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Christy Clark’s ministers play the incumbency card before election campaign

Christy Clark announced on Monday $584-million in funding to seismically upgrade 45 at-risk B.C. schools, leaving 102 high-priority schools to be addressed. Ms. Clark and her ministers scramble to maximize their agendas as time dwindles before the writ drops

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark had a quick answer to why she announced funding to improve the earthquake resistance of some B.C. schools only eight days before the launch of an election campaign. "Earthquakes don't wait until elections are over," Ms. Clark told reporters on Monday after announcing $584-million in funding to seismically upgrade 45 at-risk B.C. schools, leaving 102 high-priority schools to be addressed.

"I am going to make sure we do the things we said we were going to do right up until the writ is dropped."

By the same token, there are probably many other issues that won't be able to wait as Ms. Clark and her cabinet fan out across B.C. using the power of incumbency to make the case to voters that the Liberals are governing the province well and deserve a fourth term on May 14.

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It's a steep challenge given polls that suggest the NDP has a massive lead on the Liberals – 20 points in the latest Angus Reid poll alone.

On Monday, for example, Transportation Minister Mary Polak announced the government and Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation were working toward legislative changes in the spring of 2014.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Mike de Jong, Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux were to make a carbon-tax announcement at a Surrey greenhouse. Environment Minister Terry Lake also had a photo-op scheduled to sign an agreement with a First Nations community. Education Minister Don McRae had a bullying announcement planned, but it was cancelled.

The ministers' schedules suggest a busy agenda until the writ is dropped and Ms. Clark becomes one among several provincial party leaders, including the NDP's Adrian Dix, John Cummins of the B.C. Conservatives and Jane Sterk, Leader of the B.C. Greens.

Political scientist Norman Ruff said Ms. Clark is using the aura of her office to woo support before she has to compete for the microphone. It's part of a tradition of B.C. politics he's seen over the last 40 years. "In the crudest terms, it's vote-buying," said the professor emeritus at the University of Victoria.

Prof. Ruff said the only difference between this week and politics of the past is that everyone knows the campaign timing because of fixed-election dates introduced by Ms. Clark's predecessor, Gordon Campbell. "In the old days, we would have said it was the sign of an election."

But Ms. Clark's appeal won't be limited to the news-conference circuit. On Monday night, Ms. Clark was to speak to more than 1,800 supporters expected to attend the $350-per-plate 2013 Premier's Dinner in Vancouver – a key chance to mobilize her business base before the start of the campaign. The guests included the Liberals' team of candidates.

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Dinner co-chair Bob Rennie, the condo marketer, said Ms. Clark had an "absolute responsibility" to show her supporters the race is not over – despite the polls.

"She has to send people out of there feeling the election is not going the way the media has been predicting. She has to instill confidence," said Mr. Rennie, a long-time supporter of Ms. Clark who co-chaired the dinner with Lululemon CEO Christine Day and Richard Jaffray, founder of Cactus Club Restaurants. "I am confident she will."

But Ms. Clark will also be making an appeal to voters outside the dinner. The party has bought 30 minutes of airtime this coming Sunday on Global TV for a promotional program, featuring Ms. Clark, "everyday" British Columbians and other community leaders talking about the planned Liberal pitch to voters.

On Monday, Ms. Clark said the point of the exercise is to get past the inevitable media filter to make her case directly.

"Communicating through the media is clearly different from communicating with people," she told reporters. "It's a different process than talking through the media and having a filter between me and the citizens of British Columbia. They will make a judgment based on what they hear. I'm up for that."

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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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