British Columbia·Analysis

No apologies: Christy Clark stays true to form in final week of campaign

Campaigns matter, and their final days have a way of clarifying things. Or in Christy Clark’s case, crystallizing them.

Six years in, Clark may be a polarizing figure, but still knows how to pull off a sunny campaign

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark makes a campaign stop in Prince George, B.C., on Friday, May 5. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Four days before the B.C. election, Liberal Leader Christy Clark's schedule on Friday showed a battle with the NDP that still hangs in the balance. 

Five events over 14 hours, travelling 2,500 kilometres in the air, going from safe seats in Richmond and Prince George to courting Indigenous leaders in ridings where the Liberals hope for an upset — it was the most strenuous day of the campaign and it showcased what people love and loathe about British Columbia's 35th premier.

"You know why we have so much social housing?" she asked a crowd. "It's not because we have socialism; it's because we have a resource sector with hard-working people."

There were lines like that all day.

And there were ample photo opportunities. A baby holding a dandelion? Clark would hug it. A big rig with an open door? Clark would step in and honk the air horn.  
Clark stops to smell a flower given to her by a little girl in Campbell River, B.C., on Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A line of Tim Hortons-drinking, blue collar aviation workers lined up against a wall? Clark would shake each hand. And that was all at just one of the five events. 

There was gleeful politicking, with a point in every stump speech where she said NDP leader John Horgan "wakes up every morning planning how much of your money he's going to spend." 

And there was little on specifics — a series of punchy, five-to-15-minute speeches and no hint in her words and demeanour that everything in B.C. was not going perfectly to plan. 

TD Bank getting a $2.8-million tax break under a program ostensibly designed to grow businesses from Asia?

"The program's always been aimed toward companies that are going to create jobs in British Columbia ... and I guess the folks at finance decided they met that goal."

Documents released by NDP showing the potential cost of the Massey Tunnel growing to $12 billion?

"The project is going to come in on time and on budget," she breezily said.

It's nothing new for those who have watched Clark for years: She came to power on the strength of her sunny campaigning, first becoming Liberal leader despite only having the support of one MLA, then winning a full term in 2013 after entering the election 20 points behind the NDP. 

The only thing different this time? The target isn't a political rival, but the most powerful man in the world. 

Clark, left, raises the name of U.S. President Donald Trump almost as often as that of her NDP rival John Horgan. (CBC)

Trump turning the campaign

Senior Liberals have admitted the NDP had a better first half of the campaign. While Horgan was going from Metro Van riding to Metro Van riding and making funding promises, Clark was replaying past hits, talking up past commitments to LNG and the Site C dam, but offering no new vision or policy to excite voters. 

But the softwood lumber tariff implemented by the U.S. government energized the campaign and gave Clark a new target in her stump speeches. With industrial businesses as backdrops, she criticized Donald Trump almost as much as John Horgan in her speeches Friday, threatening retaliatory protectionist measures and saying she's the only candidate who can take him on.

"The Greens can't and the NDP won't," she said. "We don't need to be just fighting the Americans, we need to be fighting fit." 

"We will not sit back and let the Americans decide how many jobs there are going to be in British Columbia."

And the populist message may be working. Polls have tightened in the last week, and given the Liberals' lead in both campaign funds and supporter morale — in a Angus Reid poll, just 52 per cent of likely NDP voters said they thought their party would win. A complete repeat of 2013, when Clark came back from a 20 point deficit over the course of the election, is possible.
Clark greets a supporter as she makes a campaign stop in Campbell River. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A polarizing premier

Such a result would further infuriate NDP supporters who have long seen the premier as focused on politics over policy. 

But a Clark loss would break two key political truisms: That an incumbent party with a strong economy doesn't lose, and that in British Columbia, the NDP only wins when the centre-right is split.  

So her decision to not apologize after mishandling the #IAmLinda controversy may not matter, or that she falsely alleged the NDP had hacked the Liberal website, or that donations to her party are being investigated by the RCMP, or that the Supreme Court ruled against the government in their long-running legal battle with the teachers' federation. 

Six years into her tenure as premier, Christy Clark is who she is, and will finish the campaign with what brought her here.  

And next week, that will make her either a one-term premier who couldn't win re-election in Canada's fastest-growing economy, or the only two-term female premier in this country's history, with a multi-billion Site C dam and multi-billion Massey Bridge virtually certain to proceed. 

"In four days, you have an opportunity to elect a B.C. Liberal government that are focused squarely on jobs for working people," she said at the end of her final speech of the day, a tailgate party in Prince George, where children stood behind her holding signs that said "JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!" and "The Future is Bright."

Campaigns matter, and their final days have a way of clarifying things. 

Or in Clark's case, crystallizing them.