Analysis

How Donald Trump became a key figure in the B.C. provincial election campaign

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark has blasted the U.S. president's protectionist policies at every one of her campaign events since last Thursday. But does Clark really plan on taking on Donald Trump or is it just good campaign politics?

Liberal Leader Christy Clark has a new foe — and it's not John Horgan

Liberal Leader Christy Clark (left) has said in recent days she is the best leader to stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump (right) and his protectionist policies. (Darryl Dyck (The Canadian Press) / Kiichiro Sato (The Associated Press))

The gauntlet has been thrown down. It seems Christy Clark has a new adversary — Donald Trump.

At a campaign event at Stemcell Technologies on Monday in Vancouver, the Liberal leader praised the success of the tech industry in B.C., but ended with a stark warning.

"We also face serious risks," said Clark, flanked by a team in lab coats.

"Recent actions by President Trump have made it clear B.C. is facing a rising tide of protectionism."

The Liberal leader said Americans are going after B.C.'s aluminum business, forestry business and even the tech sector.

And she suggested she could fight fire with fire.

"Just like America and Americans are going to look to President Trump to fight for their jobs, British Columbia needs leaders that are going to fight for our jobs in our province."

'Not going to be a sucker'

From Invermere to Kamloops, this message has been repeated at every Liberal event with Clark since last Thursday.

"I am not going to be a sucker for Donald Trump and accept the bad deals the Americans have offered us so far," Clark told reporters at a wood pellet facility in North Vancouver last week.

The timing of Clark's shift in messaging is key: last week, the U.S. commerce secretary announced Canadian lumber imports will face new duties, ranging from three to 24 per cent.

The next day, Clark wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to ban the export of thermal coal through B.C in retaliation for the move.

On Tuesday, Clark threatened a tariff on U.S. thermal coal moving through B.C., claiming the B.C. Liberals are the only party that can stick up for British Columbians against Trump.

In fact, Clark said this week that U.S. protectionism is now the most important issue in her campaign.

Clark vs. Trump

But just how much of a role can a provincial premier play in federal-level negotiations?

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark tours FibreCo in North Vancouver where she told reporters the B.C. Liberals are the only party that will stand up to Donald Trump. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"I think it's mostly politics," said John Ries, a UBC expert in international trade and trade policy

"It's very limited what Christy Clark can do regarding the softwood lumber dispute. There's very little Donald Trump can do because this is a legal process,"

UBC forestry policy expert Harry Nelson said because B.C. accounts for a significant portion of the country's forestry industry, the future premier will have sway over what stance Canada takes against the U.S. but not in talks south of the border.

"Directly speaking, [the future premier] has no direct bearing in terms of influencing the tenor of the discussions that take place in Washington."

Game of foils

So what then of the Liberal leader's defiant stance against the U.S. president?

It might come down to good campaign politics.

"Trump has been so dominant in the media landscape in the last two years, and so he's not a bad foil for her," said UBC political scientist Gerald Baier.

Baier says the usual foil in a provincial election is the opposition leader. Clark has spent much of her campaign directing blows at NDP Leader John Horgan, and she continues to do so on the campaign trail.

But Trump is an enemy who likely won't be bothered to fight back.

Rather than just focusing attacks on Opposition Leader John Horgan (left) Liberal Leader Christy Clark is targeting Donald Trump. (Christer Waara/CBC)

"It's not someone you're engaging with in any real way anyway. I don't think Donald Trump has paid much attention to Christy Clark."

Baier added, having Trump as a foil fits neatly within the party's stance on protecting B.C. jobs

"I think it does speak to the centre voters a little bit better — that she's going to protect British Columbians against Trumpism."

Forward thinking policies

Campaign politics aside, some forestry industry experts say they hope whoever the next premier is takes a proactive stance on addressing ongoing issues in the industry.

"It's easy to stand up to the bully, but let's be active. One of the things that's been disappointing is we haven't seen a lot of vision … not a lot of long-term thinking beyond the election cycle," said Nelson.

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