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Why the Delay, Premier?

With byelection deadlines near and the NDP ahead in the polls, Clark launches into campaign mode.

Bill Tieleman 20 Mar 2012TheTyee.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.

"For Premier [Christy] Clark to wait so long for political, not practical, reasons is a disgrace." -- Tri-Cities News editorial on delay in Port Moody-Coquitlam by-election.

It was another week of big problems for B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

Those include the resignation in disgrace of cabinet minister Harry Bloy, and Clark's new communications director Sara MacIntyre's controversial attempt to block media from asking questions at a photo opportunity.

The week also saw more questions about the blown $40-million deal with Telus to rename BC Place and the reappearance at the Port Moody-Coquitlam campaign office of a BC Liberal Party executive member who resigned for bringing a convicted attempted assassin to the B.C. legislature for the budget speech -- on a ticket from the premier's office.

Clark, who counted Bloy as her only provincially-elected supporter during her leadership bid, isn't exactly making new friends in caucus. Victoria sources say BC Liberal MLA Joan McIntyre walked out of the legislature's chamber Thursday while Clark was speaking, and a rumour later circulated that McIntyre was unhappy with the premier's personal attack on NDP leader Adrian Dix when Clark attempted to defend Bloy.

Reports also persist that McIntyre's West Vancouver-Sea To Sky seat is in play. Former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has said she won't challenge currently elected candidates, but that doesn't preclude the possibility that Clark would have -- or even has -- asked McIntyre to step aside. Would Clark prefer Goldsmith-Jones, or even former CTV news anchor Pamela Martin, who now works in Clark's office for $130,000 a year doing "outreach"?

McIntyre did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment.

Deadlines encroaching

Reflecting all of the above, it was another week where Clark failed to call two byelections in vacant ridings lacking any elected representation in Victoria.

But don't get the idea that Clark thinks it's a disgrace that Port Moody-Coquitlam hasn't had a member of the Legislative Assembly since Oct. 1, 2011 or that Chilliwack-Hope lost its MLA on Jan. 9, 2012.

Clark's response to media questions on why she hasn't scheduled a byelection more than five months after Port Moody-Coquitlam BC Liberal MLA Iain Black quit?

"Well the holdup is that I haven't called it yet and I will in a couple of weeks, so, probably -- you'll find out. I'll let you know when I know," Clark nonchalantly said on Friday.

We will definitely know by April 7 -- because that's the absolute deadline by law for calling the byelection, where former long-time Port Moody mayor Joe Trasolini is expected to win. But while Clark hasn't found the time to call the byelections, she has spent a lot of spare hours campaigning in both ridings -- formerly safe BC Liberal seats now threatened by both the New Democrats and BC Conservatives.

Clark was in Hope on March 5 to tour around with BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness, a former federal Reform and Conservative party staffer facing strong challenges from both the BC Conservatives' John Martin, a criminologist and newspaper columnist, and the NDP's Gwen O'Mahoney, a community support worker who took 33 per cent of the vote as candidate in the 2009 provincial election.

The BC Liberals are hoping Throness' long history with right-wing politics -- including a stint as ex-Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl's chief of staff in Ottawa -- will stem the tide against the party in a riding comfortably held by former B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner. When asked by local media when that vote would happen, Clark again replied without giving a date: "Every day we're closer... the community needs an MLA sooner rather than later."

Clark must send Chilliwack-Hope voters to the polls no later than July 30, according to Elections BC.

Libs in rocky waters

And Clark also spoke at the Feb. 17 nomination meeting for Port Moody-Coquitlam BC Liberal candidate Dennis Marsden. The reason why voters in both ridings are being denied representation is very simple: the BC Liberals are in deep fear of losing both seats. Yet another indication came when Justason Research released a new poll on Saturday showing the NDP at 45 per cent support, well ahead of the BC Liberals at just 31 per cent. The BC Conservatives sit at 14 per cent and the Greens at eight. That means Clark's party has dropped 15 points since the 2009 election victory under ex-premier Gordon Campbell. The polling results and lengthy delay are raising concerns in the BC Liberal caucus about Clark's tenuous future.

Another poll that makes it more questionable was released by Forum Research in late February and put the BC Conservatives neck and neck with the BC Liberals, at 22 per cent versus 24 per cent for Clark's party. The NDP were at a comfortable 42 per cent.

If Clark manages to lose both byelections she delayed to the last minute, it wouldn't take a shark to tell there was political blood in the water. And that could mean either a provincial general election or a BC Liberal leadership challenge -- or both. This already interesting year in B.C. politics is going to get even more fascinating in the next few weeks.  [Tyee]

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