Politics·Analysis

Christy Clark, B.C.'s premier, keeping quiet during federal election

B.C. politicians are negotiating their way through federal election endorsements, with some staying out of the fray entirely.

Province's Liberal leader playing a low-key role, but several other premiers actively campaign

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has steered clear of endorsing any party in the federal election. (Canadian Press)

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark always seems comfortable on the campaign trail.

In the last provincial election, her team gave her a hard hat in preparation for all the job-creation-related photo opportunities she would participate in.

But with the longest federal election campaign in recent memory underway, Clark is sitting on the sidelines.

The premier is an awkward position. Her party may have Liberal in the name, but it is very much a coalition made mostly of federal Conservatives and Liberals.

That makes picking a side complicated.

"I'm going to stay out of federal issues until at least the election is over," said Clark.  

"I think that seems wise. We'll see who the new prime minister is and we'll see how that works."

Other premiers taking sides 

Not all premiers are taking Clark's approach.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been actively campaigning for federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau across Ontario. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne has been on the campaign trail across her province with Justin Trudeau.

In Alberta, NDP Premier Rachel Notley has vocally supported Tom Mulcair's climate-change plan, which calls for Canada to achieve a 34 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030.

But for Clark, the messaging is very much about her home base, not about the country as a whole.

She said the role of a premier shouldn't be to influence who's in Ottawa. It should be about managing what's best for B.C. 

"I don't have time to engage in issues that are important to the country, but aren't the job I was elected to do," she said. "That's a big job and I'm 100 per cent focused on that right now."

Federal politics, provincial consequences

But this election is a historic one for B.C. 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party would work towards legalizing marijuana "immediately." (Screenshot/Canadian Press//Jonathan Hayward )

The federal Conservatives, Liberals and NDP have announced plans to match or exceed provincial funding for major transit projects. 

The NDP would decriminalize marijuana, a major B.C. cash crop, while the Liberals would work on legalizing and regulating the sale of the drug. 

There's also a lot at stake for the premier and the province based on the outcome of the election.

The softwood lumber agreement with the United States is set to expire on Oct. 12, one week before the election. The federal government will then have a year to renew the deal that has huge economic consequences for B.C.

"We're going to work with whoever is elected for the best interest of the province," Clark said. 

"I'll let the federal politicians figure out their end of it, and we'll work with whatever comes out the end after election day." 

Ties to federal parties

The premier has had an elaborate history with the country's two oldest political parties.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark stood side-by-side with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the province's wildfire season. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In the early '90s Clark went to Ottawa to work for ministers in Jean Chretien's cabinet. Her ex-husband has been a long-time political organizer for both the provincial and federal Liberals. 

But she has also been seen as an ally to Ottawa since she has been in office — touring wildfires and attending early-morning hockey practices with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Harper has also committed support for the province's liquefied natural gas industry. 

NDP tied at the hip

For the NDP in B.C., it's a much different story. John Horgan is one of the province's most recognizable politicians. At six feet three inches, the party leader stands out in a crowd. 

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan has strong ties to the federal NDP. (CBC)

But even in the most political of crowds he can be a source of confusion. While he was campaigning for the federal NDP two weeks ago, a pair of supporters approached him to let him know they would be throwing their votes his way on Oct. 19. 

The problem is, Horgan isn't on the ballot. That will have to wait until the next scheduled provincial election, scheduled for May 2017.

"I don't need the votes," said Horgan. "If Tom (Mulcair) asks me for help, I'll help. But I am trying my level best to not involve myself in the federal election campaign."

Although Horgan won't be standing on any stages with Mulcair, that doesn't mean he isn't aligning himself with the NDP leader. 

A letter from Horgan has been sent to members of provincial arm of the NDP in support of Mulcair.

But that comes as no surprise. In B.C. the federal and provincial NDP are tied at the hip. At Vancouver's Pride Parade elected representatives from both wings of the party marched side by side.

"I'll be door-knocking with candidates in my community, absolutely, but I believe the federal campaign is going very, very well." said Horgan. 

But Horgan won't have to work directly with the next prime minister — Clark will. So her decision to sit out the campaign should come as no surprise.

Former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell did the same thing while he was in power.

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