July 13, 2017 5:56 pm

How long will Christy Clark last as B.C. Liberal party leader?

FILE PHOTO: Premier Christy Clark


As Premier Christy Clark begins her reluctant transition to Opposition, questions about how long she can last as B.C. Liberal party leader are beginning to mount.

It’s not clear yet how much enthusiasm she will bring to her new role, and if there is not a lot on display when the legislature resumes sitting in September that may indicate she’s decided to throw in the towel and is prepared to step down in the coming months.

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Certainly, Clark seemed flat and deflated when she faced the media on two occasions the day and evening that Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon correctly declined Clark’s request to dissolve the legislature rather than give NDP leader John Horgan the chance to test the confidence of the house.

And she earlier told reporters she was going to stick around “for a little while yet”, which can be interpreted several ways.

But, after a few weeks walking a beach somewhere in August, Clark may well regain her energy and opt to lead her disappointed troops into political battle come the fall.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a deposed B.C. premier decided to stick around. The NDP’s Dave Barrett fought two more elections (unsuccessfully) after losing the 1975 contest.

It has been noted the B.C. Liberals will form the largest Opposition in B.C. history, while the NDP will be leading the weakest majority in provincial history. This may give Clark the confidence to continue on as party leader for some time yet.

READ MORE: Christy Clark resigns as B.C.’s 35th premier, having fought to the end

And there is no heir apparent to the B.C. Liberal party leadership. Those elected as far back as 2009 would hardly represent party renewal, and no one elected since 2013 stands out as an automatic leadership contender.

However, the longer the NDP-Green alliance can maintain power in the legislature, the weaker Clark’s grip on the party leadership will likely become.

There seems to be a good chance the new government could last at least until the fall of 2018, which means Clark would be Opposition leader for almost a year and a half. It’s hard not to believe that by next spring some knives will start being unsheathed in the B.C. Liberal tent.

Could she push back against any kind of revolt? And will she want to?

Clark’s key asset, for the moment anyways, is the apparent support the new B.C. Liberal caucus has for her leadership. Forget external forces: the caucus and only the caucus will determine what happens on the leadership front.

I doubt whether any sitting member of the B.C. Liberal caucus will voice anything but 100 per cent for Clark’s leadership in the weeks ahead. But will that still be the case come, say, next summer?

Clark will face a leadership vote at the party convention in the fall of 2018, and that is likely the timeframe – between now and then – that will determine what happens.

All it will take for a leadership crisis to emerge will be for one or two B.C. Liberal MLAs to start grumbling publicly about the state of the party or of Clark’s leadership and her support could come crashing down like a house of cards.

But we’re not at that point yet. Two recent polls (by Ipsos-Reid and Angus Reid) already show the B.C. Liberals have regained an edge in popularity over the NDP.

And Clark’s supporters point out that, even in the face of the most relentlessly negative ad campaign ever seen in a B.C. election – and one aimed directly at her reputation – she still won the most seats and the most votes.

“If this is as bad as it’s going to be for us, I’ll take it,” one B.C. Liberal MLA recently told me. “They beat her up pretty bad, and she still did better than Horgan.”

That’s the glass half-full attitude that seems to be ruling the day in the party caucus right now.

But as the weeks and months go by, we’ll see if that attitude shifts to one of the glass being half-empty. And if that happens, it could be fatal to Clark’s potential hopes of being the “comeback kid” yet again.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC

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