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Opinion

Christy Clark's Secrets of Success

Her shocking win demonstrates the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Liberal leaders.

By Bill Tieleman 1 Mar 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"Live out of your imagination, not your history." -- Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Premier-designate Christy Clark executed a shocking win in the BC Liberal leadership vote Saturday.

Shocking because Clark's narrow third ballot win over Kevin Falcon came against the wishes of the BC Liberal cabinet and caucus, the business community, most of the party establishment and despite her connections to people involved in B.C.'s biggest political scandal.

None of it made a tinker's damn of difference -- Clark simply ignored her history and captured BC Liberal voters' ballots with her imagination.

There are lessons here for anyone in politics. There are also big warnings in Clark's victory for the opposition BC New Democrats and the upstart BC Conservatives, which both see significant opportunities.

Beware, because Clark's victory illustrates the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Liberal Leaders" like Covey's book demonstrated universal truths. Those principles are:

1. Ignore BC Liberal cabinet ministers and MLAs; they are nobodies. If they weren't, either Falcon or George Abbott -- who split the support of caucus between them in the contest -- would be premier-designate today.

Falcon had every major cabinet member on his side and Abbott had the "outs" of the cabinet and caucus -- while Clark had only one lonely backbench MLA, Harry Bloy. (Or perhaps Deputy Premier-designate Bloy to you!)

And none of the rest had the political good sense to figure out backing Clark was at least a good bet. But the province depends on their skills to run government -- yikes.

2. Scandals mean jack squat. Clark's family and political connections to the B.C. Legislature raid trial that found ex-BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk guilty of breach of trust and fraud did not sink her candidacy.

Nor did the Basi-Virk case stop Campbell from winning two consecutive elections, despite the case lingering like stinky cheese throughout.

And two previous scandals, the NDP's Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society affair or the B.C. "Hydrogate" bomb dropped by the BC Liberals on then-premier Glen Clark just weeks before the 1996 provincial election, failed to derail Clark's surprise defeat of Campbell.

3. Big business doesn't matter. If its support made any difference, Falcon would be the incoming premier, as he cornered a phenomenal amount of corporate backing and the most money of any candidate.

Falcon's vaunted "20/20" business fans, including top B.C. big shots, tried their best but put up a second place finisher.

4. Media does matter. Clark's enormous advantage was in having enjoyed a four-year province-wide radio show platform on CKNW AM 980 to not only reach a huge audience but also to carefully hone her populist message with instant feedback.

5. Loyalty is highly overrated. Clark abandoned the Campbell Liberals and never looked back -- until the premiership was available. After unsuccessfully seeking the Non-Partisan Association nomination for mayor in 2005 and losing to Sam Sullivan, Clark landed at CKNW, where she roasted her former cabinet colleagues in government to such a crisp that none supported her leadership bid.

It brings to mind how veteran Social Credit Health Minister Jim Nielsen reacted in 1986 to the news that Premier Bill Bennett's former principal secretary Bud Smith was going to enter the race to replace his retiring boss.

"I didn't shovel shit in the stables for 10 years to have someone else come in and ride the pony," the colourful Nielsen snorted.

Now Clark is in the saddle and Campbell's cabinet are still cleaning up in the barn.

6. Outsiders are appealing. BC Liberals and voters wanted an "outsider" to replace Campbell, even if Clark is a consummate insider who served as his deputy premier.

Glen Clark successfully became NDP leader and won an election as premier in part by running "against" his own party's previous Mike Harcourt government. The NDP should be very worried another Clark named Christy will try the same trick.

7. Insiders are essential. Clark had ultimate BC Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella on her campaign team and donating money. Exactly the same as he did for Gordon Campbell for years.

Now the challenge for Clark is to further overcome her own and B.C's political history -- and become the first woman elected premier. Imagine that.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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