The Current

Handshake plagues B.C. Liberal Christy Clark in last days of election

How a meet and greet with voter Linda Higgins has become the handshake that won't let go of B.C. Liberal Christy Clark.
The interaction created a buzz on social media, including #IamLinda trending 0:12

Last week, a simple handshake at a meet and greet in a B.C. grocery story sparked a political firestorm for Liberal premier Christy Clark. It's now become the handshake that won't let go. 

Clark was in the midst of a campaign stop at a grocery store in North Vancouver ahead of the provincial election on Tuesday. Linda Higgins was among the pack of people hoping to speak to the Clark, although she is not a fan of the premier. 

"I'd never vote for you," Higgins started before the premier quickly interrupted her.

"You don't have to. That's why we live in a democracy," Clark responded and then moved on with her glad-handing.

It was a seven-second exchange that is suddenly dominating the B.C. elections — with #iamlinda trending on Twitter as thousands of people took to social media to support Higgins. 

Mike Smyth, a political columnist with the Province newspaper in Vancouver, says the backlash has more to do with how the Liberals handled the fallout rather than the encounter itself.
Linda Higgins said she wanted to tell Christy Clark about how the high cost of Vancouver housing market has affected her adult kids.

Liberal campaign director Laura Miller immediately labelled Higgins an NDP plant sent to disrupt Clark's campaign event. She wasn't, and it took the Liberals several days to admit their mistake.

"It was a classic example of how the Liberal Party took something that should have been a flash in the pan and poured gasoline on it … and turned it into a fire that we're still talking about a week later," Smyth tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Communications strategist Alice Mills — who has worked with the B.C. Liberals in the past — agrees the Liberals severely mishandled the aftermath, but says the online furor is unearned.

"When you ask [Higgins] what the policy issues are, she can't bite down on the nugget. That's what I'm irritated about in regards to this [trending 'iamlinda' Twitter] hashtag," Mills tells Tremonti.

"It's somewhat lazy, cheap, manufactured communications."

Smyth explains Higgins told him that she wanted to speak to Clark about housing affordability in the Lower Mainland. The 61-year-old has two grown children who, despite having well-paying jobs, can't afford to buy a home in Vancouver.

"What she told me was that she was very surprised that the premier didn't want to speak to her," Smyth says.

Political columnist Mike Smyth says 'Christy Clark does have a problem with being aloof and disconnected from the concerns of everyday voters.' (The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck)

Political scientist David Moscrop suggests part of the reason the Higgins encounter has resonated so much is because it tapped into a sense of alienation and frustration that many people feel about politicians.

"[There's] a subset of the population who see elites as being out of touch, not in their corner, and not willing to engage with them," Moscrop tells Tremonti.

"There's a populist thread that runs through B.C., and when folks see something like this I think it pulls on that thread and suggest look these people don't care about you."

Related: Risky business: The challenge of chatting with voters

Mills finds voters' complaints of alienation "ridiculous." She argues the Liberals' main focus in government has been on the economy and creating jobs, which are top priorities for most voters. And suggests because of that focus, B.C. is the country's main economic driver for the first time ever.

But Smyth says the province's economic successes aren't resonating.

"Christy Clark does have a problem with being aloof and disconnected from the concerns of everyday voters. Her campaign message is essentially 'Everything is awesome. We are great. We have a buoyant economy here.' But if you talk to a lot of people they will say that they're still struggling. They're having difficulty making ends meet and paying the bills."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry and Willow Smith.