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First 'outside' candidate takes aim at B.C. Liberal leadership

Former deputy premier Christy Clark is entering the race to become B.C.'s next premier Wednesday with a pair of key business backers, including one rallying behind her after planning to initially support the more conservative Solicitor-General Rich Coleman.

Condo kingpin Bob Rennie and developer Peter Wall both said in interviews Tuesday they would be supporting the former education minister with money and advice as she attempts to succeed Premier Gordon Campbell in the Feb. 26 Liberal leadership vote.

"What I like about Christy is she has to prove herself. It's not a forgone conclusion," said Mr. Rennie, Vancouver's condo marketing kingpin.

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After five years away from politics, Ms. Clark is stepping away from a high-profile job as host of the Christy Clark Show on CKNW Radio. She'll face four rivals, all recent cabinet ministers - George Abbott, education, Kevin Falcon, health, Mike de Jong, attorney-general and Moira Stilwell, skills development - who quit their posts to focus on the race.

Ms. Clark, effectively, is the first outsider in the leadership contest. Many have said the Liberals need such a candidate, untainted by such unpopular policy decisions as adopting the harmonized sales tax, in order for the party to win a fourth term in government in the 2013 election.

"We need a change, and Christy is almost from outside," said Mr. Rennie. "My support isn't the big financial support as much as I hope intellectual support [on]housing, and culture and the demographic pulse."

For his part, Mr. Wall, a noted property developer whose signature building is One Wall Centre in Vancouver, said he found Ms. Clark to be effervescent, young, and energetic. He said he will provide advice on housing and construction as well as funds as required. "If she needs something, basically, and we can help her, we'll help her, of course," he said.

Ms. Clark has scheduled a pair of announcements Wednesday on the leadership issue - a radio appearance followed by an event in downtown Vancouver. She has been off the air since Nov. 26, taking a break, she has said, to consider her plans.

Until Mr. Coleman ruled out a leadership bid last week, Mr. Rennie said he was planning to support the housing minister for his work on housing and homelessness.

Now he said he is confident Ms. Clark - seen by many as linked to the federal Liberal wing of the coalition that is the B.C. Liberal Party - can "bridge the coalition." That's a key qualification for succeeding in the job Ms. Clark is seeking.

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"Christy is going to have to have to prove herself, and if we're looking for change, proving yourself is a strength," Mr. Rennie said.

That issue has been part of the architecture of Ms. Clark's run, said a source close to the campaign. The source noted that Ms. Clark has recruited some stalwarts of Mr. Coleman's campaign including Sharon White, who was to be co-chair of the Coleman effort.

Ms. White is to serve as co-chair of the Clark campaign.

"Christy is intent on building a coalition. She understands the party is a coalition," said the senior source in an interview.

"I don't think anyone has any questions about Christy's Liberal bona fides. The question is, Can she hold the coalition together? … We're building a coalition within the campaign that will reflect the Liberal Party of B.C."

Although Ms. Clark has been out of government for five years, Mr. Rennie said he believes the 45-year-old has the qualifications to be premier.

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"She's been out of government, but she hasn't been out of the loop. As a talk show host, she has been in touch with people," he said.

The fate of that talk show was not entirely clear Tuesday.

But CKNW's public affairs director said there have been precedents within Corus, the corporation that runs the station, where hosts have taken leaves of absence for outside projects and returned if unsuccessful.

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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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