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Early election may be Clark's only reprieve from reality of her growing to-do list

Candidates promising to usher in the kind of sweeping change B.C. premier-designate Christy Clark has vowed to implement inevitably face a sterner test than those who don't make such oversized guarantees.

They have more to live up to, and consequently more to lose, if they fall short of their goals.

Ms. Clark made her clarion call for transformational change sound so inviting and doable out on the campaign trail. It won't be long, however, before the challenge of turning promise into reality will confront her in the coldest, starkest terms.

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When you look at the long list of Ms. Clark's campaign pledges in the sobering morning-after light of her victory, it is indeed formidable. In no particular order she has vowed to wage war on poverty, create tens of thousands of new jobs, slash the deficit, raise the minimum wage, cut health-care spending, expand public transit in Greater Vancouver and, perhaps most daunting of all, give British Columbians a real voice in decision making.

Perhaps this explains why Ms. Clark would like to hold a general election sooner rather than later. That way, she's unlikely to be judged as harshly on the progress she has made on her to-do list.

Personally, I don't understand the rush for a general election. I certainly don't sense the public clamouring for one. The government is going to ask British Columbians to get out and vote on the future of the HST either in September, when the vote is scheduled, or earlier if Ms. Clark moves the date up to June as she has promised.

Getting people to put down whatever they are doing to get out and cast a ballot is difficult at the best of times in this province. Asking them to do it twice in the same year - for a referendum and an election - would be beyond pushing it. I'm not sure anyone would object if Ms. Clark did the job for a couple of years and then went to the polls in 2013 as scheduled.

At least the public would have more to judge on the progress she has - or hasn't made - on the audacious promises she made during the leadership campaign.

Ms. Clark will soon sit down with outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell to talk transition. She met with him during the campaign to get his advice on people she might turn to for help in this area.

Mr. Campbell will resign as an MLA and Ms. Clark will likely run in a by-election in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding. She has to pick a chief of staff and the early betting is it will be Mike McDonald, who ran her campaign. Then there is the small matter of picking a cabinet. The business community, which supported Ms. Clark's rival Kevin Falcon in massive numbers, would love to see him made the next finance minister. But when asked about it after the vote Saturday night, Mr. Falcon expressed zero interest in the position.

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And then there is the matter of the HST, the reason why Ms. Clark is in the position she is in today.

During the campaign, Ms. Clark's sometimes impulsive, populist instincts got the better of her. Early on, she mused about putting the fate of the HST to an immediate vote in the legislature immediately if the "sense" was the public wanted no part of the tax. The idea seemed solely designed to attract support from those in the party who want the HST gone yesterday. But at the time she didn't rule out a referendum, either. It made her position look confused. It allowed her critics to say this is what the public should expect with a talk-now, think-later populist at the helm.

In the end, Ms. Clark settled - we think - on moving up the date of the referendum to June 30.

But what will she do before then? Will she campaign hard in favour of the tax, which she says is a good one? If she makes only a half-hearted effort to turn public opinion in favour of it, and it gets voted down in the referendum, she suddenly has a $1.6-billion hole in her budget. And she has lost a mechanism that most economists agreed had the potential to be a real job creator.

Without it, many of her promises will be harder to deliver on.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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