Monday, September 20, 2004

Why you should care that Christy Clark quit

VICTORIA - Set the conspiracy theories aside.
Christy Clark says she quit because she found it just too hard to balance politics and the challenges of raising a three-year-old. And that is a very good reason.
Speculation on hidden reasons for the resignation started flying as soon as Clark pulled the plug as children and families minister and said she won't run in the next election.
But I was in the middle of a brief stretch of looking after two boys, four and one, when Clark quit. And charming as Zachary and Gage are, I have no trouble buying her explanation.
There were two main alternate theories. One held that Clark was worried about the fallout from the legislative raids. Her husband, Mark Marrisen, and brother, Bruce Clark, are both high-profile federal Liberal wheels in B.C., and were named in the search warrant information. But neither are under investigation or accused of wrongdoing, and the raids are hardly a sudden development. Don't look there for the reason.
Others mused about a rift between Clark and Gordon Campbell. The theory is that she was more left-leaning, and frustrated with some of the government's policies.
The problem with that theory is the total lack of evidence. Clark has been in cabinet for more than three years. As education minister she left school districts so short of money that they closed schools, increased class sizes and went to four-day weeks. As children and families minister, she's implemented budget cuts to a ministry the Liberals used to say was starved of needed money.
I've never heard a peep that would indicate she disagreed with any of the government's policies. Anyway, I would say Clark's interest - and perhaps skills - lie more in politics than policy.
Trying to raise a preschooler while working at any job is difficult.
For Clark, the challenges were greater. Cabinet jobs are demanding and time-consuming. Building and maintaining political influence - something she values - demands more time and commitment. Evening meetings, drinks after work with colleagues, schmoozing at conventions - those are all part of the deal, and they don't fit well with a child at home.
The resignation isn't great news for the Campbell government, which has fared badly among women voters in most polls. Clark wasn't really as bright a cabinet star as many expected - she was one of those politicians more effective in opposition than in government. But she was the only woman of apparent influence in a cabinet dominated by a few men from the Lower Mainland.
Her resignation also should be worrying news for the rest of us, because of the wider implications.
After a few decades of earnest discussions and conferences about the importance of diversity in our elected officials, not much has changed. When the premiers and the prime minister got together last week to talk about health care, for example, there were no woman at the table. That's a loss.
It's not a question of political correctness. Women and men have different experiences in our society. Women remain the primary caregivers, for children and for the kind of seriously ill or dying family members who were a focus of the home care discussions at the prime minister's health summit.
But they are not part of the top-level political discussions about health care, education or other critical issues. And the decisions will be poorer as a result.
This argument is all based on generalizations.
But it's not really just about gender.
Politics as we practise them today - and this applies at least in part to all parties - tend to be most welcoming to a relatively small group of people, especially at the top. They play an important role in the big decisions. And their judgments are based in part on their life experience as middle-aged, successful males.
Valuable, sure. But it's also ferociously limited. And we're all a little worse off as a result.
Footnote: In the interests of full disclosure, I note that not only am I a middle-aged white guy, but so are my colleagues who write about B.C. politics. Aside from the CBC's Justine Hunter, the legislative Press Gallery is made up of a wonderful insightful pack of middle-aged men.

No comments: