B.C. politics as seen from Alberta: Christy Clark’s re-election strategy exposed

Posted on February 12, 2016, 2:17 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon reads the notorious Throne Speech attacking Alberta on Tuesday. Below: B.C. Premier Christie Clark, NDP strategist Brian Topp, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan.

You no longer have to live in British Columbia to know what B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s strategy is going to be when her Liberal Party tries to win the provincial election scheduled for May 9, 2017.

As she did last time, in 2013, Ms. Clark is going to run a dirty campaign against a New Democratic Party leader who won’t fight back.

Victoria, BC-October 4, 2011-Premier Christy Clark, photographed in her Legislative Office.-Photograph by Diana NethercottIn 2013, that NDP leader was named Adrian Dix. He blew a 20-point lead in the polls by not striking back when Ms. Clark went negative. No one knows why. It must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mr. Dix isn’t the leader of the B.C. NDP any more. His campaign manager, a lifelong New Democrat named Brian Topp, who had run for the leadership of the federal NDP before going out to the coast to help Mr. Dix, has left the province.

The leader of the B.C. NDP is now John Horgan, and without knowing much about B.C. politics or Mr. Horgan, he strikes me as the sort of fellow who won’t hesitate to strike right back if Ms. Clark’s Liberals, who are really conservatives, go negative.

What to do?

Well, why not follow Mr. Topp? Hey, it could work! Here’s how:

Mr. Topp, as alert readers from Alberta know, now works as chief of staff to NDP Premier Rachel Notley. He says he’s learned his lesson about passive campaigns, and Alberta New Democrats profoundly hope that’s true. I suppose we’ll find out in 2019.

In the meantime, however, there’s absolutely nothing in it for Alberta’s New Democrats to get into a big dustup with Ms. Clark, the cheerful conservative premier to the west, or for that matter with Brad Wall, the cranky and unpleasant conservative premier to the east.

ToppSo Ms. Clark can be reasonably confident that if she attacks Ms. Notley and the Alberta NDP for the state of world oil prices, the differences between B.C.’s carbon tax and Alberta’s planned version of the same thing, or just the painful volume of squealing by Alberta conservatives of various stripes, the chances are quite good that, rather like Mr. Dix, Ms. Notley won’t bother to fight back.

Of course, unlike Mr. Dix, the stakes in this are extremely low for Ms. Notley.

So, just as Ms. Clark attacked a passive NDP leading up to the 2013 election, she’s going to attack a passive NDP in the lead-up to the one in 2017. The only difference is the passive NDP in question won’t be in B.C.

We know this because the Clark Government’s Throne Speech, read by B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon on Tuesday, contains a couple of shots at Alberta that have been causing a huge brouhaha out here as the local media has tried to play it up like Western Canada’s Gavrilo Princip moment, a shot loud enough to start a war.

Not likely. The Notley NDP calmly parried with the argument that since the criticism was about the mismanagement of Alberta’s economy, and since until very recently that economy was being managed by a variety of conservative not all that different from Ms. Clark’s, it was really a shot at the Progressive Conservatives who ran the place for nearly 44 years.

It wasn’t, of course. Ms. Clark’s shot was aimed directly at the NDP … the B.C. NDP, that is, via their brethren out here on the other side of the Rockies.

Notley-LShe’s counting on the high probability most B.C. voters know precious little about who ran Alberta when, or what their policies were whenever. Even if they do know something, she presumably reckons, they probably don’t particularly like Alberta, which until recently was acting entirely too big for its britches.

If I were a bettin’ man – and I’m not when it comes to politics in other provinces – I’d say this won’t work this time for Ms. Clark. But it’s any old port in a West Coast storm, and it’ll have to do for a strategy until her brain trust comes up with something better.

Mr. Wall may try a bit of the same thing, but that will be harder since Saskatchewan seems to have exactly the same problems for exactly the same reasons as Alberta – up to now except for the deficit, of course, thanks to its 5-per-cent sales tax.

Indeed, former prime minister Stephen Harper also tried a variation of this theme in the Oct. 19, 2015, federal election, and we all saw how that worked out, which was OK for the country, thank you very much, although not so well for Mr. Harper’s Conservatives.

Which leaves us with nothing to talk about except the propriety of taking shots at other provinces via Throne Speeches, which historically hasn’t been done very often, at least as far as anyone can remember.

Personally, I’m all for it. I think it would be highly entertaining if Alberta’s NDP mocked both B.C. and Saskatchewan viciously in their next Throne Speech. There’s just so much to make fun of. But I admit this is highly unlikely.

HorganIf you are one of those who don’t think a lieutenant-governor should be used, as someone put it on Twitter yesterday morning, to attack another province, I would suggest to you the person who has the power to stop it is the occupant of that same vice-regal office.

Remember, while the Speech from the Throne – which supposedly sets out the government’s agenda for the next session but is increasingly just another political leaflet – is theoretically written by the government and merely read by the Queen’s representative, a lieutenant-governor who wished to could see such an offensive passage excised with a whisper in the right ear.

No premier, no matter how desperate, would risk a public fight with constitutional implications over a cheap shot at another province.

