B.C. Election 2017: Christy Clark and the Liberals unable to repeat 2013’s miracle

BY LORI CULBERT

Scrappy Liberal leader Christy Clark, who surprised nearly everyone when she led her party to a hard-fought come-from-behind victory in 2013, struggled to repeat the miracle again this year.

At deadline, either the Liberals or the NDP could be forming the next government, and who would be premier remained unclear. What is known is that the party has lost the support of many voters since 2013.8

A deflated crowd at Liberal election headquarters waited late into the evening for Clark to arrive, the charismatic leader presumably not wanting to address her supporters until she had learned whether she had won or lost.

Despite the long campaign and disappointing finish, Clark delivered a barn-burner speech to the party faithful, whipping up the crowd until they were shouting “Christy, Christy, Christy!”

“And so tonight we won the popular vote…. And we have also won the most seats,” she shouted, dressed in a Liberal-red suit with her teenage son Hamish at her side.

“And with absentee ballots still to be counted I am confident they will strengthen our margin of victory… So it is my intention to still lead British Columbia’s government.”

Voters, she said, reminded the party that “we are far from perfect,” that the Liberals need to be humble and “stay focused on things that are important to ordinary British Columbians.”

She said as protectionism mounts south of the border, Liberals must listen to voters who are telling them to “get along” better with the other parties.

“I will work with the other parties to do what needs to be done to keep fighting to protect” B.C., she said to a large round of applause.

Last night, Clark spoke to Green Leader Andrew Weaver by phone. If there is a minority government, Weaver could hold the balance of power.

She did not speak to NDP Leader John Horgan, a Liberal insider said.

Clark thanked her son Hamish during her speech. “Having a mom in politics is just not easy,” she said. The crowd laughed when he responded, “It sucks.”

The tight results were not surprising. Polls suggested the NDP was ahead early in the campaign and tied with the Liberals at the end, as well as the Greens surging in a few ridings.

The Liberals lost ground in Metro Vancouver, with key MLAs losing their seats: Amrik Virk and Peter Fassbender in Surrey, Suzanne Anton in Vancouver, and Naomi Yamamoto in North Vancouver.

The Liberals won the new ridings of Surrey South and Richmond-Queensborough, as well as Delta South after independent Vicki Huntington retired. But the party lost many other Metro Vancouver seats, in particular in Surrey.

Clark’s campaign was not flawless — snubbing a voter named Linda and being indecisive about a value-added tax were two of her fumbles. The first two weeks of the four-week campaign were also a dull affair for the Liberals, who bored the electorate with their single message of jobs and the economy.

That allowed the NDP and its aggressive leader John Horgan to take an early lead in the campaign. Clark stormed back in the last two weeks, though, staking her claim as the candidate who would fight for British Columbians — in particular with her skirmish with the U.S. over softwood lumber.

But her campaign was criticized at times for being uncaring, as her focus appeared to be more one of economics than social services.

The Liberals have been in power for 16 years, and Clark has been premier for the last six — having taken over the party leadership in 2011 when Gordon Campbell stepped down.

She wanted to cement four more years in power, to allow her Liberals to match the accomplishment of Social Credit’s W.A.C. Bennett, who was premier for two decades — a B.C. record.

Clark refers to Bennett as “the greatest premier” — she holds his former Kelowna riding, and among her closest advisors are several people who were close to Bennett, including his grandson Brad.

In an interview as the election results trickled in Tuesday night, Brad Bennett said the comparison isn’t a prefect one because while his grandfather served as premier for all 20 years, Clark is just running for her second term.

“She is still fresh in the job in many ways. She has a lot of unfinished business to get done,” Bennett said. “She is a brilliant campaigner, and a very effective campaigner.”

In 2013, the Liberals won a surprisingly decisive majority with 49 seats, compared to 35 for the NDP, one Green and one independent. When the parliament dissolved, the Liberals’ seats had fallen to 47, due to a byelection loss and a MLA charged with assault.

There were two new seats in this election, for a total of 87, so the Liberals needed 44 to secure another majority.

The Liberal victory in 2013 was based on wins in rural B.C., the Fraser Valley, Surrey, Richmond, Delta, and the North Shore. The NDP dominated in Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island.