Christy Clark in conversation - Macleans.ca

Christy Clark in conversation

On the risks of the northern gateway pipeline, renaming the party, and being premier mom

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On the risks of the northern gateway pipeline, renaming the party, and being premier mom

Photographs by Brian Howell

After five years as a media pundit and talk-show host on Vancouver radio station CKNW, Christy Clark was elected premier of British Columbia 15 months ago. Her re-entry hasn’t been easy, as the Liberals face a soaring NDP opposition on the left and an invigorated Conservative party to the right. Now she has to rebuild her party’s brand, which fell out of favour under predecessor Gordon Campbell, before a legislated election on May 14, 2013.

Q: One of the last times we spoke you were the radio host and I was the one being interviewed. Do you miss those simpler times?

A: Simpler is the right way to put it, because it’s harder answering the questions than asking them, but I think, too, it’s harder to be doing things than it is to be observing people doing things. But do I miss it? It was a great job, but I never regret this choice. Only 35 people in the history of Canada have had the privilege of doing this job. It’s really, really hard work, but you get to make a real difference for people, too. And don’t we all want to make a difference in our lives?

Q: Let’s talk about the western vision. With resources the way they are, you’re driving the national economy. Are you sensing a power shift?

A: Yes, I think whoever’s producing the money in this country always has more say. However, it’s taking a long time for the country to catch up to the new reality of Canada, which is really a western-based reality. British Columbia hasn’t always been a contributor, but boy, are we ever now. This economic renewal in our province is fragile; 57,000 net new jobs over the last year at a time when other provinces have been feeling the pinch. We need to keep that going.

Q: How do you build that beyond resource extraction into something more sustainable or more diverse?

A: We have the potential to be an energy powerhouse, and resources will always be part of our present. This idea that the resource sector is a sunset industry is just silly. I’m pro economic development, it’s our inheritance, and we should be proud of what we do. So 17 new and expanded mines by 2015, that’s what we’re working on. Three liquefied natural gas [LNG] lines, which will create perhaps up to $600 billion of added GDP over the next 30 years. The numbers are colossal. And LNG is a good example. We want to start adding value to that natural gas, shipping it overseas to the hungry markets in Asia. There’s going to be, some people say, billions of dollars of innovation in the technology sector around LNG.

Q: You’ve been accused of sitting on the fence on the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would see Alberta bitumen piped through B.C. to Asian markets. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix is clearly opposed. Are you for or against it?

A: Here’s the problem with the NDP’s position on this. I think it sends exactly the wrong message to investors we are trying to attract to British Columbia to say, “We’re going to make a decision about whether or not projects should go ahead before they go through due [environmental] process.” That’s what banana republics do. We want to understand what the balance of risk and benefits are. We’ve preserved our right to intervene, and we may do that at some point, but we’re not trying to prejudge it. I do think it’s important to note that when it comes to risk and benefit, compared to the opportunity that liquefied natural gas represents, the Enbridge pipeline is actually quite small on the benefit side but quite large on the risk side. Our priority is to make sure those LNG pipelines go through. I’m pro-pipeline, and we’re going to have at least three going from the northeast of British Columbia to the northwest.

Q: Assuming the Enbridge pipeline does pass environmental muster, Alberta gets the benefit and B.C. gets the risk. Is that an opening salvo for a negotiation for royalties with Alberta?

A: I do think there have to be benefits over and above the temporary construction jobs that would come from building the pipeline. I think British Columbians want to know that if we’re bearing that risk, the benefit’s going to be greater for us than for other provinces who are bearing no risk at all.

Q: The polls haven’t been kind to the Liberals. One poll has the NDP with a 19-point lead. Is it safe to say your families-first agenda isn’t proving to be a political winner?

A: I think it’s safe to say that the 57,000 net new jobs are going to be amongst the issues people are talking about when they actually start thinking about voting, which is a year from now, so when people actually start voting we need to have delivered on our economic and our families agenda. If you asked Alison Redford about the validity of polls, she might get a good chuckle out of that.

