British Columbia

Christy Clark shrugs off urban roots for rural crowds

Christy Clark plays up party's rural values in expense of urban B.C.

Christy Clark in Fort St. John

During a FSJ for LNG's People Power Rally, Premier Christy Clark spoke to residents who are fighting to bring LNG and economic opportunity to Fort St. John. (B.C. Government Handout)

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Christy Clark sure looked like she was at home earlier this month — ski jacket, jeans and a roaring crowd chanting "LNG, LNG, LNG."

But for the Metro Vancouver born and bred politician, this Fort St. John rally was more than 1,200 kilometres from her Vancouver home — a hometown she very happily takes shots at when she is nowhere near it.

"There are those in downtown Vancouver and Victoria who would have us say no. They just say no to LNG. They say no to everything. They say no to workers. They say no to jobs. They say no to small business," said Clark at the rally. 

"We need to stand up as the forces of Yes and make that voice heard in Victoria and downtown Vancouver."

Risk worth taking?

Christy Clark is desperate for Liquified Natural Gas to make money in the province in order to fulfil her own political promises.

Creating a divide between Victoria and Vancouver and the rest of the province is not a gamble most politicians would be willing to make.

But these are the kinds of risks that have come to define Clark.

"Let's not forget where the money comes for the cancer centre, the world leading cancer treatment that we provide in Vancouver. Let's not forget that social housing is not built from socialism," said Clark in an interview this week when asked about her region-specific rhetoric.

"I am trying to remind urban audiences. I think in rural settings it's less important because they already understand the connection to our resource economy."

Rural Persona

So far, the risk is paying off. Every time Clark slips into her rural persona, cheers follow. Take a recent speech in Kelowna:

"Small, rural resource dependent communities are fed up with sending all the money out of their communities and not seeing enough of it come back," Clark said, to instant applause.

There is no one in Clark's cabinet who better exemplifies the rural/urban split than Energy Minister Bill Bennett.

The brash politician easily transitions from a suit and tie in a Vancouver ballroom to hunting gear in the Kootenays.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett

Energy Minister Bill Bennett speaks at Site C event at the B.C. Legislature. (B.C. Government Handout)

He also once memorably alluded to the fact the person sitting in the Kitsilano coffee shop doesn't understand where the power comes from that charges their iPhone. He went further last year when speaking on Shaw's Voice of BC.

"People who live in cities tend — a big generalization and I apologize to everyone that is not like this — but a lot of people who live in cities don't understand where things come from," said Bennett.

"They don't know where their food comes from. They don't know how it's grown. They never see a cow that the milk comes from. They don't know where the wood comes from that's in their lives."

Dividing the province

But this sort of talk can also be very dangerous when trying to create a united province. It is hard to believe that a majority of people in Vancouver don't know their food comes from the ground or their electricity comes from hydro dams.

LNG Environment 20141021 Christy Clark

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark smiles during a tour before a groundbreaking event for FortisBC's Tilbury LNG facility expansion project in Delta, B.C., on Tuesday October 21, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

And don't forget, 22 of the B.C. Liberal seats are in Metro Vancouver.

"Dividing the province into rural and urban, into haves and have-nots, is not the way you build a more vibrant economy," said NDP leader John Horgan.

"The rhetoric coming from the premier in Fort St. John is quite different than what she's saying to the Vancouver Board of Trade. I think B.C. wants a leader that will say the same thing no matter where they are standing."

But the premier knows the stakes are high in the next election. She needs to look like a leader on job creation and resource growth.

And that's why it will likely remain a hard hat and jeans approach in the north, and a suit and jacket in the south.

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