool launched the Alberta Blue Committee to set off a conversation about "critical issues facing the province — including the need for those of us on the political right to have one political home," its website states.

Boessenkool describes himself on the website as a consultant, advisor, writer, political hack, policy wonk, economist and activist.

"I came out of the womb right wing," he said in the Who We Are section of the website. "Nothing I've seen or done since has changed my orientation."

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins said the new hire smacks of desperation on Clark's part.

The premier couldn't find a B.C. Conservative who might erode his voter base, so she went to Alberta, he said.

"I'm certainly not concerned, if anything, I'd have to say I was relieved because it makes it quite clear that Premier Clark cannot find someone with solid Conservative credentials in British Columbia that is prepared to go and work with her on the Titanic. It's as simple as that."

Cummins, former Conservative member of parliament, said he's known Boessenkool for several years as someone who has worked for the Tory government.

Hamish Telford, the head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley, said Clark may have hired him over concern the right-of-centre vote would be divided in the next election.

"The Liberal Party isn't going to out-left the NDP, so by taking a more conservative tact, she may be hoping to ward off or fend off the Conservative threat in the province."

Boessenkool most recently worked at lobbying company GCI Canada in Ottawa. He was a policy analyst with the C.D. Howe Institute, taught Canadian public finance in the economics department at the University of Calgary and has published dozens of academic articles.

Boessenkool is married and has four daughters.

He declined a request for an interview.

Terri Theodore reports for Canadian Press.

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