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Reality check: Clark's ballot blip, Haakstad's return and Liberal divisions revealed

Only in Premier Christy Clark's world can a sunny, summer-like Wednesday in May seem more like a rainy Monday in March for the embattled BC Liberal leader.

The breaking news headlines of the 23rd day of the 2013 election race offered a succession of blows to her campaign. It only made matters worse that the previous night was when the Vancouver Canucks, Clark's favourite hockey team, were swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the San Jose Sharks.

Quick Wins Kim's quick comeback

Clark's deputy chief of staff and longtime confidante Kim Haakstad took the fall for the Multicultural Outreach strategy scandal by quitting on March 1. Haakstad was the architect of the conspiracy to plot "Quick Wins" for the Liberals to beat the NDP in gaining votes from ethnic groups. It broke rules on two fronts, by using public resources for party work and communicating on private email accounts to evade the Freedom of Information act.

Alex Tsakumis revealed on his CKPM-FM talkshow that Haakstad was working on Clark's Vancouver-Point Grey campaign -- just two-and-a-half months after the scandal broke. Clark later confirmed to reporters who are following her campaign that Haakstad was indeed volunteering, but used the opportunity to bash NDP leader Adrian Dix for the 1999 backdated memo scandal.

"She... made a mistake, (she's) about 35-years-old, (she) left, didn't take a penny of severance, and admitted she made a mistake and took full responsibility for it," Clark said. "Compare that to what we see from the man who wants to be premier today. A pretty stark contrast."

On the day the election writ was dropped, April 16, Haakstad told me she was not involved with the campaign. I was, coincidentally, seated near her at the Earls restaurant in Yaletown and introduced myself as she departed. She refused an interview, but she said she was paying her bills with her savings and "just living life."

Vote early, not often

The traditional party leader voting for himself or herself photo opportunity took a twist when Clark showed up at a polling station in Burnaby, the municipality where she grew up. Usually it happens on election day. Clark opted to cast her ballot on the first day of advanced polling. She scrawled her own name on the write-in ballot in front of TV cameras. Clark doesn't live in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding that she represents, but instead Vancouver-Fairview.

She realized her error and added the name of Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid, but didn't cross out her own name. It will be up to Elections BC whether to count or cancel that ballot when boxes are opened.

For a politician nicknamed "Premier Photo Op," this was perhaps the most embarrassing photo opportunity of her short career in the province's top elected office.

Copyright violation

The consortium of broadcasters that produced the commercial-free, 90-minute televised leaders' debate on April 29 is crying foul over the latest anti-NDP attack ad. It includes a clip from the debate where Dix admitted to the 1999 backdated memo controversy by explaining he was 35 at the time. Video and audio of the debate was not supposed to be used in any party's campaign advertising, as per the agreement between the parties and the producers. (That is similar to the prohibition of repurposing debates from the legislature for political or campaign advertising.) The Liberals refused to pull the YouTube video and the consortium said it was considering legal action.

In the meantime, the Liberals achieved the outcome they sought: media coverage of the video, and a continuation of their 18-month wave of attacks against Dix for famously altering a memo-to-file. The appearance of the ruling party breaking the rules again gives disaffected supporters another reason to vote for an opponent or not vote at all on Tuesday.

801 Club

The day after revealing the documents about the controversial $6 million payment of legal fees for guilty Liberal aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk -- the documents that the Liberal government fought to keep secret -- Global BC's Jas Johal dropped another bombshell.

This time, the revelation that there is a movement afoot within the Liberal ranks to dump Clark as leader and remove the clique surrounding her, including advisor/ex-husband Mark Marissen, campaign manager Mike McDonald and party president Sharon White. Dubbed the 801 Club, it represents one minute after the polls close on May 14 and is intended to be an immediate call to rebuild the party for a 2017 comeback. Johal displayed the blue and white 801 button, but none of the principals in the movement were revealed.

The timing of the story -- about a house divided, on the first day of advanced polling -- was either impeccable or coincidental. The latest blow to Clark's leadership came exactly 801 days after her first full day as Liberal leader, Feb. 27, 2011.

Liberals predictably denied the existence of the 801 Club, but Johal and colleague Keith Baldrey were steadfast. When ex-Finance Minister and retiring Liberal MLA Colin Hansen took to Twitter to doubt the story, Baldrey replied bluntly: "You guys have a lot of internal enemies. A lot."

Bob Mackin is part of The Tyee's 2013 B.C. election reporting team.

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