The B.C. Liberals are the architects of their own demise. Historically, political parties reach into the ranks of their elected members, who have already been vetted at the constituency level and tested in elections to select their leader.
Despite what we are told about the power of the outsider in politics, experience counts for something in the legislative domain. In choosing Christy Clark as their leader, the B.C. Liberals were prepared to take the risk that Clark’s fresh face and purported charisma would make up for her obvious lack of executive experience. Unfortunately the Liberals miscalculated on all counts. B.C. voters tired quickly of Clark’s glib, talk-show approach to issues that are important to individual voters. Clark’s inexperience in dealing with other governments at all levels, the bureaucracy and the media have hastened the Liberals’ downfall.
At no time has Clark’s misunderstanding of her role as premier been more evident than in her fumbling of the Northern Gateway pipeline file, and her performance at last week’s Premiers Conference.
It is plausible, given Clark’s age, that she went through school so recently she did not receive the benefit of exposure to our Constitution. Ignorance is never a defence in public life, at the very least one would have expected someone in the B.C. premier’s office to have provided Clark constitutional notes prior to her pronouncements on interprovincial matters.
Clark is under the impression that she can somehow “stop” an interprovincial project, simply because she objects. Leaving aside Clark’s thinly veiled attempt to extort money from Alberta and Saskatchewan, which only magnifies Clark’s shortcomings in this regard, anyone with a basic understanding of Canadian legislative process would understand what Clark is proposing is illegal.
In the past, Canada has witnessed extra-Constitutional activities and threats from successive Quebec premiers. The threats and demands from the separatists were, like Clark’s threats, impractical and illegal, but were often given credibility, largely because of a Quebec-centred federal government and media. Had the separatists managed to tease a vote for separation out of a referendum, any actual secession would have been unlikely at best, and on Canada’s terms at worst. The BNA Act simply doesn’t confer on provinces the authority envisioned in the past by the separatists in Quebec, or more recently Clark.
In an age of constitutional challenges by all manner of special interests and activists, it is unlikely Clark would not have people at her disposal to advise her on the legality of her most recent strategy for Northern Gateway. All proposed legislation and most new regulations are reviewed before introduction to assure the constitutionality of the proposal.
In her pre-Premiers Conference road trip, Clark skulked in and out of the offices of her counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Presumably she calculated she could extract a share of oil royalties for B.C. from the producing provinces. Clearly, her hope was to then announce her qualified support of Northern Gateway, on the basis of her superior negotiating skills and all the extra money B.C. would receive as a result — thus saving her premiership and avoiding the self-induced trouncing she and her party will receive at the polls in May.
That her proposals were unconstitutional, illegal and impractical was ignored by Clark and her advisors. To be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall while Clark made her pitch to Alberta and Saskatchewan would have been entertaining. We may never know exactly what Redford and Wall told Clark. Clark’s shrill threats to “stop the pipeline” at the subsequent premier’s conference suggest she didn’t hear what she had hoped.
It is troubling for the voters of B.C. that Clark concocted an ill-advised and unconstitutional proposal. More troubling is that when faced with the prospect that such a plan had no support from the other governments involved, Clark forged ahead and displayed publicly her desperate political ambition with threats and pronouncements upon which she cannot make good.
Clark’s ignorance of her authority in this regard is therefore either willful and political, or it is a matter of incompetence. In either case, Clark has demonstrated that she is ill suited to lead British Columbia. If the B.C. Liberals will not deal with Clark internally, the voters will in May.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.