Christy Clark is resigning as leader of the BC Liberal Party, just weeks after her government was defeated by a united effort from the provincial New Democrats and Green Party.
Clark made her announcement Friday morning after informing her caucus of the decision. She will officially resign on Aug. 4.
In a statement, Clark said it was a privilege to serve as premier for six years.
“I am certain that British Columbia’s best days lie ahead,” she said. “Because British Columbians can, through hard work, determination, and perseverance, achieve anything they set their minds to.”
Clark is reportedly also resigning as the MLA for Kelowna West, meaning a byelection will be held in the next six months.
Clark’s Liberals lost a confidence motion on the throne speech June 29 after B.C. found itself in a hung parliament situation following the May 9 election.
The final seat tally was 43 seats for the BC Liberals, 41 for the BC NDP, and the BC Green Party held the balance of power with three seats.*
BC NDP Premier John Horgan, fresh off a trip in Washington D.C. to talk free trade, thanked Clark for her service and praised her as a passionate woman who fought for things in which she believed.
“While we represented two different political parties, Ms. Clark and I are united in the belief that, working together, we can build a better future for British Columbia and the people who call this place home,” Horgan said in a statement.
BC Liberal Party President Sharon White called Clark “fierce, tireless and immensely generous in building one of the strongest political parties in the country.”
White said the party executive will set a date and plan for a leadership race within the next 28 days.
Rich Coleman has been announced as interim caucus leader.
Clark had said she would stay on as leader of the BC Liberals and as an MLA as recently as June.
But University of B.C. political science professor Kathryn Harrison said Clark didn’t have much of a choice but to resign.
“The timing is a surprise, the suddenness is a surprise,” Harrison said. “But I really do think the writing was on the wall for Christy Clark to step down as leader.”
Clark’s resignation is a good thing for the BC Liberals, she said.
When defeated leaders stay on, divisions and infighting within parties tend to emerge, Harrison said, which is something the BC Liberals don’t want.
“The NDP has the narrowest of governing coalitions; it’s unlikely that this government’s going to last very long,” she said. “It’s in the interest of the Liberals to position themselves as a credible government in waiting as soon as possible.”
Clark’s temporarily empty seat in the legislature will provide some “breathing room” for the NDP by easing up the tight seat count as well, Harrison said.
The New Democrats now have other advantages as well, said David Moscrop, political scientist at Simon Fraser University.
As government, the NDP is in charge of setting the date of the byelection to replace Clark, and it does not need to do so for up to six months.
This could give the party a chance to try to actually win Clark’s seat in Kelowna West.
It would be no easy task, however, as the Liberals have won the riding with about 60 per cent of the vote in the last three elections.
But the NDP and Greens could opt to not run candidates against each other in a bid to win a seat.
And with a BC Liberal leadership contest now on the horizon, the NDP government could have up to a year before it has to worry about the next election, Moscrop said.
The next Liberal leader “is probably going to want some time to figure out the job” and in the meantime hope that the NDP makes enough mistakes to lose the respect of the electorate.
“That’ll be the hope, that they get just enough rope to hang themselves,” Moscrop said.
He said Clark’s resignation as both MLA and leader signals she doesn’t see herself as having a chance to be premier again.
Moscrop said Clark’s attempts to hold on to power, such as her recent throne speech, which borrowed a lot of policy ideas from the opposition, made it obvious that she wasn’t at all interested in being opposition leader.
“I don’t want to be too harsh, but I think it’s a sort of capstone on a career that’s marked by extreme cynicism and self interest,” Moscrop said.
*Story corrected July 28 at 11:40 a.m.