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August 20, 2011

Penner’s Omission

Cynics are tempted to say “yah sure” when politicians say they are stepping aside to spend more time with their family, but I believe Barry Penner when he said that. His decision doesn't take anything away from politicians like Kevin Falcon or Jenny Kwan who decided to continue to serve despite the age of their families. Unlike them, Penner is a cancer survivor which may have contributed to his reassessment of priorities. At age 45 he has served 15 years in the legislature, 10 of them as a cabinet minister. Hopefully he will have a long second career.

Despite the credibility behind Penner's statement, there are some undercurrents that cannot be an accident for an experienced politician. When he announced his decision on August 18th, he issued his own news release rather than using government or caucus communications. Some in the media contacted the Liberal caucus to verify that the release wasn't a hoax, only to learn that it was valid and that they were caught by surprise. That suggests Penner was not entirely pleased with all his colleagues. His statement emphasized the role the Liberal party played in his decision when it required the names of key volunteers for his campaign team in the upcoming election. In other words, Penner may have remained as Attorney General for another year if Christy Clark wasn't playing games with the date of the next election. Her hastily called media availability to react to the resignation did nothing to disguise her surprise at the announcement. Her tone said far more than her words.

The morning after Penner's surprise announcement he appeared at 8:50 AM as a guest on CKNW with Michael Smyth. During the course of that interview he didn't mention Christy Clark; the omission was striking. Smyth directly asked him if uncertainty created by Clark's election timing forced him out. Known for his communication skills, Penner could have used the opportunity to express confidence in Clark and the agenda she may eventually reveal; he didn't.

Penner's website features a statement on his resignation; the only reference to Clark is: “I want to thank both former Premier Gordon Campbell and Premier Christy Clark for being willing to lead the BC Liberal Party and our province, and for giving me an opportunity to serve as a Member of Cabinet - for five years as Minister of Environment, then as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and most recently as Attorney General.” That's not close to an expression of confidence in Clark. Of course, Penner will remain as MLA until the next election so perhaps he will correct these oversights, if indeed they were unintended.

Clark was sworn in as Premier on March 14th. In her over six months as premier she has yet to demonstrate that she is governing rather than running from photo-op to photo-op and picking the low-hanging-fruit by way of announcements in preparation for a possible early election. Returning from her August vacation she was interviewed at 12:35 PM on August 17 in her old time slot by CKNW's Sean Leslie. She said she spent a lot of time thinking about what her government could do in the fall to defend jobs but she wasn't able to provide any specifics other than a trip to Asia. Leslie pressed her for more details but all she could say was they needed to examine what government does to get in the way of job creation. Perhaps her cabinet, most of who served for the last ten years, could confess what they did to kill jobs and how they'll perform better now that she has rejoined them. Clark should learn that governing is different than hosting a talk show. She needs to think before she speaks; perhaps she could get advice from Kevin Falcon and George Abbott, both of whom warned during the Liberal leadership race that Clark is not a deep thinker.