My guess is that Ms. Guichon didn’t bother to say anything because she didn’t really care, in turn because she saw Ms. Clark’s Throne Speech for what it really is: just another debased campaign document in a protracted fight with the NDP.

The Alberta NDP, that is, because unlike the B.C. chapter it won’t fight back.

Let’s leave the defence to Mr. Horgan, thank you very much.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments to: B.C. politics as seen from Alberta: Christy Clark’s re-election strategy exposed

  1. TENET

    February 12th, 2016

    I feel like a cadet as I salute you once again for your astute analysis. Premier Notley is not as naive as some would have us believe. She was in B.C. and knows very well that Clark is a conservative leading a common front against the NDP. Clark and Wall are as well matched as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. As Garth Brooks put it so poetically correct, “I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance.” The duo can dance, but Premier Notley is too busy to be petty, and Alberta is far greater for not lured into the gutter.

    One more time around the dance floor for Brad and Christie before they drift away into obscurity.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    February 12th, 2016

    Like Trudeau, Clark is highly photogenic, always a plus point for a self-delighted pol as it boosts their confidence no matter whether it is polite or not to say so. Her politics are nasty, no independent Utilities Review Board so she runs roughshod over BC Hydro, yet with zero expertise in the matter. Any yahoo knows how to run a complicated electric utilty, right? Her LNG port proposals ignore realities that even the Russians from Sakhalin Island visiting BC are attempting to warn about. Who cares about realities? It’s full speed ahead into the iceberg. Frankly, her goose will likely be cooked by First Nations objections to her rampage, since the NDP is basically asleep.

    Reply
  3. Kang

    February 12th, 2016

    Good point about the First Nations Bill. In reality Ms. Clark is only the Premier of less than five percent of BC’s land area. The rest is First Nations land which has never been ceded to Canada by Treaty.

    Premier Notley’s respectful approach to First Nations is more important than batting at the pipsqueak Premier of the lower mainland.

    Reply
  4. Bill

    February 12th, 2016

    Your comments are right on the mark as are the comments of TENET AND Bill M

    As a BCer… Trust me there is no brain trust behind Christy. She and her scattered pinball governance, serial corruption and scandal is an ongoing embarrassment that can not end soon enough.

    Always look forward to your posts from Alberta.

    Reply
  5. Gail

    February 13th, 2016

    Re: Topp. Wow… this makes me so confident when it comes to the future of Alberta’s NDP. Why are they importing people with a demonstrated record of consistent failure? Given what’s happened to the AB NDP so far it doesn’t look like this record is going to change.

    Time for the AB NDP to have Alberta advisers. It was the Alberta advisers who were there for the election why aren’t they there now? It was the Alberta NDP campaign workers and supporters who helped get them into power and now the AB NDP is ignoring them in favour of placating the Wild Rose.

    Reply
  6. Ken Larsen

    February 13th, 2016

    In my view Notley’s imported advisors are living in a bubble disconnected from Alberta culture. The young Alberta NDP activists who won the election on the ground, and those who worked for the NDP out of principle for years have been sidelined.

    I’m sure the imported advisors running the show are very fine people. But the evidence suggests they are hardly the great “real politic” chess masters some might think. Just look at how that bunch ran the NDP into the ground in Nova Scotia, totally threw away the BC election, fumbled the Federal election, and destabilized the Manitoba NDP. Now pretty much the same bunch has run the Alberta NDP into the boards.

    Reply
  7. David

    February 13th, 2016

    The criticism of Alberta in the BC throne speech and how Alberta has reacted to it says a lot about both provinces.

    The premier of BC insists she is ‘friends” with Alberta, however I think friends probably do not criticize their friends in a throne speech. BC also has done little if anything to advance Alberta’s pipeline project plans over the last several years. Her recent criticism seems to be for internal political purposes – to reassure BC residents that their economy is being managed well, in comparison to the one next door. However, this is a debatable point as over the years so many BC residents left to come to Alberta for better paying jobs and more affordable housing. Those who have now lost their jobs due to low oil prices may in fact be returning to BC, but that is nothing to brag about – the jobs in BC are now no better paying or the housing no more affordable, than when they left.

    On the Alberta side, some here think it is unpatriotic to allow outsiders to criticize Alberta’s past economic decisions. If we fall for this line of thinking, we risk becoming a province that learns nothing and forgets nothing. Yes, we can resent the premier of BC for somewhat ungraciously saying what she said, but the reality is it was a criticism that many in Alberta also made about the past PC governments over the years.

    In the end I suspect the Government of Alberta would be wise not to dwell on this too much or get into a shouting match with BC. There will be an election in BC soon and the government may change.

    In the meantime, Alberta now has a better idea about its “friends” in BC. I suspect we won’t be buying more hydro electricity from BC anytime in the near future, but fortunately there are other nearby provinces that are eager and willing to supply us with it, so that will be BC’s loss, not ours. Perhaps this is something the BC premier can contemplate the next time she feels the urge to offer her unsolicited and unneeded “friendly” advise to a neighbour.

    Reply
  8. Brian Topp

    February 13th, 2016

    Unless, of course, anything like this were to happen again. As we’ve been saying to our neighbourly friends in Victoria, in a neighbourly way.

    Reply

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