The curious emptiness of Christy Clark's legacy - Macleans.ca
 

The curious emptiness of Christy Clark’s legacy

She was a formidable force on the stump, and sailed into office on favourable economic winds. So why couldn’t Clark convert her advantage into enduring achievements?


 
Former B.C. premier Christy Clark speaks to media next to her son Hamish for the first time since announcing she will be stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader and MLA in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Ben Nelms/CP)

Clark speaks to media next to her son Hamish after announcing she will be stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader and MLA i (Ben Nelms/CP)

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark, who steps down on Friday after six and a half years as Liberal leader—all of them as the province’s 35th premier—might’ve imagined she’d have more to point to when history comes to judge her.

When asked to name her inspiration and guiding light in office, the 51-year-old always named W.A.C. Bennett, the B.C. populist who left behind systems of dams, highways and ferries before exiting the premier’s office in 1972. Like Bennett, Clark, who spent almost her entire working life in politics, first as a party organizer, then in the elected realm, is a dynamo and a striver. Both were experts at the retail side of the game, the stuff that can’t be taught. Neither had a university degree. The $9-billion Site C mega-dam, the $3.5-billion Massey Bridge, the promised LNG miracle, with its $130-billion in riches, were intended to be legacy projects like Bennett’s: endowments meant to endure long after Clark left office.

But Site C and the Massey Bridge may fall to the axe under the NDP. And Clark’s Liberal government was never able to deposit a single LNG dollar in B.C.’s Prosperity Fund, a petro treasure chest styled after Norway’s Oil Fund. In 2016, when the Liberals finally made their first payment, it was hived out of revenue from health-care premiums. Critics dubbed it the “Fantasy Fund.”

But perhaps Clark’s was never going to be the kind of legacy that gets beatified. More often than not, great leaders are those dealt bad hands; who rise to the challenge, undaunted; who deliver big, leaving the province or country better off than before. Clark, however, took power in 2011 one year after B.C. hosted Canada’s most successful Olympics. The ’08 recession was in the rearview mirror. The Lower Mainland housing market was hitting turbocharge (during Clark’s tenure, land transfer taxes alone generated more than a quarter of B.C.’s $1.15-billion annual budget). Even the NHL’s Canucks were ascendant. It’s hard to imagine a modern B.C. premier being dealt a better hand.

What followed were five balanced budgets and some of the strongest top-line economic growth in the country—all creditable stuff. Others may remember Clark for the formidable fight she put up to take the 2013 election after pundits, pollsters and even some in her own caucus wrote her off. Still others may remember her for standing up to Alberta, to win costly concessions for B.C. in return for allowing their crude to move to the coast.

But none of that amounts to a legacy. And six years on, few in B.C. could tell you what Clark stands for. Her roots were in the federal Liberal party; but she took the B.C. Liberals so far to the right to appease its ascendant federal Conservative flank it is now unrecognizable from the centrist party led by Gordon Campbell, her predecessor.
Indeed, Clark leaves behind the country’s most unequal province, socio-economically speaking, thanks to 37 per cent cuts to income tax levies, tightened rules for welfare eligibility, cuts to child-care subsidies, reductions in support for women’s centres and the doubling of post-secondary tuitions.

Despite B.C.’s riches and advantages, Clark chose last year to revoke bus passes for the disabled, some of the province’s poorest, most isolated citizens, refusing to budge even after people in wheelchairs descended on the B.C. legislature in protest. She kept welfare rates and disability payments frozen throughout her time in office, while boasting record revenues and growth. She took B.C., a one-time climate leader that introduced North America’s first tax on carbon many steps backwards in environmental policy. The only notable social policy Clark introduced was a program aimed at helping single parents get off welfare—catnip to the party’s right flank.

At her final press conference last week, Clark told reporters she has no immediate career plans but will do some gardening and get her son Hamish “to do his homework because Grade 11’s a busy year.” She says she won’t return to politics, but has repeatedly said she hopes her next job has an element of public service, opening the door wide open to a federal appointment, possibly the real reason she is suddenly leaving office after insisting she would head a tough opposition to the NDP. Ambassadorships, of course, followed the fading political careers of Manitoba premier Gary Doer, who went to Washington, and Clark’s predecessor, Gordon Campbell, who went to London.

Clark clearly saw a revolt within her party brewing. And voters had grown weary of the ruthless, hyper-partisan style that led to the “ethnic outreach” and “triple delete,” document destruction scandals, among others; her approval ratings plummeted in her final term in office. She waved off relentless criticism over bottomless corporate and foreign donations that gave her party a four-fold advantage over the NDP, even after the New York Times labelled B.C. the “wild west” of political cash and the province’s elections agency referred its investigation to the RCMP. To Clark, winning always seemed so much more important than governing. Ultimately, the approach would cost her.

The former premier seems stung by her premature exit. No one wants to go out this way. At her final presser, she at times, sounded fed up and even bitter: “I guess I’ll never see any of you ever again,” she began, addressing reporters.
“I am done with public life,” she later said. “I’m not planning on going back—that’s for sure. Politics isn’t a happy job. It’s not a fun job.”

Later that night, she told the Vancouver Sun she felt like she “gets to be me again,” adding: “I feel good about that.”


