British Columbia

B.C.'s Christy Clark marks 'tough' 1st year in office

Clark bringing in staff from federal Conservative ranks as election year approaches

Premier Christy Clark says her first year in office has been tough, but she considers it an honour and remains optimistic about winning the next election.

Clark, sworn in on March 14, 2011, is now trailing the Opposition New Democrats in opinion polls and is fending off a right-wing charge from the seatless B.C. Conservatives, but she says there's still time to reverse that downward slide.

Clark says she knew she inherited the premier's job at a time of political turmoil, but she insists her focus on families and job creation is reaping benefits for British Columbians.

The B.C. premier's media style has changed since the arrival of communications director Sara MacIntyre.

She said she has no regrets about taking on the job, despite warnings from associates.

"You know I never thought this was going to be easy, I always knew that this was a tough challenge to take on and that's why many people said to me, ‘Christy, you shouldn't do it.’"

Clark was elected B.C. Liberal leader after former premier Gordon Campbell retired mid-term, amid public anger over the government's decision to introduce the harmonized sales tax.

British Columbians rejected the HST in a referendum last summer, but the fallout over the tax continues to dog Clark's Liberals.

Clark said she expects to call byelections in two Lower Mainland vacancies, but she acknowledges byelections are difficult to win for governments.

The next B.C. election is set for May 2013.

Changing communications style

With the campaign about one year away, it’s evident that Clark’s handlers are moving her from an open style to more message control.

The new media strategy is fronted by a new communications director, Sara MacIntyre, who used to work in the Prime Minister’s Office under Stephen Harper.

MacIntyre raised hackles at an event Tuesday when she started using a Harper style of media management, calling on reporters from a list of names rather than allowing a more traditional scrum.

"When I say your name, please make your way to the microphone," MacIntyre said.

No follow-up questions were allowed, which contrasted to Clark’s practice of much of the past year when the new premier would rarely pass up an opportunity to talk extensively with reporters.

MacIntyre is the third hire from among the ranks of former PMO staffers.

Ken Boessenkool, who served as senior policy advisor and strategist to Harper, is the premier's new chief of staff, and Dimitri Pantazopoulos, the former Harper pollster, has been named principal secretary.

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Stephen Smart