Q: Have you discussed some of this?

A: I talked to her that night to say congratulations, and I said, “Alison, how did the pollsters get it so wrong?” And she said, “Christy, of all the people in the country I can’t believe you’re the one asking me that.”

Q: The B.C. Conservatives have a not insignificant 16 per cent support level. Would you favour bringing them into a coalition if it meant keeping the NDP out of power?

A: We are a coalition. Our party is a coalition. That’s why we’ve succeeded in beating the NDP all these years. I am talking to every member of the B.C. Conservatives and asking them, “What do we need to do to help you feel comfortable in our coalition again?” We are doing those meetings on an individual level, but we’re also going to be having an open convention Oct. 26 in Whistler, inviting anybody from any free-enterprise background to debate big policy issues, including changing the name of our party. If the B.C. Conservatives get 15 per cent in an election, they won’t elect a single member, but they will elect a government full of New Democrats.

Q: This B.C. Liberal moniker is a bit confusing. You’re considered too conservative to be liberal and too liberal to be conservative. What name would you choose?

A: This is a decision that our party members need to make. If we want to change the name of the party we have to come up with something that’s compelling for people that’s going to remind them of who we are. Brad Wall changed his party’s name to the Saskatchewan Party. So, I’m not sure how that debate will unfold. I don’t want to prejudge it.

Q: I’ve never found politics a family-friendly occupation. How are you striking that balance, as a single mother to a 10-year-old son?

A: I share parenting with his dad, so I have my son every second week, which is great for us because it means that on the weeks when I have him I can completely rejig my schedule. I really do try and make most of his baseball games and his hockey games, but I’m just not as involved in his life as I once was, and that’s the reality of it. But I’ve given up everything else I used to do. So now I work and I parent when I’m not working, and then I sleep. And that’s it, that’s all I do.

Q: Does your son ever resent the job?

A: He’s really good about it. He’s a boy so it’s hard to know exactly how he feels at any given time, right? I really struggled with this decision because I knew it was going to cost him, and cost me in terms of my time with him. I ultimately felt if I am raising him to be someone who knows it’s important to do something good in the world, that I cannot turn away from the opportunity to do that when it’s presented to me. Q: Last week the B.C. Supreme Court struck down the law that made physician-assisted death illegal. What is your position? A: I have real sympathy for people struggling with a terminal diagnosis. I lived through this with my mother when she had a brain tumour and I had to be the one who made the decision about whether or not, after she had her surgery, she would undergo radiation and chemotherapy. I was the one who had to sign the DNR [do-not-resuscitate order]. I understand how difficult it is for the federal government to navigate these issues, and I’m going to leave it to them to lead the debate.

Q: I have to ask you about the teachers. Will you legislate a contract this summer if nothing happens at mediation?

A: We want to make sure the kids are back to school in September. If we can’t find a mediated settlement we are going to have to legislate them back to work. The tragedy is it happens every four or five years in our province, and so if you’ve had your child in the public school system for the last 13 years, it’s happened probably three times. And the problem is that this has become a debate about what adults want, and we have to find a way to start thinking about what’s good for kids. So we have to get this contract out of the way, one way or another. I hope it’ll be through a mediated settlement, but no one’s particularly optimistic about that at the moment.

Q: There are no extracurricular activities, no bands, coaching, even graduation ceremonies. When did those things become voluntary for teachers? Aren’t they part of a teacher’s job?

A: You know, when my dad was a public school teacher, he always thought that was part of his job, and he also thought it was the best part of his job, because he understood that teaching a kid is not about just mathematics, it’s about the whole child, it’s about helping them grow into good citizens and good parents and good friends. What we’ve seen in British Columbia is a lot of teachers who’ve refused the edicts of their union, because they recognize this is the best part of being a teacher. I think that says we have a basis to start working on these issues that are really all about kids.