It was apparent when Christy Clark left Judith Guichon’s residence in late June without the answer she wanted that the hourglass had been flipped, that the sand was sifting and would soon stop.
She had won the election, but lost – finished first, but was treated as finishing last. And true enough, but for a few gestures in her recent campaign – only a few, not many – the conversation now would be on her new mandate and a steady-as-she-goes government.
Instead, she just steadily goes out the door.
The emotional leap out of anxiety many Liberals make is that it’s time to clean the slate, time for a real reboot, time to change the dynamic of the coalition it has built and nurtured.
Strangely so, considering the 41 MLAs, considering the edge in voter support, considering that the new government it faces as official Opposition didn’t register more than an infinitesimal increase even with a lacklustre Liberal campaign as its tailwind.
I would think Clark is steamed, either at herself for playing it too safe or at others for suggesting safe was safe. Yet there she was last week, her son Hamish in tow, standing for the last foreseeable time at the microphone as a party leader, and owning the May 9 result and the ensuing struggle to keep the seat of power.
You hear many things about the back story in episodes like these: that donors were displeased, that caucus was not unified, that the party believed she was not the asset she had once been.
But I do know reliably that she had never intended to be in the picture in 2021, that she was running now to sustain the government and then leave well in advance of another vote. She said so even after the election.
What possessed her to cobble together a throne speech ripped from the pages of her opponents’ playbook, I doubt I’ll ever know. It was a Hail Christy pass with no receivers in the end zone. But it did nothing to bolster her party and may have been her Waterloo. If it can be forgotten, her legacy will be as a capable economic steward with several asterisks around social compassion; if that desperation is the defining moment, it will devalue her contributions to public life.
The speech was a surprise layered on the true surprise: that the BC Green Party’s Andrew Weaver would cement a deal with the BC NDP’s John Horgan that Liberals warned would cap the Green movement.
That Clark did not see fit to talk to Weaver in negotiations would suggest she believed the Greens would prefer to extract commitment after commitment of her – something she was generally prepared to provide.
It proved to be a miscalculation on the enmity about the Liberals – something newly elected Green MLAs delivered to their leader as he negotiated, something of a fatal flaw of hubris in the Liberals. It is a flaw she and they can wear.
On the surface there is not so much broken for the party as to need a true fix.
It is also true that governing confers a certain authority and stability, as it will on the NDP unless some crisis emerges, so the party will have to have a new vision that offers a better deal than what it left government offering.
The theory goes: if Clark is down now, she will not be forever.
If she is not again pursuing public life – and at least she is saying so now – there are countless missions she can assume in the name of service.
What she need not do is become yet another provincial politician who moves to the federal scene. That is the least interesting role she could pursue, and the last thing she needs is to make more people cynical about her motives.
No, if her word is to be believed – and she’s tested us on this at times – a big foundation should find her, a cause that extends her brand or several cool boards to bring her aboard.
If there is a “should” instead of a “could” in her future: follow through on her veiled plan revealed last week to find a place to serve.
There is life after politics, but the life you choose can also define your legacy. Here’s hoping she makes the right choices.
Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.