B.C. Liberals leave checkered legacy following 16 years of power

Christy Clark's Liberals governed B.C. for 5,869 days — a political dynasty that is one of the longest in the province's history.

From LNG to job growth to a long battle with teachers, the Liberal legacy is complex

Premier Christy Clark makes a brief statement to media after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon for over an hour at Government House following the confidence vote at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, June 29, 2017. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

Christy Clark's Liberals governed B.C. for 5,869 days — a political dynasty that is one of the longest in the province's history.

And now, with the decision by Lt.-Governor Judith Guichon to ask NDP leader John Horgan to form the province's next government, it's over.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong provides a financial update to reporters on June 28, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Liberal fiscal prudence 

For 16 years, the Liberals had a central focus: balance the books, create jobs and grow the economy. B.C. now boasts a AAA credit rating — a mark of financial stability.

"We have achieved that which I think most people would say is a goal when they enter public life. The province is in better fiscal shape now than it was when we took office 16 years ago," said B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong, who has served during the entirety of the Liberal government reign.

"There are more people working. There is more opportunity."

But even with fiscal success, critics say some in the province have been left behind.

Public education

Perhaps the biggest issue that plagued the government from the start was the drawn out court battle with the B.C. Teachers' Federation over the public education system.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling in November 2016 to restore classrooms to 2002 levels ended the fight, but the long battle has left deep scars.

"On the whole, education in British Columbia has not fared well under 16 years of the B.C. Liberal Party," said BCTF President Glen Hansman.

"The biggest educational legacy is having a whole generation of students, and then some, who went through the entirety of their K to 12 experience without the front line services that ought to have been there all along."

Gordon Campbell served as British Columbia's premier from 2001 to 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

HST fallout

Then there was the Harmonized Sales Tax. 

The unpopular tax was introduced soon after the 2009 election, despite then-premier Gordon Campbell saying before the election it wasn't being considered.

The fallout ultimately led to his resignation.

Former British Columbia premier Bill Vander Zalm, centre, waits to board a ferry in Tsawwassen, B.C., in 2010, to deliver anti-HST petitions. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"Campbell's departure was really triggered by the fiasco around the HST," said Jock Finlayson with the Business Council of B.C.  

"It's quite unprecedented for a government to introduce a major piece of tax legislation and it triggered this public backlash that led to the petition launched by Mr. Vander Zalm, securing enough signatures to force a referendum on the matter, then the government losing the referendum." 

The public backlash opened the door for Clark's return to politics. 

2013 election surprise

In what many political observers call her greatest triumph, Clark won the 2013 provincial election.

Her grand promise of LNG prosperity has still not come to fruition, but, according to University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince, the election still gave her credibility amongst party supporters and most importantly, her own caucus.

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark and her son Hamish Marrisen-Clark, 11, share a laugh as they watch the results of the British Columbia provincial election in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, May 14, 2013. ((Jonathan Hayward/CP))

"She put a stamp on this Liberal caucus. It was her government," said Prince. "They sensed that the ship was sinking. Well, she not only saved it, she won a solid majority government for them"

But things are clearly different now.

The 2017 election provided a split legislature that has ended Clark's run as premier.

On her way out came a week of promises, including a complete overhaul of the party's priorities and a shift for the Liberal brand with a left-leaning throne speech.

That shift may change the Liberal legacy, and down the road, split the free-enterprise coalition that has defined 16 years of Liberal success. 

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