VANCOUVER – Losing ground in public opinion and with little more than a week to go before the writ is dropped, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has drawn on the spirit of the late Margaret Thatcher, promising supporters at a fundraising dinner she’s ready for the upcoming fight.
Before a crowd of 1,800 party faithful who paid a minimum of $400 a plate Monday night, Clark introduced her team of candidates, attacked New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix and promised to balance budgets, eliminate debt and grow the economy through projects like a proposed $25-billion oil refinery in Kitimat, B.C.
Clark, who tied with Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale as the least popular provincial leader in the country according to an Angus Reid poll, suggested she will lay out her platform in a television address next Sunday, telling voters what direction lies ahead with a Liberal government.
“People ask me, ‘how do you feel,'” said Clark Monday night. “I’ll tell you how I feel. I am ready. I have never been more ready for anything in my life.”
“I have never been more ready because this one matter. Nothing, nothing I have done in my life could make the difference that winning this election will.”
Clark is struggling in polls.
The Angus Reid poll released Monday found she and her governing Liberals had an approval rating of 25 per cent in the online survey of almost 7,100 adults, down from 31 per cent just three months prior. Eight per cent of those surveyed from March 11 to March 23 were undecided on Clark and 67 per cent disapproved of her performance as premier.
The poll was conducted shortly after Clark was forced to apologize for a leaked strategy aimed at wooing ethnic voters.
New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix had an approval rating of 49 per cent, while BC Conservative Leader John Cummins got the nod from 20 per cent and Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, 32 per cent. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Controversy, even followed Clark to the fundraising dinner where a small group of protesters gathered outside with red banners, passed out leaflets and chanted “tax the rich to house the poor.”
Early on in her speech, though, Clark referred to the former British prime minister Thatcher, whose death was announced Monday. She called the Iron Lady a woman who endured the most withering criticism but never wavered and stuck to her guns.
She then took aim at the NDP and that party’s criticism that her recent budget wasn’t actually balanced. Clark asked British Columbians to consult with the credit and bond-rating agencies if they didn’t believe her.
Clark also vowed to tackle the province’s debt, saying if her father didn’t leave his family with debt, then British Columbians shouldn’t leave their children with debt, either.
The premier vowed to grow the economy through private projects like the $25- billion oil refinery proposed by B.C. newspaper publisher David Black.
Clark noted she has set five conditions for the movement of heavy oil through the province and Black knows he needs to meet them if he wants the refinery to proceed.
“I believe we should try,” she said. “I believe we should try to get to yes. We should try and get to yes on major economic development projects in our province.
“We should be a place where if you want to invest, people know that your government is trying to help you, rather than trying to stop you.”
Pointing to the liquefied natural-gas industry, Clark said B.C. could have 100,000 high-paying jobs over the next 30 years, $1 trillion in economic activity and $100 billion to pump into a prosperity fund for the province’s future.
She said that fund will eliminate B.C.’s debt by the time her 11-year-old son turns 26.
“This is a choice,” she said of the upcoming vote. “It’s a deeply personal choice that every individual is going to have to make when they walk into the polling booth and choose their future, to chose their future for their children and their children’s children.”
Peter Fassbender, the mayor of Langley, B.C. who is running for the Liberals in the upcoming election, said the premier is a campaigner, is tough and won’t roll over.
“Where not defeatist,” he added. “I haven’t met a single candidate that’s on the team that’s saying, ‘oh, woe is us and we’re down in the dumps and all of that.’ I see a lot of people who are very energized about the future.”
Leslie Abramson, a resident of Delta, B.C., said the mood was up at the dinner.
“If this is any indication, look out NDP,” she said, noting the public will soon be asking the NDP what changes they plan to make.
Abramson backed the premier and called her a down-to-earth person who “says it the way it really is.”
Meantime, the provincial New Democrats spent the weekend finalizing candidates in all 85 B.C. ridings and opening campaign offices after filling vacancies in Peace River South, Peace River North, Boundary-Similkameen and West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.
The official campaign may not begin until next week, but New Democrat campaign workers handed out thousands of leaflets, Dix said.
“We can really feel enthusiasm for change for the better in campaign offices and on the doorstep throughout the province,” Dix said in a statement. “It’s a week before the campaign officially starts and we’ve got thousands of dedicated volunteers already active in their local campaigns.”
B.C. Conservative campaign manager Jeff Bridge said the party has 60-some candidates in place or “in the funnel” and will have candidates in 83 of 85 ridings by next Tuesday. The Conservatives are not running candidates in the ridings of Independent MLAs Vicki Huntington or John van Dongen.