Replacing Clark urgent matter for B.C. Liberals
In the aftermath of the British Columbia election, experts say two things are clear for the provincial Liberals: It was the throne speech that doomed former leader Christy Clark; and her replacement had better come quick.
“I think it speaks volumes to Christy Clark’s feistiness and never-say-die attitude as a politician that we would even ask (why she resigned)," said Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, who pointed out that normally, a party leader ahead in the polls and at the head of a strong economy going into an election would step down upon losing.
But ultimately, it’s that attitude that led Clark to present a throne speech that adopted many of her opponents’ policies in a last-ditch attempt to pry away support from an imminent NDP/Green party takeover.
“How effective could she be as leader of the opposition in opposing policies that she had just embraced?” Harrison said.
Now, the attention turns to finding Clark’s replacement. There’s no shortage of “known quantities,” said Harrison and Maxwell Cameron, who also teaches political science at UBC. They include former Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson, former Minister of Environment Mary Polak and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, who is currently the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-False Creek.
Kevin Falcon, who lost the leadership bid to Clark in 2011 by a 52-48 per cent margin, could also return, though he has been absent from politics since then. He previously held the positions of Minister of Finance, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Minister of State for Deregulation and Minister of Health.
Dianne Watts, the former Surrey mayor turned federal Conservative Infrastructure Critic, is sure to be getting some calls. The Liberals lost ground in Metro Vancouver and Surrey in the May 9 election to the more city-focused NDP, and could look for candidates who would better their chances there.
Among the new faces who could take over is Richmond MLA and former television reporter Jas Johal. He is “totally inexperienced in politics,” said Harrison, but has name recognition and could give the party an edge in dealing with the media. He is the first so far to publicly muse about running.
Whoever they elect, Harrison said the party would be wise to do it soon — the likelihood of a snap election before 2021 is higher with a fragile coalition government in power.
“Over time, it wouldn’t be surprising if relations between the NDP and Green frayed,” she said. “At a certain point, if either of those parties feel like they’ll do better in a new election, they can pull the plug.”
The Liberals also need someone to fill the seat Clark vacated in WestsideKelowna. It should be a fairly safe one, but until it’s filled, the seat balance shifts from 44-43 in favour of the NDP/ Green coalition to 44-42. By law, Premier John Horgan has six months to call a byelection for the seat. Until then, his government will be able to pass bills without relying on the speaker casting the tiebreaking vote.
But dragging out that timeline opens the door for the Liberals to accuse Horgan of playing politics, and leaving West Kelowna without representation.
Observers suggest the clock started ticking on Christy Clark’s time as leader of the B.C. Liberals when she lost her grip on power after an election and then presented a throne speech that echoed many of her opponents’ positions.