Smiles Then and Now
Christy Clark was sworn in as Premier on March 14, 2011. She must have liked her 2011 year-end interview with the Vancouver Sun since a link to it was posted on her FaceBook page. There was no hint in that interview of "debt free BC" which became the 2013 campaign mantra; the 2011 year in review focused on Premier Campbell's messes that were cleaned-up, particularly the HST. In December 2011 no one, perhaps with the exception of Trevor Lautens, thought Clark would win a fourth term for the Liberals in 2013 and the first for a woman as elected Premier in BC.
John Horgan was named leader of the B.C. New Democrats on May 1, 2014, after Mike Farnworth, the only other candidate, withdrew from the leadership race. It is easy to forget that political news for the first half of 2014 was dominated by whether the NDP would have a contested leadership race. Horgan rose in question period on May 5 to pose his first question as leader of the Official Opposition. It concerned temporary foreign workers, a topic that remains hot since the Premier started saying that it is a path to citizenship, but she wasn't in the legislature to respond that day. It wasn't until May 14th that the Premier was in the legislature to answer questions put by Horgan on the issue of clawing back support payments from single parents on disability income assistance.
In the fall legislative session, there were 24 sitting days between October 6 and November 27; the Premier answered questions in just six question period over the two months. On November 19th the Premier attended question period while Horgan was attending meetings outside Victoria. That proved to be an unfortunate day for the NDP they pursued a strange line of questioning around the quick wins scandal while the Premier mocked them with lines like: "If ever there was proof that the opposition in British Columbia is struggling to find its identity and figure out what it stands for, it must be found in this line of questioning in question period today. They will have to change their name from the NDP to the Irrelevant Party one of these days soon." Of course, that is the line that got media attention. Earlier in that question period, the Premier said: "Question period is valuable time for the opposition, and it's valuable time for the public. It's a chance in our democratic process for members of the opposition to hold the government to account for the things that we're doing today, to talk about the decisions that we're making. It's a legitimate forum to do that." Unfortunately, those remarks on the potential importance of question period received little or no subsequent attention.
Hansard's index of question period by subject shows 28 topics the NDP pressured the government on during the course of the fall session. On the most controversial topics the response of the government was to wait until the release of reports. On the Mount Polley tailings pond disaster, the NDP pressed for the release of inspection reports that are public information in some provinces, yet the government said wait for the investigation.
After former Deputy Health Minister Graham Whitmarsh made allegations regarding the investigation into policies that affected the firing of pharmaceutical researchers in the Ministry of Health in, the NDP pressed for an independent investigation; they were told to wait for the report.
When the NDP revealed emails on Advanced Education Minister Admir Virk's former RCMP account concerning his role in the violation of compensation guidelines as they affected the president of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, they were told to wait for the report.
It takes a scorecard to keep track of all the outstanding reports that are being prepared for hot topics in the Clark government. Cynics believe terms of reference are set such that the public will remain in the dark. It is clear that the government is juggling lots of hot potatoes and the NDP held the government's feet to the fire throughout the legislative session; however, that one bad day for the NDP in question period is being used by its opponents as a reference point. If that weren't bad enough, the Premier has made an effort to turn the channel off of her government's scandals and pending reports with an accusation that gender had something to do with the NDP's tendency to dismiss her. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer observed: "Having sat and watched from above the speaker's chair through the most of the occasions when Clark faced the New Democrats across the floor, I was struck by the degree to which she challenged and goaded them at every opportunity."
No one is going to accuse the Premier of being a policy wonk or a micro-manager. Her strengths are those she displayed in opposition when she was first elected in 1996 and became one of the Liberal's most effective attack dogs in question period. It is obvious to everyone watching that she enjoys those games.
It is outside the legislature where the Premier's shoot from the lip style may get her in trouble. Just as the Liberals are watching and baiting Horgan to get material for 2017, so New Democrats keep an eye on the Premier. After days of protests on Burnaby Mountain she finally broke her silence, not on the merits of the pipeline, but on parents taking children to the protest. The parents she criticized pushed back and Province columnist Mike Smyth reminded readers she has been criticized for her red light running parenting skills.
The Premier doesn't appear to have as much fun when she is on issues she can't control. There are bound to be many more like that before the next election.