In just over one year, B.C. voters will go to the polls again. Under the province’s fixed election date rules, E-Day is tentatively scheduled for May 9, 2017. Despite a growing tally of scandals and the fact her promises of an LNG “bonanza” – a centrepiece of her 2013 election campaign – turned out to be a mirage, Premier Christy Clark doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about her and the B.C. Liberals losing power.
Take last week, for example. The Globe and Mail put the screws to the governing party, revealing that the premier has been paid an annual $50,000 “top-up” by the party, totalling approximately $300,000 over the years. The newspaper followed up with a uncharacteristically scathing editorial calling on the Liberals to end the “unethical” payments to their leader. The premier’s response was brazenly dishonest, claiming that everyone already knew about the payments since they’d been part of her annual disclosure papers. In fact the dollar amount of the payments had never before been reported. Back in 2012, when a journalist for TheTyee.ca asked her point blank about the stipend, she claimed she didn’t know how much it was and that it was a “car allowance.” (What exactly is the premier driving?)
Despite the embarrassing exposure of the payments, which came on the heels of scrutiny about her party’s high priced fundraisers with the province’s corporate class, Clark acted for all the world like this was No Big Deal. When the opposition NDP pounced on the issue in the legislature, Clark smiled and shrugged, pivoting to her usual anti-NDP rhetoric. Not that we would know if Clark was worried. This is a premier who is a master at projecting confidence, and who relentlessly turns any criticism of her government into campaign talking points. Her idea of governing, in fact, is basically to carry on an endless election campaign backed by the power and prestige of the premier’s office.
Christy Clark’s life and career can be seen as one permanent campaign. Since her student days at Simon Fraser University, she has been a politician defined not by issues or principles but by her desire to run and get elected. When she quit the B.C. Liberal caucus during the Gordon Campbell years, everybody knew she’d be back to try and claim the top job. She bought her house in Vancouver because she wanted to be the city’s mayor. When she failed to win the nomination for the Non-Partisan Association, that was the end of her brief interest in Vancouver municipal politics. Her political philosophy is nearly indistinguishable from her personal ambition, and I don’t mean that as an insult. Before the 2013 election, I underestimated her political skills. She is in fact a talented and effective spokesperson for B.C.’s myopic economic elite, translating the most craven selfishness and greed into folksy rhetoric delivered with panache and a smile.
With those backhanded compliments in mind, it’s worth looking closely at how Clark deflected the NDP’s questioning in the legislature about the premier’s $50,000 “top-up.” In response to NDP leader John Horgan’s follow-up question about getting big money out of politics, Clark responded like she was reciting her stump speech for the 2017 election.
“What our government has been focused on every day is to try and make sure that we raise the standard of living of British Columbians across the province. And the way we’ve been doing that is by saying yes to projects, yes to development, yes to workers, yes to jobs all across British Columbia… We want the economy to grow so that British Columbia workers, British Columbia families, can have a better standard of living and better opportunities for themselves and their children. That’s what we’re focused on every day. If the member [Horgan] would like to join us maybe he could say yes once in awhile too.”
For Christy Clark, is this hubris before a fall? Unfortunately, her confidence is not unwarranted. Very few people in B.C. pay close attention to provincial politics. The NDP’s visibility is low, and the mainstream media can always be counted on to endorse the pro-corporate B.C. Liberals in the end.
For the balance of forces to change in this province, the labour movement and other social movements will have to get more organized, more creative, and more visible. And the BC NDP will have to get more focused and more confident. A good place to start would be to keep hammering on the $50,000 payments. The premier’s “top up” is more than most in this province make in a year. For those toiling away at the lowest minimum wage in the country at $10.45, it would take a worker more than two years of full-time hours to make what Clark gets for her “car allowance.”
The province deserves a premier who says “no” to such blatant greed and says “yes” to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, “yes” to raising woefully low social assistance rates, and “yes” to investing in affordable housing, transit and post-secondary education. We deserve a government that will finally say ”yes” to reducing poverty and inequality in B.C.