It doesn’t seem too long ago that our very own Burnaby native, Christina Joan Clark (ofter referred to as ‘Christy’), took over the reigns of the BC Liberal Party and started her journey as premier of British Columbia.
Not without some rocky starts, Christy has had many hurdles to jump over along the way. She inherited Campbell’s Liberal government plummeting in support, lost her Vancouver Point-Grey seat during the 2013 re-election, and narrowly squeezed out a second term after the NDP loss upset. An election, you might say, that was not hers to win, but the NDP’s to lose, drawing questionably coincidental parallels to her short stint as president after the SFSS 1989 election.
Needless to say, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, or in this case, 120 km/hour Coquihalla speeds and minimum wage increases. With the provincial election coming up in May, and the Liberals looking to win their fifth consecutive term in office, let’s look back at how our premier has done over the last seven years.
Quick-Wins Ethnic Outreach Scandal (Ethnic-gate): C-
In 2013, a government review found public servants using party resources to engage with ethnic voters for partisanship. It resulted in numerous public servant resignations, Elections Act charges against the BC Liberals, and major upset in the ethnic communities. Clark apologized and called it a “very serious mistake.”
Highway of Tears “Triple-Delete” Email Scandal: D
In 2015, the BC Liberal Party was caught destroying traces of records by triple-deleting emails when a whistleblower revealed that he was directed to erase dozens of staff emails in response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the Ministry of Transportation meetings regarding the missing women on the Highway of Tears. Further investigation revealed a culture of regularly breaching freedom of information laws, with millions of emails believed to have been deleted.
Added to which, no documentation was found on the ethnic outreach scandal, the premier’s chief of staff resignation in 2012, the dismissal of government auditor Basia Ruta, among others. Clark claimed she was unaware of this happening, and suggested that it came from a technological and guideline misunderstanding. This put the Liberal party in bad faith, and was an ironic twist after Clark’s promise for a new era of accountability and release of information without FOI requests only a few years prior.
‘Om the Bridge’: F
In 2015, Clark planned to shut down the Burrard Street Bridge for seven hours to hold the largest yoga day outside of India. No matter what her intentions, it created massive backlash over the reported $150,000 taxpayer dollars it would cost for the closure, and was inappropriately timed to fall on National Aboriginal Day. After increasing backlash, sponsorship pulled out, and the provincial government eventually conceded. Clark, an apparent huge proponent for yoga, was sad to see it become so politicized. So take that, yoga haters.
BCTF Court Cases and Strikes: F
In November 2016, after nearly 15 years of conflict between the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) and the BC Liberals, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the teachers to restore 2002 class sizes and levels of support for students with special needs. The ruling found Bills 27, 28, and 22 which, among other things, prohibited walkouts and controlled classroom sizes, to be an illegal use of legislation to reduce provisions from teacher’s contracts.
“[Christy Clark]’s drawn out battle against the BCTF through bad faith negotiation and strong arming, in both her role as the minister of education and the premier, was a blatant violation of the freedom of association guaranteed by the Charter,” said Hannah Lingren, a Political Science Major at SFU. “The reported two million dollars wasted on this unfounded legal battle is ironic in the face of the requirement that a school board pass a balanced budget while the province consistently cuts funding — this means the elimination of incredibly valuable programs and support services,” she said.
Amelia Misak, an SFU student and outreach worker for the Surrey School District, agreed. “I have witnessed the direct impact of the administration’s decisions on the school community. Ultimately, it’s frustrating knowing that there isn’t support for public school teachers with Clark’s administration. There is such a focus on privatized education for the Liberals, leaving many public and inner-city schools with a notable disadvantage,” she said.
LNG Plan and Skills for Jobs Blueprint: C
Clark campaigned in 2013 on BC being able to pay off all its debts with the prosperous liquified natural gas sector, touting revenues that would contribute towards a $100 billion prosperity fund and the development of 100,000 jobs. The Skills for Jobs Blueprint created in 2014 was meant to support these jobs that would come out of LNG, and fund only specialized, targeted post-secondary programs which reduces flexibility and a diverse economy. Since then, over $130 million has been committed to this, with no jobs in sight. Clark has come into 2017 with no LNG revenue, the world running on oversupply, and students suffering the consequences. “BC’s economy is best when it is diversified. We should not put all our eggs in one basket like Clark has done,” said Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Jane Shin in an article with The Peak last year.
BC Jobs Plan: B
In 2011, the BC Liberals created the BC Jobs Plan designed at getting students trained in trades for the work projected to be available in mining and LNG. Since then, five mines have opened in the province, and a small LNG facility is slated to open in 2020. Clark believes this is a success, and rightfully so — more than 190,000 additional jobs have been created since 2011, and the province has moved from ninth to first for job creation in the country. However, most of those were created on the south coast, largely ignoring rural and northern communities that have seen jobs decrease.
A recently published five-year update will focus more on technology moving forward. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger said this new plan ignores the fundamental issues of BC’s job market, citing that many of the new jobs are part-time and minimum wage, leaving workers below the line of poverty.
