While Premier Christy Clark will soon be able to take her seat in the B.C. Legislature, the close race she endured in the Vancouver-Point Grey byelection should cause her, and the party, to stop and think.
In a short campaign that partially overlapped the federal election, Clark managed to win the seat by less than 600 votes — 7,371 to 6,776 for the NDP’s David Eby. And she did so without facing a candidate from the resurgent BC Conservatives, who decided to follow tradition and not contest the seat, when it was a byelection involving the sitting premier.
Clark’s honeymoon with the public is definitely over. This is partially due to the type of campaign she ran. She refused to attend any all-candidates debate, or take any hard questions, and isolated herself in a bubble.
But it is also due to the continued unpopularity of the BC Liberals, particularly over the HST, but also over numerous other issues such as education funding, health care waiting lists, the BC Rail sale, and the general malaise which seems to have come over the province.
The HST is Clark’s most pressing problem. It has dogged the BC Liberals for almost two years, and caused her predecessor to resign. A recent report by an independent panel shows that the tax is costing ordinary working people a substantial amount of money for no apparent benefit. A referendum on whether to kill the tax will be conducted by mail in June and July, and seems highly unlikely to prove favourable to the tax.
Clark is musing about calling an election in the early fall, but if the HST is rejected in the referendum, and the Conservatives surge to any appreciable extent, it seems quite likely that the NDP will return to power after a 10-year absence.