Vancouver Zeitgeist
Reflections on Vancouver, British Columbia and other topics, related or not



However you define this government,
it’s typified by the Christy Clark problem

February 11, 2017

BC Premier Christie Clark politician as celebrity

Clark as she would like to be seen—charismatic, vibrant and photogenic.
So no need for intelligence.

B.C. politics has produced whacko characters, polarized power trippers and no end of bad public policy. But Allegationgate confirms the current government’s distinction. It’s incompetent, in governing and now in campaigning.

The apex of this particular story might have been Mike Smyth’s February 8 Vancouver Province column, where he quotes “truly bizarre” statements as Premier Christy Clark tried to evade a key question:

When I asked Clark why she made the hacking allegations against the NDP in the first place, she told me: “I think your column said that, Mike. The front page of The Province did.”

This is truly bizarre. My columns on this issue have said nothing about the NDP hacking the Liberal website, though Clark insisted the New Democrats have practically admitted it.

“When the NDP were talking about it, they went right to the edge of saying that’s what they’d done,” she said.

The NDP have said no such thing. They have denied any hacking from the outset.

For most politicians, that kind of garbage is standard procedure some of the time. But this far-fetched sequence capped a controversy of her own making. It also followed the party’s stalling and flip-flopping on foreign real estate ownership, as well as the cash-for-access embarrassment. (These are only the more highly publicized recent screw-ups. Who knows the condition of B.C.’s finances?) The evasions show Clark’s desperation, or at least her shamelessness about functioning on such a low level.

The dénouement came two days later. The supposed caper was committed by a staffer working for independent Vicki Huntington, Smyth revealed, and all that staffer did was stumble across private info that the BC Liberals had posted publicly. Finally Clark apologized—but rather belatedly.

Her allegations, and especially her excuses, provide more examples of a party that’s struggling from top down. Frankly the premier doesn’t have the intelligence for the job. Nor do the people around her for theirs.

I spent about half an hour with Clark one afternoon in 2004, when she was deputy premier and I was a BC Liberal writer. She was pleasant enough, but gave the impression that she connected with people solely through her personality. If she couldn’t click with someone, she had little to communicate.

Not long afterward she resigned, saying she had to leave politics to care for her son. Then, in an unabashedly contradictory move, she tried unsuccessfully for the NPA mayoralty nomination. After a stint as a popular talk radio host she won the BC Liberal leadership. Bringing the party to victory, she governed like a photo-op queen. Although not nearly as successful as Trudeau II, she obviously strived for popularity as an early, and possibly Canada’s first, politician-as-celebrity.

What about the other BC Liberals?

If the party ever had capable people in cabinet, they resigned by the time of Gordon Campbell’s departure or slightly afterwards. That left Clark with senior ministers of less-than-junior abilities, for example Rich Coleman, Mike de Jong and Suzanne Anton, all better suited as minor characters on some goofy American situation comedy. Speaker Linda Reid actually appears to be borderline retarded.

But in this game ability doesn’t matter. On being appointed, cabinet members get a dummies’ guide to their ministry, courses in public speaking and handling the media, and rehearsals for almost every individual media interview, not to mention other basic skills. Their staff routinely feed them “talking points,” scripted responses to any and all questions anticipated from the opposition, media or public. Beyond that, they’re trained in obfuscation and evasion.

So who makes decisions? Under Campbell’s reign, he did—pretty much all of them. Considered a policy wonk, he was known to draft legislation without informing the cabinet minister in question until after the fact.

But Clark has long betrayed her weak grasp of policy, reflecting her lack of interest. As for the advisers she hires, even BC Liberals talk about “Christy’s HR problem.”

Her MLAs are nobodies. Almost none of them could make nearly as much in a real job. They’re in it solely for the fantastic pay, perks, pensions and, to continue the alliteration, perceived power. “Perceived” is a key word, because they have no power. They do what they’re told by party enforcers. Otherwise they’d have to leave caucus and, with rare exceptions like Huntington, become unelectable and unremunerated. Imagine that—forced to find real work.

So how does a low-level operation like the B.C. government function? In part, it’s run by senior bureaucrats, many of whom were hired to represent special interests. The ex-cops in the Solicitor General’s ministry provide just one example.

Lobbyists, friendly to the BC Liberal party and its treasury, also wield considerable influence. But, donations aside, can these special interests keep such a blundering party in power? Or has the time come for another party representing other special interests?

That would bring in the NDP, most of whose MLAs share the BC Liberals’ 5P motivations. A few New Democrats, however, do hold actual convictions. They want to destroy our society even faster than it’s destroying itself.

Maybe previous BC Liberal victories resulted not so much from that party winning, but the NDP losing. There’s no predicting this election, but it could happen the other way around.

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