Kinder Morgan Pipeline: C+
Many people wondered if Clark would tiptoe around the infamous Kinder Morgan Pipeline proposal, but her government has fully endorsed the project, which she says has met her five conditions. The Liberal party is taking a stance for resource-industry jobs and development, but at the expense of First Nations communities and environmentalists. Ultimately the project will lead to billions of dollars in tax revenue and a share of the profits, which promises to be beneficial for BC, but draws a decisive line between her and the NDP leading up to the election.
Campaign Financing: C+
Campaign financing has been a lucrative revenue stream for the BC Liberals, in a province where everything and anything goes. Since Bob Rennie, Vancouver’s Condo King, took over as chief party fundraiser four years ago, he has claimed to have raised over $5 million, allowing the party to clear their debt from the 2013 election, which was estimated at $3 million. The party hosts small, elite functions with the premier, charging anything upwards of $20,000 a head. A small price to pay when you’re a business leader vying for political interest. This has been criticized for favoring elites who have the means to access political power, although it is completely legal and done across the country. “It’s business as usual,” said Rennie in an interview with The Globe and Mail last year.
Accusing the NPD of Email Hacking: F
Just a few weeks ago, Clark found herself caught up in a false accusation that the NDP opposition hacked the Liberals’ website. In actuality, an independent MLA found private citizen information available on their unprotected, public website. As a result, Clark was forced into an awkward apology and left us wondering what else she would say to cover her back, leaving everything oddly reminiscent of Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts.”
Climate Change and Carbon Tax: B-
The carbon tax launched in 2008 as part of the Climate Action Plan under former premier Gordon Campbell. When Clark took over in 2011, she froze the tax at its current $30 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, which the province’s Climate Leadership Team is calling to be raised to $40 by 2018. While Clark won’t be raising it, she has promised to decrease BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 megatons every year, just one point in her new plan to tackle climate change. “A climate plan is not just about carbon pricing,” she said.
Back in 2008 during the Campbell era, the BC Liberals released an ambitious $14 billion public transit plan, most of which was planned to help beef up the infrastructure in the lower mainland. The lofty goal was set to be complete by the year 2020, with three skytrain extensions promised in just one decade. Campbell promised $4.75 billion, with the rest covered by the federal government, municipal governments, and TransLink. In the lead up to the 2013 election, Christy Clark made a campaign promise to figure out a funding solution through a regional vote. The plebiscite was cast in 2014, to which the public voted no, casting aside the chance to implement a 0.5% transit tax.
“Clark and her government have consistently shirked responsibility as the provider of transport services,” said Hannah Lingren. “ The choice to put a referendum in place over the transit tax demonstrates Clark’s preoccupation with keeping a political edge over a commitment to effective (if controversial) policy.”
Interest on Student Loans: B+
According to the BC Liberal 2017 budget, the interest rate for university students will be cut in half by the summer. Critics are praising this as a good first step in managing skyrocketing student debt, but ultimately hope to see the interest eradicated altogether in the future. It also doesn’t address how tuition revenues in BC have gone up 350% since 2002, according to the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. “Clark deserves credit for the slash in interest rates, but it in no way makes up for the slow defunding of public education,” said Lingren.
Balanced Budgets: A-
The Liberal Party has produced four consecutive balanced budgets, with a fifth submitted as part of their re-election strategy. While Clark had hoped this budget would be infused with the billions made from the LNG industry, that has yet to be realized.
The final fiscal plan features corporate and personal tax and fee cuts, and health and education funding increases, among other spending hikes across different constituents. Clark and her team have upheld high fiscal stewardship over the years. This being said, most of Western Canada has maintained a triple-A credit rating. Their debt to GDP ratio is now a low 16.1%, compared to the low 40’s of Ontario and Quebec.
Ministry of Children and Family Development: C
Yet another promise in the 2017 provincial budget is that the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) will receive an extra $287 million over three years to aide youth and children, Indigenous child welfare, and mental health counseling. While Clark claimed in 2015 that she’s bringing the ministry back to stability after the Campbell administration, front line worker numbers have continued to drop since she took office.
“The Liberal government has expanded the program that supports former kids in care until the age of 26, albeit with caveats that they be enrolled in an educational program,” said Lingren. “The RCY service report notes that the 1.3 million dollar investment into the expansion of the program falls far short of the desired 57 million. Minors still in the direct care of the province have also suffered from the neglect of the Ministry, with the suicide of Alex Gervais in an Abbotsford hotel serving as a prime and tragic example.”
Final Grade: C
Clark deserves a gold star for her balanced budgets over the years, and decent growth in both revenue sources and jobs. However, she falls short due to her lack of attention to social issues and failed advocacy for the majority of the BC population. “Provincial politics matter to me because I love this province,” said Amelia Hill, an SFU student. “We have so much potential for our industries, art communities, and diverse landscape. The versatility of BC can be the future of Canada, and I don’t believe it’s realized with Christy Clark.”
Please note this piece was originally published with a photo and was removed shortly after publication.