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B.C. Premier Clark narrowly avoids political disaster with by-election win

B.C. Premier Christy Clark hugs her son Hamish after she won the provincial by-election in Vancouver Point-Grey.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is going to Victoria as the new MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey.

Ms. Clark's by-election bid for a seat in the B.C. legislature paid off Wednesday night. Preliminary results from Elections B.C showed she won the race with 7,371 votes, or 48.9 per cent of the vote, compared with 6,776 votes, or 44.97 per cent, for her primary rival, NDP candidate David Eby.

In the 2009 election, Ms. Clark's predecessor as premier, Gordon Campbell, won Vancouver-Point Grey with 50 per cent of the vote over his nearest NDP rival, who won 40 per cent support.

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The former premier was the riding's MLA from 1996 until he left politics after Ms. Clark became party leader and premier.

Ms. Clark said earlier this week that a win would be a win, dismissing Mr. Eby's suggestion she would have to match Gordon Campbell's results for a true victory.

The current premier's win came after a roller coaster of results Wednesday night that had Mr. Eby ahead at points as the votes were tallied, generating palpable unease among her supporters crammed into a Greek restaurant in the Kitsilano area of her new riding.

But Ms. Clark eventually pulled ahead, and clinched the win.

"Well, we did it," Ms. Clark told cheering supporters after taking a concessionary call from Mr. Eby.

"This was a close race."

In her remarks, she noted the B.C. Liberals did almost as well in the riding as in 2009, but that the NDP did better, creating a challenge for the Liberals to rally in any future contest for the riding.

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In a nod to her rival, Ms. Clark saluted "an incredibly professional campaign" by Mr. Eby and his team, and called him "incredibly gracious" for calling her to concede not long before she spoke.

Mr. Eby said, in an interview, that he was proud of a campaign that gave the premier a real challenge, noting that Ms. Clark went into the campaign with an edge in media presence and the ability to spend taxpayer dollars to raise her profile.

Mr. Eby, a lawyer on leave from his job as executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he may run again in Vancouver-Point Grey in a provincial election that could come as early as this fall.

"There's definitely a strong temptation for me to run again given tonight's result," he said.

A defeat would have been a political disaster for the rookie premier.

But her win breaks a 30-year precedent in B.C. politics.

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No member of the governing party in B.C. has won a by-election for three decades - an obstacle Ms. Clark, herself, cited as a challenge for her campaign.

"You made that happen. You have reversed that curse," Ms. Clark told her supporters.

Her win gives her a point of triumph as she prepares to attend Friday's biennial meeting of the B.C. Liberals in Penticton, where she is to deliver a major speech, and also sets the stage for a showdown in the legislature with Adrian Dix, the new leader of the B.C. New Democrats.

Ms. Clark had previously been an MLA from 1996 to 2005, when she left politics to spend more time with her son. She told reporters she was looking forward to getting back into the chamber.

New Democrats pinpointed the by-election as a referendum on the governing Liberals, and a first test at the polls of voter reaction to the government's adoption of the controversial harmonized sales tax.

The defeat is a blow to Mr. Dix because Mr. Eby's campaign, in many ways, was a test for themes the NDP Leader will likely try in the next provincial election.

One notable issue that arose in the campaign was Ms. Clark's aversion to attending all-candidates' meetings.

Mr. Eby cast that stand as a sign of unaccountable arrogance. Ms. Clark claimed she was able to meet more voters by knocking on doors and that candidate gatherings generally spoke to voters who had already decided on supporting a particular candidate.

Mr. Eby moved to the riding as he launched his campaign. Ms. Clark lives outside the riding, but has touted links that include her son attending school there, and her work on the executive of Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, a non-profit that provides programs and services to the area.

Among others running in the by-election, B.C First candidate Danielle Alie had 369 votes, and Francoise Raunet, the candidate for the Green Party of B.C., had 511 votes.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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