Shoring up support where you don’t have any is a vital part of politics.
It’s what American presidential nominee Mitt Romney is trying to do with Hispanics wary of his immigration policies. It’s what Stephen Harper did in the last federal election with Canadian Jews who shifted from Liberal to Conservative in record numbers.
And it’s what British Columbia’s Liberal premier, Christy Clark, tried to do with the women’s vote when she hosted a strictly female breakfast at a North Vancouver restaurant earlier this summer. The only difference between Clark’s political MO and those of the leaders above is that Clark actually belongs to the group that doesn’t fully support her.
According to a recent Angus Reid survey, only 15 per cent of women voters in B.C. said they’d vote for Clark’s Liberals, while 53 per cent said they’d support the NDP’s Adrian Dix, and 21 per cent said they’d vote Conservative—leaving Clark in last place among the major parties. If an election were held today, it’s very possible she would lose to Dix by a large margin—among women especially. Which is why, perhaps, she thought it would be a good idea to host a women’s-only townhall breakfast. Would that only women had shown up.
When one veteran member of the B.C. Liberals arrived for the session at Browns Socialhouse in North Vancouver on Aug. 2, he was turned away because he was a man. “It was explained to him,” government spokesman Shane Mills told the press, “that we could not accept his cheque—the event was an opportunity for women to meet the premier.”
One of Clark’s justifications for gender-specific events is that “conversations happen differently when it’s just women in the room.” Not everyone agrees.
Since the Browns event, the premier has faced allegations of sexism. It seems her attempt to become more accessible to women has made her a pariah among some men. The Province’s Michael Smith accused Clark of “enthusiastically embracing a ‘no boys allowed’ policy” and labelled her a hypocrite for criticizing the NDP’s gender-equity quota system, one that will reserve certain B.C. ridings for female candidates only. The Canadian Association for Equality—a national “men’s issues” group—is equally miffed. “It’s very divisive to hold a women’s-only group,” says spokesperson Bradley Corbett. “If that happened to a woman it wouldn’t be acceptable.”
There is at least one man, however, who remains unfazed. Derek Archer, 36, is the owner of the Browns Socialhouse franchise. He was the only male guest at the event. “The whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” he says. “It was such a positive event and [the negative attention] is totally unfair and I’m not speaking from any political platform.” Archer says the spurned Liberal donor, “an older fellow,” wasn’t visibly upset and left the restaurant in good spirits. Hopefully, for Clark’s sake, the women did too.