 

The curious emptiness of Christy Clark’s legacy

  1. What is all this ‘legacy’ stuff lately?

    They aren’t passing on the fine china, or a painting,……they get elected, usually for 2 terms, do their job and then move on

  2. Leaving a Province in the best economic condition of all other Provinces and territories surely is a Legacy isn’t it?. We should be so lucky in NS.

    • It would indeed be a ‘legacy’, if that were actually true and if she had done anything to achieve that. It isn’t, and she didn’t. What she did do was inflict the largest annual accumulation of debt in BC’s history during her time as Premier.

      And that’s her real legacy: massive debt.

    • A projected debt of $70billion in 6 years is not “good economic condition”.

      People would know this if the media did its job and reported on it.

  3. She (and her party) took the Province from a “Have not” under the NDP to a “Have” and left it in the best economic condition of all other Provinces and territories. And if “The $9-billion Site C mega-dam, the $3.5-billion Massey Bridge, the promised LNG miracle, with its $130-billion in riches” are killed (and it looks like the LNG one already has been) then that is the NDPs legacy, not Clark’s. Some projects take decades to materialize, she laid the groundwork. If they destroy it that is on their head, not hers.

    • She and her fellow incompetent ‘BCLiberals’ quadrupled the province’s debt over their reign. They never balanced a single,budget without resorting to forcing billions of debt onto crown corporations.

      As for ‘killing the LNG”, that was never anything more than a ‘smoke and mirrors’ election ploy. The BCLiberals never had any intention of actually developing such an industry, and it was, quite simply put, ‘BS’. There was no actual ‘groundwork’ laid. Nothing.

    • Do you actually live in the real world? All those major projects were Christy’s and it was her and her corporate party that did not deliver. To blame an incoming government is just ridiculous. Clark got tossed because she was incompetent and constantly lied to the people.

    • No. Gordon Campbell lucked out with a commodaties boom and still managed to run up billions in debt.

  4. Another unmentioned part of her legacy was her stubborn viciousness regarding public education.

    It began in 2001 as Minister of Education. As part of Gordon Campbell’s campaign of extreme corporate tax cuts, Clark led the charge against K-12 public education. A legally binding contract was torn up and a new one was put in its place. Class size and composition language, gained by teachers after years of sacrificing wages and benefits under the NDP, disappeared over night. Targeted funding for special education was eliminated, and, as a result, thousands of “non-enrolling” teaching positions vanished and a teacher “surplus” was engineered. Funding for private education ballooned. At all times during her tenure as Minister, Christy Clark’s attitude toward teachers was one of contempt and scorn. Her lack of a successful post-secondary education, and her son’s enrollment in a tony private prep school, were invoked to explain an otherwise bewildering personal animus towards public education and the BCTF.

    Things got worse when she returned as premier. There were two teachers’ strikes under her tenure. As court testimony would later show, the Clark government had intentionally provoked the first strike. There was little attempt to address the BC Supreme Court’s ruling that the 2002 contract (while she was Minister of Education) was unconstitutional. And then, in 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada took only 20 minutes of deliberation to uphold the original SCBC ruling. It was a massive and historic repudiation of Christy Clark and the years (and millions of dollars) she spent trying to break a contract. To top things off, she continued Gordon Campbell’s legacy of underfunding: nominal increases never matched the costs of contracts, fees and maintenance. BC has emerged as the province with the worst student-educator ratio and the lowest paid educators per number of students in the country.

    As other commentators have noted, Christy Clark’s legacy is one of winners and losers. Public schools were certainly not the former.

  5. Good riddance. If she needs a public service job maybe Justin could appoint her as a dog catcher in Inuvik. Sorry to the people in Inuvik.

  6. B.C.’s debt under clark grew by $10 billion in four years, all she ever did was not run operating deficits by stealing cash from Hydro and ICBC. Macdonald, you know this, or should. Stop perpetuating this narrative that she was good economically.

    She wasn’t good on the stump either. Sure she came off all polished and smooth, but obviously it didn’t work becuase she lost her seat in 2013 and then lost her government in 2017. If being smooth doesn’t win you the election then you aren’t good on the stump.

  7. a woman and her party who were hardly caring liberals….tone deaf to rising housing unaffordability (buying or renting) in the lower mainland (now add victoria), no wonder she lost seats in the lower mainland….she only introduced foreign buyer’s tax when public outrage accumulated enough to shame her (or due to kathy tomlinson/globe an mail’s shaming exposes to their collusion/tone deafness in nefarious RE regulations, ie shadow flipping, etc)….to lCark all you had to do to afford a home (since renters are 2nd class citizens, thanks Horgan for setting her straight on that one) was to ride along BC’s powerhouse and get a good paying job…lmao…news flash: i haven’t seen my wages rise in ratio to crazy RE prices here over the last 10 yrs…have yours?

    theere is such a thread of anxiety, desperation and all out anger here in the lowermainland…many of us (middle income) feel screwed over….and if you rent (because you’ve given up on trying to buy in) you’re worried about fixed term lease gaming (thanks to useless housing minister rich coleman for doing NOTHING (”it’s complicated”) which could see your rent rise 10-50% after the 1 yr term is up, or worry about being evicted over reno/demovictions (or the greedy landlord wants to make your place and AIR BnB for more $$$), do you’re left trying to find a suitable place to live (when bidding against a dozen or more others) that isn’t a dump or overpriced, in around 1500-2200 range.

    so in short: good riddance christy clark!