BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark says she is heading into the 2017 provincial election “a little more brave, and little bit more bold” than she was four years ago when she sought her first term as premier.
In a one-on-one interview with Global BC Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey, Clark recapped which policies she would prioritize if she were to win the vote next week, and spoke about some of the influences growing up — think Mary Tyler Moore — that led her to the legislature.
To many, Clark isn’t seen as the darling of B.C. politics — her approval rating sank to only 31 per cent in March from a post-2013-election high of 45 per cent. An Angus Reid Institute poll also found she was the most disliked candidate running in this spring’s election.
She admits she’s a polarizing figure, but Clark maintains she is comfortable running government without everyone’s support.
“Governing means you have to make some hard decisions,” Clark said. “Sometimes that means people don’t like what I’m doing. Sometimes that means people don’t like me. I understand that. I think, at the end of the day, the results for people’s lives, there have been good results.”
She also admits she has a habit for speaking her mind, even when it could get her in trouble.
“I think maybe sometimes I just say what I’m thinking. Sometimes not everybody likes to hear when politicians say what they’re thinking. Maybe that’s what bugs people about me, and I accept that. I don’t think people always like politicians and I understand why.”
Clark’s past policies on education, housing and big energy projects like Site-C and LNG, are hot issues among voters. Her critics say she neglected B.C. public schools and teachers, let Metro Vancouver housing prices rise to unprecedented levels without intervention and pushed through energy projects the province didn’t want or need.
She stands by her record, but says there is still plenty more her party could do to make B.C. better.
“LNG is something that has taken longer to get started. You look at Alberta oil and gas, the market has been pretty bad. It will improve, so we will get a chance to do that. Rather than wave the white flag and give up on eliminating our debt, getting LNG going, giving up on Site-C –let’s work at it, let’s try,” Clark said.
“I profoundly object to the idea that the NDP and the Greens want to increase the provincial debt load, they want to increase our interest payments to the banks in New York because they want to increase our credit rating. They want to dump billions of dollars of debt on our kids.”
As she is so often heard doing, Clark didn’t shy away from boasting about her past government’s economic successes. Clark says her government has created 226,000 jobs since 2013 and soared to being the number one province for job creation in Canada, with the lowest unemployment rate as well.
“We haven’t grown this fast in the province two years in a row since before I was born in 1961… The one thing I know is that life feels unaffordable for a lot of people. The single biggest change in your life that can make it less affordable is losing your job.”
She also touted her government’s record on reducing child poverty — a figure that has dropped by 50 per cent since 2013 — through the Single Parent Employment Initiative. Five-thousand people have used the program so far, she says.
“We’ll pay for your childcare, we’ll pay for your tuition, we’ll pay for your books, your transportation. We’ll keep your welfare cheque coming for a year, until you can get the training that you need.”
But Clark’s stance on social assistance is another polarizing issue. The B.C. government has neglected to raise social assistance rates for the last 10 years while the cost of living — especially the cost of housing — has increased. But Clark says an increase in rates “doesn’t really make it that much easier.”
While she says her government raised disability rates twice, because “that’s for people who really can’t work,” she says money should be spent on getting people off “the treadmill of social assistance,” through programs like the Single Parent Employment Initiative.
“The economy is growing and government has the means to be able to invest in a lot of things – which we’re doing – like 3,000 new teachers in education, more money for healthcare. We can look at those things as the economy grows.”
If an NDP government were to take office next week, Clark says B.C.’s economic future could look more like the past.
“If the economy shrinks, we’re back to the 1990s when we ran out of money. That was a time when the NDP cut a third of the beds in hospitals.”
Other issues Clark took aim at include the softwood lumber deal — which she says she would stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump in order to achieve — and banning thermal coal exports. The latter, she says, is an environmental policy that has earned the Green party’s endorsement but not the NDP’s.
According to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, coal is B.C.’s largest single export commodity and represents over half of the total mineral production revenues in the province. Thermal coal accounts for between 10 and 30 per cent of coal production.
“I think banning coal exports is the right thing to do for the environment. I’ve been really surprised that the NDP haven’t endorsed it. It’s the filthiest form of energy production. If we can’t burn it in Canada, then why are we shipping it to Asia for them to burn it? It’s all the same air. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Another policy Clark says is “the right thing to do” is to tackle sky-high real estate prices by increasing supply. Her government already introduced a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax, a two per cent luxury tax and removed the property purchase tax for homes under $750,000, among other initiatives. But home prices keep going up.
“The next step, should I be elected premier for my second term, is work with cities to make sure that there is way more rental supply out there on the market,” Clark said. “One of the reasons rent is so expensive is because owners can charge basically anything they want, because there are more people that want to rent. Let’s build more density, especially around transit stations, and let’s get more housing on the market.”
Clark’s opposing party leaders Andrew Weaver and John Horgan have other views on housing, and argue Clark let housing prices rise out of control while raking in billions in taxes from the real estate sector.
It’s that kind of inflammatory opinion that has driven a wedge between the candidates this election season and fueled rounds of attack ads. Despite their campaign trail bickering, Clark says she could work with either leader in office, and admits her relationship with Horgan has seen better days.
“After the election I’m sure we can find our way back to being a little bit more friendly,” she laughed.
She was more complimentary of Green Leader Weaver, who she says shares her love of collaborating.
“I have a joy working with Dr. Weaver,” she said.
Her ability to “work with anyone,” she says, goes back to days as a kid discussing politics around the kitchen table. She calls her father one of her greatest influences, saying he told each of his children that they had something to contribute, no matter their opinion.
“We always talked politics and shared opinions around the table. I had three brothers and sisters, so it was like mayhem around the kitchen table. My dad’s whole thing was that everyone had something to contribute. It didn’t really matter what we said, but we all got a chance.”
B.C. voters will have the opportunity to contribute their opinion on Tuesday, May 9,the outcome of which Clark isn’t dwelling on.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what is going to happen on election day because it’s not my decision,” she said.
As for that Mary Tyler Moore reference? Clark says the 70s sitcom star was her idol growing up.
“I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore. I was born in 1965, so in the early- to mid-70s, there was only one woman on TV who was like – she was like throwing the hamburger into the shopping cart. She didn’t care because it wasn’t all about cooking and cleaning. She was going to go out and have a job and make something of herself. She was determined in the face of all of the bias that women faced even more in those days. And she was sweet, and she was loveable, she was funny, and I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore.”