The story that led most newscasts in B.C. on the weekend concerned a horrific car crash in suburban Surrey that left five people dead – including two children. It was caused, police said, by a driver blowing through a red light.
The news item that followed reports of Sunday's deadly collision focused on someone else who had blithely disregarded a red light to less grievous ends: Liberal Leader Christy Clark. Her questionable turn at the wheel was exposed in a profile of her that appeared in The Vancouver Sun. In the piece, the reporter detailed an early-morning ride-along to a hockey practice that he had with Ms. Clark and her 11-year-old son Hamish.
En route, they encountered a red light, one which Hamish encouraged his mother to ignore. According to the story, Ms. Clark told her son he should never go through red lights and then proceeded to do just that. At which point, her son blurted out: "You always do that."
It was not long before Ms. Clark's driving faux pas was making news. When she was asked about it during a campaign stop in Victoria on Saturday, she tried to play it down, saying that she'd told her son he should not do such things. And then glibly added: "And it was 5:10 in the morning." In other words, the time was a mitigating factor.
By Sunday, however, the Liberal Leader had shifted gears. When asked about the matter, she made no facile references to the time of day – not after what happened in Surrey earlier. There was no way for Ms. Clark to spin this to make it look anything less than it was: the person campaigning to be premier demonstrating wanton disregard for the law. And conveying the message that as long as no one's around, and you are not likely to get caught, it is okay to break the rules.
"I shouldn't have done it and I certainly shouldn't have done it with my son in the car," Ms. Clark said on Sunday when reporters caught up to her at another campaign stop. "But you know what, I work hard to be a great parent and I'm not a perfect parent and so I shouldn't have done it."
Perhaps a simple, "It was a stupid thing to do and unacceptable in any circumstances," would have been better. We could have done without the "I'm not perfect" routine.
Given that Ms. Clark is in the midst of a heated election battle, the timing of this revelation couldn't have been worse. She was heading into Monday night's televised debate with a little momentum thanks to NDP Leader Adrian Dix's policy flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. In an instant, Ms. Clark had no control over the conversation that she wanted to be having with the media.
Reporters were descending on people like Moira Stilwell, Liberal candidate and a cabinet minister in Ms. Clark's government. The distinguished medical doctor could not be clearer: breaking the law on purpose is unacceptable even when nothing happens. Sometimes, the most benign behaviour can end up hurting people. She talked about the many times her surgeon husband, Sam, had been summoned in the middle of the night to operate on someone injured in a car accident. It was not uncommon for him to have to harvest the organs of a person who died in some pile-up.
Even though Ms. Stilwell chose her words carefully, her critique of Ms. Clark's behaviour was extremely damaging.
For his part, Mr. Dix refused to cash in on his opponent's transgression, even though it must have been extremely tempting. The Liberals took out ads to criticize him for being caught on public transit without a valid ticket. Liberal MLAs heaped criticism on him for it. "There are more important matters to discuss," Mr. Dix said when asked about the red light issue.
One can only imagine what Stephen Harper would have done with such material.
It is difficult to say if Ms. Clark's wrongdoing will remain a problem for the rest of the campaign. My guess is it will not. But at the very least, it does raise questions about her judgment, especially given that her Liberal government has been trying to get tough with bad drivers. And then there's the inanity of pulling such a stunt in the company of a reporter.
Perhaps the only question now is: given that she has confessed to the crime, will she get a ticket?