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Opinion

'But You're the Premier!'

Christy Clark returns to radio to reveal you're not very powerful when premier of BC.

By Bill Tieleman 14 Feb 2012 | 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.

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"When you make speeches you elicit expectations against which you will be held accountable." -- former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley

To hear Christy Clark tell it Monday, being premier of British Columbia surprisingly isn't a very powerful job.

Clark appeared for 90 minutes on radio station CKNW to give a "preview" of the BC Liberal government's agenda as the B.C. legislature resumes sitting Tuesday.

That decision alone caused Clark considerable grief when her deputy press secretary issued an inaccurate media advisory stating that: "In place of a formal throne speech, the premier will be appearing on CKNW's Bill Good Show to outline the government's agenda for the spring session."

In fact, the B.C. legislature was continuing the previous fall session, not starting a new one, so no throne speech was ever planned.

But perhaps a throne speech would have been a better idea, because Clark repeatedly had to make excuses for her lack of action in response to questions from host Bill Good and callers, while dishing out a wide collection of cliches.

That darn HST won't go away

After Clark claimed she was opening up government, Good pointed out that a recently released freedom-of-information request by Vancouver Sun reporter Jonathan Fowlie -- on the $780,000 Harmonized Sales Tax brochure that was printed and then shredded by the government -- took 19 months to get.

"How is that open?" asked Good.

"It's not," Clark admitted. "I agree."

"But you're the premier!" an exasperated Good replied.

More of the same came when Good asked about problems at Community Living B.C., where adults with developmental disabilities and their families have complained bitterly about cuts to services and wait lists.

Good: "I mean, how is it possible that you do an internal review and you don't even know how many clients are waiting for your help?"

Clark: "Exactly!"

The premier then went on to a meandering explanation about releasing documents and having an inaccurate waiting list.

Clark's lack of power apparently also extends to getting rid of the HST, which continues to be charged six months after B.C. voted in a binding referendum to end it, providing hundreds of millions in additional revenue. [I helped create Fight HST to oppose the tax.]

"If I could snap my fingers and get rid of the HST tomorrow -- I'd do it," Clark said before blaming the federal government and the complexity of changing back to the Provincial Sales Tax for the delay.

Toss another cliché on the fire

When not claiming being premier doesn't come with many powers, Clark was also spinning an endless series of familiar clichés.

Ever heard these?

"There's only one taxpayer."

"You have to say no sometimes."

"You can't make promises you can't pay for."

"It's about getting government out of the way of job creation."

And this classic, complete with Clark's irritating habit of dropping the letter "g":

"You can just keep throwin' money at stuff if you don't fix the problem."

But on other issues, Clark may have actually given a more direct answer than she intended.

When Good asked Clark how B.C. could supply the massive amount of electricity necessary to run her proposed three new liquid natural gas plants near Kitimat for tanker export to Asia.

"We know that we can power the first two," Clark replied. "We've figured out how to do that with existing power sources."

"On future ones though, we are going to have to have more power in British Columbia. Site C is coming on line and so are a whole host of renewables."

Actually, the huge Site C hydroelectric dam project is not "coming on line" anytime soon.

The controversial project that would add a third dam on the Peace River is part of a federal-provincial environmental assessment process that won't be finished until 2014.

'Way ahead of Dix'

Clark also claimed that she was "way ahead of Adrian Dix" in some polls, adding that: "I think that was the Ipsos poll maybe."

Maybe not. Ipsos-Reid released a poll last week showing the BC New Democrats at 44 per cent, the BC Liberals at 32 per cent and the BC Conservatives at 16 per cent.

Clark did narrowly lead Dix on the question of who would be best premier, with 31 per cent to Dix's 25 per cent, but that margin has dropped six points since the last Ipsos poll.

Otherwise, it was old hat material. The B.C. Teachers' Federation is demanding too much money in contract negotiations, B.C. Hydro can lose 1,000 jobs without a problem, no B.C. Liberal caucus members will quit to join John Cummins' BC Conservatives, B.C. can't afford to go back to the 1990s, etc.

But soon enough it was back to yet more puzzlement for the premier.

When Good pointed out that the judicial system was short of judges, with more than 100 cases thrown out because of time delays, Clark was at a loss.

Her government has added new judges and money, Clark said, and there are fewer cases going to court as well as a lower crime rate in B.C., yet there are longer delays in the justice system.

"So why do you think that is?" Good asked.

"I don't know the answer to that but we're going to get to the bottom of it," Clark replied.

The powerless premier. Who knew?  [Tyee]

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