I should say off the top, I think British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has every right to decide who she does and doesn’t want to talk to.
Still, it’s interesting that this year, as Clark’s staff arranged year-end interviews with a string of reporters, I learned she wouldn’t be talking to me.
“I have the unfortunate duty to be the bearer of bad news,” Clark’s press secretary Stephen Smart informed me by email Thursday. “I’m very sorry but I’ve tried to make the schedule work this way, that way and the other and I am just not able to fit you in for a year-end interview tomorrow.”
“I completely fall on my sword here in that I should have pushed for a longer chunk of time for these,” wrote Smart, a former CBC reporter and press gallery colleague who went to work in Clark’s office in February. “I’d be happy to try and line you up with a senior minister instead if that might be helpful or something else in lieu of the premier. Just let me know if there is anything.”
While time with Mike de Jong, Rich Coleman or Coralee Oakes could be informative, it’s not the same as having time with Clark. We’ve seen so little of her at the legislature this fall because her government cancelled the scheduled sitting.
In a further email, Smart said “you are not the only one we can’t do.” But he failed to respond to questions about how many other reporters had been left out and what the grounds were for deciding who would and wouldn’t get a 15-minute slot with the premier this year.
And after checking with a dozen colleagues who work in the legislative press gallery, I can’t find anyone else who was left out (although several expressed sympathy).
Is it something in particular about me or The Tyee that’s aroused reluctance in the premier’s office this year? Something I said? Something I asked? Something they’re afraid I might ask?
Clark has sat down with me for year-end interviews in the past, and she survived them just fine.
In 2012, a few months before the 2013 election, topics we covered included inconsistencies in her anti-smoking policies and her failure to deliver on a promise to bring in a law prohibiting the cosmetic use of pesticides.
In hindsight though, the interview turned out to be most notable for Clark’s whopper. She told me then that her stipend from the BC Liberal Party was a “car allowance” so that she could drive to party events, without revealing the amount. But just this year we learned that Clark’s “car allowance” is for $50,000 annually, which would pay for quite the ride.
For last year’s interview we focused on the headwinds facing the liquefied natural gas industry and what that meant for delivering on her 2013 campaign promises of a debt-free B.C. I thought it was informative.
If I stepped over a line somewhere, that hasn’t been conveyed to me, though after last year’s interview, to which I wore jeans, Clark’s communications director Ben Chin, another CBC veteran, did ask me, “What, you couldn’t put a suit on for the premier?”
The last chance I got to ask Clark a question was at the Liberal Party convention in early November. There she explained to me why it was in the public interest for a big generic drug company to fund her party’s convention.
But we’re not the only outlet to ask Clark about the cash-for-access culture she oversees or tough other topics when given the chance.
Speaking of questions, here’s what I would have liked to ask Clark this year:
- You’ve been talking about B.C.’s carbon tax making it an outlier from other provinces. Why is that a worry?
- But in the past you’ve said B.C. has shown that you can have a carbon tax while growing the economy. What’s changed?
- What do you have to say about the recent report that showed that even with the carbon tax the province is likely to miss its carbon emission reduction targets for 2020 and has a “massive gap” for the 2050 targets?
- And if your carbon tax is revenue neutral and you’re giving it back as cuts in taxes for corporations, for example, why isn’t it an advantage? Especially for low-emission businesses?
- But our taxation system differs in lots of ways from other provinces. We’re also the only province charging MSP premiums. Why isn’t that a disadvantage?
- We also differ on income taxes. Why, according to B.C. budget documents, does a family of four in B.C. with $30,000 in income pay twice as much total tax as they would in Alberta or Quebec?
- We keep hearing from you and your government that the economy in B.C. is strong and leading Canada. Do you think average British Columbians feel that?
- What do you make of the fact that the bulk of the growth in jobs has been in part-time positions?
- If the economy is so strong, why have employment insurance claims been rising this year throughout most of the province?
- Why do jobs in B.C. pay less on average per hour than the Canadian average? In the first quarter of 2016, we were sixth out of the 10 provinces, according to Statistics Canada.
- Why, as of September, was our wage growth over the last year eighth out of the 10 provinces?
- And in a strong economy, why has the welfare caseload been growing? In October it was up 4.3 per cent from a year earlier.
- In the North, which has been the focus of much of your jobs plan, the welfare caseload was up more than 10 per cent over the last year. Why would that be?
- And why in this “strong” economy do 53 per cent of people in the province say they’d have trouble paying their bills if they missed a paycheque?
- Your government has in recent months announced spending to address housing affordability. Was it a mistake not to act sooner?
- In 2015, according to the Globe and Mail, residential construction and real estate services made up 21 per cent of B.C.’s GDP. Since 2011, that’s where 35 per cent of the growth has been. How big a worry is that concentration of economic activity in one sector?
- To what degree was your plan to loan first-time homebuyers money a bid to keep the industry humming at least until the election? Whose idea was it?
- And why, if the economy’s so strong, isn’t the number of people who are homeless coming down?
- And why do one out of five children in B.C. continue to live in poverty?
- Ontario is also launching a basic income pilot project. What are your thoughts?
- In 2013 you campaigned with “Debt-Free BC” written on your bus. Are we there yet? Why not?
- How big a challenge is it to face voters again not having delivered on that promise and having seen so little progress on the LNG file?
Why Clark would want to avoid answering questions like those is anyone’s guess. There’s nothing there she shouldn’t be able to address.
As for NDP leader John Horgan, he did sit down with The Tyee this year. You can read his thoughts on the economy and what he describes as Christy Clark’s avoidance of accountability here.