April 14, 2013 6:13 pm

Anything can happen, says Bill Bennett’s son as he joins Christy Clark’s campaign

B.C. Liberal Party campaign director Mike McDonald, right, discusses strategy April 4 with Brad Bennett at party headquarters in Vancouver.

Arlen Redekrop, The Province
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When Christy Clark hits the campaign trail Tuesday, she’ll have some company.

He is Brad Bennett, the son of former premier Bill Bennett and grandson of the late W.A.C. Bennett, British Columbia’s longest-serving and, according to most, greatest premier.

Bennett said he was surprised when Clark asked him to take a month away from his business and campaign at her side. He’ll travel with Clark aboard her campaign bus and other modes of transportation.

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“Planes, trains and automobiles — I’ll be there,” said Bennett, a 55-year-old developer and corporate investor.

“My role is to provide support to Christy and to keep my political antenna in tune, because I’ve been around this stuff my whole life.”

But the Liberals also hope a little Bennett magic will rub off on the written-off-for-dead Clark campaign.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” Bennett said. “I know what’s possible.”

He’s referring to the 1983 election when his father, Bill, came from behind to defeat Dave Barrett and the poll-topping NDP. A typical newspaper headline at the start of that campaign, this one from the Vancouver Sun: “It looks like an NDP win, experts say.”

‘MY DAD CAME BACK’

“My dad came back and won a majority government,” Brad Bennett told me. “This is British Columbia — anything can happen.”

Today’s New Democrats, as you might imagine, aren’t impressed with the comparison.

“I’m not surprised someone of his lineage would support a right-of-centre party,” said NDP deputy leader John Horgan, adding Bennett represents “yesterday’s politics.”

But, at this point, Clark will take all the help she can get.

In a Liberal Party infomercial — to be broadcast Sunday on Global TV at 7 p.m. — Bennett appears as an outside supporter for Clark, along with former Conservative MP Stockwell Day and former Vancouver Canucks hockey player Dave Babych.

The 30-minute broadcast also shows Clark talking directly into the camera and interacting with average citizens in various settings, including the politically mandatory segment in a Tim Hortons coffee shop.

The Liberals also promise an “interactive element” to involve viewers in the show, which will focus on job creation, controlling government spending and Clark’s ambitious plan to develop a liquefied natural gas industry.

The Libs seem eager to repair Clark’s fractured appeal to average voters, while surrounding her with outside “validators” such as Bennett and emphasizing the Liberal team of candidates.

RELENTLESSLY ATTACK DIX

The other key part of the Liberal comeback plan: relentlessly attack Dix and the NDP.

“People haven’t given enough thought to the economic dangers of an NDP government,” Brad Bennett said, arguing an Adrian Dix election victory could jeopardize the “opportunity of a lifetime” in the province’s natural-gas fields.

“It would scare away business investment,” he said. “You could have a flight of capital, like the one that happened in the 1990s.”

Get set to hear lots more of those Liberal warnings as this campaign kicks off. And get set for the NDP to fight back.

After the New Democrats released a “fiscal framework” last week — that included corporate tax hikes and an expanded carbon tax — Horgan said he spent the day on the phone with oil-and-gas executives.

“I was received warmly and they are not at all frightened about change,” Horgan said.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say that we’re supportive of this industry.”

And as for Bennett’s accusation an NDP government would scare business investment out of the province?

CHANGE ‘NOT CATASTROPHIC’

“That sounds like something his grandfather would say,” Horgan fired back. “When governments change, it’s not catastrophic.”

While the Liberals and New Democrats join their eternal battle this Tuesday, two other political parties will be in the fight as well, and looking to make historic breakthroughs.

If there are any surprises to be had in this campaign, perhaps they will come from Green Party Leader Jane Sterk and Conservative boss John Cummins.

The Greens have a legitimate shot at winning a couple of Victoria-area ridings, while the Conservatives hope Liberal support collapses and flows to them.

“The Liberals are dropping and we’re surging,” Cummins insisted.

But all eyes will still be on Dix and Clark as the campaign begins. The election appears to be Dix’s to lose, while Clark seems destined to go down in history as either a miracle-worker or a half-term wonder.

And if you’re wondering, like I was, whether Brad Bennett would be interested in picking up the pieces of the Liberal Party if it all goes awry for Christy?

“I’ve been pressured to enter politics many times and I’ve resisted every attempt,” he said.

But everything could change over the next 30 days. It should be quite a ride.

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