Opinion

Clark's Slippery Footing

BC Lib powerbrokers appear to be plotting against her after byelection losses.

By Bill Tieleman 24 Apr 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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Premier Clark risks being tripped up by insiders who see coalition peeling apart.

"If you want to make a coalition work you've got to be prepared to put everything on the table." -- former Conservative MP John Reynolds

When backroom BC Liberal Party and federal Conservative power broker John Reynolds meets behind closed doors with Premier Christy Clark this week, only one question will be on his mind:

"What will it take, Madam Premier, to get you to quit your job?"

Of course, Reynolds won't ask that question -- not directly anyway -- but the answer is driving BC Liberals to distraction after two disastrous byelections losses last week in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope.

The two previous BC Liberal strongholds both went New Democrat, stunning Clark's party with the vehemence of anti-government voters.

The party line is that "vote splitting" of the "free enterprise coalition" is the problem but the reality is that Clark has alienated a majority of voters, not just in the two ridings but across the province.

Politics in B.C. is a brutal blood sport, with failure resulting in leadership changes.

And Clark didn't just forfeit two safe seats, she led her party to historic losses.

In Port Moody-Coquitlam, the NDP's Joe Trasolini cleaned up with 54 per cent of the vote -- a higher percentage than former BC Liberal MLA Iain Black took in the 2009 provincial election, in an area Clark herself used to represent.

Even worse, Gwen O'Mahony's win in Chilliwack-Hope marks the first time the NDP has ever taken the riding -- or any of the small-c conservative Fraser-Valley seats. And while O'Mahony's 41 per cent victory over BC Liberal Laurie Throness at 31 per cent and BC Conservative John Martin's 25 per cent prompted Clark to complain about vote splitting, the results came after voters were subjected to months of expensive messaging telling them to ignore the upstart right-wing Conservative party.

Overall, about 70 per cent of voters rejected Clark's government in the two ridings.

Fundrazors

That's what has both Reynolds and Philip Hochstein, head of the union-loathing Independent Contractors and Businesses Association -- and a huge BC Liberal donor that also sponsored tough anti-NDP ads -- very worried.

And while Reynolds is publicly backing Clark's leadership so far -- "you've got a good leader -- we don't need to fight over that issue," he told CKNW's Bill Good on Friday -- Hochstein doesn’t sound very sure.

"If there is no way to have unanimity, then we lose the election. How that comes about and who brings that together, I'm not sure who that is," Hochstein told The Globe and Mail's Justine Hunter after the double loss.

In an opinion piece in The Province newspaper, Hochstein exhorts British Columbians to support the "free enterprise" coalition without once mentioning Clark.

But he does say: "If it's about a name or label, then change it." Could the name to change be Clark's?

What will happen next isn't clear. Rumours continue about possible MLA defections from the BC Liberal caucus to the BC Conservatives, something Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen did last month, or to sit as independents until Clark steps down.

Meanwhile, in an interestingly ironic move, Reynolds is co-chairing Clark's major party fundraising dinner this June along with Ryan Beedie -- both of whom supported her rival, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, for the leadership last year.

Conservative threat foretold

Beedie hired pollster Hamish Marshall to conduct public opinion research for Falcon -- the same Marshall who is now BC Conservative leader John Cummins provincial campaign director.

After reading those polls, Beedie sent out a three-alarm fire call to business supporters of Falcon, stating that: "Christy Clark is the candidate who poses the greatest risk to the coalition, and thus the future success of the party."

For his part, Reynolds put a last minute knife into Clark's ribs in the final days of the contest, telling the Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer that Clark, a lifetime federal Liberal, would break apart the B.C. coalition of federal Conservatives and Liberals. "I would prefer for the coalition to stick together but...," he said, predicting that her victory would spark a BC Conservative Party revival.

That's exactly what happened -- and now Reynolds and Beedie are trying to pull the party together under the leader they strongly opposed.

For Christy Clark, with good friends like these behind you, who needs enemies?  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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