Friday, September 02, 2005

Christy Clark takes a risk with run for mayor's job

VICTORIA - That was a short retirement for Christy Clark, who is on the brink of stepping back into politics with a risky bid to become Vancouver's mayor.
Clark quit as children and families minister last year, and didn't run in the May election. She said it was important to spend more time with her son, then three.
That's understandable. And demanding as the mayor's job is, being a cabinet minister is more disruptive to family life. Ministers have to be in Victoria for much of the year, and travel around the province. The mayor gets to sleep in her own bed.
It's a little harder to see how being mayor is less disruptive to family life than being an MLA, the job Clark gave up four months ago. The legislature sits for a few months a year, and even then backbenchers generally only have to spend three nights a week over here.
Still, things change.
Clark is a career politician; she's never had a job outside politics and is happy to be seen as a future premier, or MP from B.C. (Her husband, Mark Marrisen, is a key federal Liberal wheel in the province.)
So it's fair to look at her interest in the mayor's job in that context.
It's been a stepping stone for others. Mike Harcourt and Gordon Campbell both went from the top elected job in Vancouver to the premier's office.
And, if all goes well, the timing works nicely for any future plans. Clark's first term - if she wins - would end in 2008. If Campbell isn't going to run in the next provincial election, scheduled for 2009, she would be positioned to jump into a leadership race.
If he decides to stay on - and isn't pushed out - Clark has the option of a second term as mayor, presiding over the Olympics, before considering a bid to become Liberal leader.
But there are a few problems with those tidy scenarios.
First Clark has to win the nomination for the Non Partisan Association. (Non-partisan in the sense that it brings together federal Liberals and Conservatives in a rightish coalition.) She'll be up against veteran councillor Sam Sullivan, who has his own strong base.
Clark can probably take the nomination. The contest is about selling memberships in the party, and she can tap an excelent organization.
Then she has to beat Jim Green, the left's candidate, a veteran councillor who will be backed popular ex-mayor Larry Campbell. Green has already characterized her as a parachute candidate - she lives outside the city in neighbouring Burnaby - and said she would be Gordon Campbell's ally in City Hall.
Even an election victory doesn't end the problems. The mayor's job is only a career launching pad if you are popular and successful. The job often calls for skills at building consensus, and dealing with a lot of small problems.
Clark is a great politician and organizer, personally appealing and clever. She was an excellent opposition MLA.
But her track record as education minister, and in children and families, was less impressive. She alienated teachers, trustees and parents as education minister, a warning of trouble ahead in the often fractious world of civic politics.
And despite a lot of activity and announcements, it's hard to point to any significant achievements in either education or children and families. (Though Clark can take credit for at least restoring stability to the children's ministry when she took over after Gordon Hogg.)
It's also hard - despite her nine years in the legislature - to say exactly what Clark stands for, and what big issues and ideas drive her participation in political life.
The mayor's job could be a chance for her to answer all those kinds of doubts, and show her ability to take on whatever comes next.
And it can be, as we've seen, a launch pad for future political opportunities.
But we've also seen lots of films of things blowing up on launch pads.
Footnote: All this talk about the next premier could create problems for Gordon Campbell. Once people begin talking about your replacement, the contenders start thinking about what they need to be ready for the race. It's a process that can promote damaging divisions within a party.


Anonymous said...

"Clark can at least take credit for" restoring stability in the Children's Ministry??

What stability? And what exactly did she do to accomplish that? She commissioned a report and then massaged it into a total whitewash before permitting its release. She stood up in the Legislature and stonewalled expertly for five days during the Estimates debates. She did the same to community delegations. She cracked down on the transparency that allowed your colleagues to expose the Walls shennanigans, ensuring that her boss's flawed plan was pushed through behind the scenes, ignoring expert advice and widespread warnings. She didn't restore stability, she was just better than Mr. Hogg at covering up the deepening insanity.

Ms Clark's accomplishments as a Minister have all been political. She has achieved precious little of substance for anyone but herself, her career and the political backers who continue to manouver her into positions where she can do them the most good. Her policies at both Education and MCFD have hurt vulnerable kids the most. And now she's about to put her own child aside for the sake of political ambition. Ms. Clark's record perfectly illustrates why we tend to have such low regard for politicians.

RossK said...

Mr Willcocks and Parent--

But you all forgot something....from all reports, Ms. Clark was a pretty good temporary talkshow host fill-in.

That oughta count for something shouldn't it.

I mean that Pat Burns, he was all of that and a great hockey coach too.

And he wasn't even the same guy.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would find it hard to know what Clark stands for. She's always struck me as quite transparent - Clark stands for Clark. She will use anyone and anything to further her own career. Surely this has been obvious ever since her disgraceful behavior during the time of the Gove inquiry and her even more repulsive behavior undermining the new MCF. That she then found herself responsible for the chaos she was instrumental in creating is one of life's larger ironies. It's no wonder she quit - she'd made too many enemies in the NGO sector due to her hypocritical and dishonest behavior. But then, if Clark has shown any consistency in her miserable career, it's that she can't organize her way out of a paper bag and when the going gets tough she quits.

That said, Vancouver survived years of Campbell sitting the mayor's office twiddling his thumbs so as long as she doesn't mess with the city's management she, too, will make like a gallstone and pass.