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Perhaps Cdr. Didlittle could keep the good ship Christy afloat

Jim Shepard has never been afraid of a daunting reclamation project. He came out of retirement five years ago to engineer an impressive corporate turnaround at the British Columbia forest giant Canfor.

After retiring for a second time in 2011, he began a $1-a-year job as an economic adviser to B.C. Premier Christy Clark. After a year of witnessing the Premier up close, he's decided she's worth fighting for.

This week Mr. Shepard announced that he's leaving his post to start up something called the Concerned Citizens for B.C. The organization will promote and explain Ms. Clark to the province in a way that is not occurring now, he told reporters after the Premier's fundraising dinner on Tuesday.

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"Why is the press not seeing what I'm seeing?" Mr. Shepard asked reporters in making his announcement.

He wouldn't be the first political supporter to ask that question.

Mr. Shepard had few details to share about the new organization's immediate plans, other than to say it will extend an invitation to others feeling the same way to join the campaign. The former Finning and Canfor CEO played a similar role in 2001 in trying to get Gordon Campbell and the Liberals elected. Then he took out a full-page ad in major newspapers that outlined reasons why it was time to elect a free-enterprise party and kick the NDP out of office.

By that point, however, the electorate didn't need much persuading.

You can bet that Mr. Shepard will be selling a similar message this time around: that if you want continued prosperity it would be wise to stick with the free-enterprise coalition under whatever name it ends up adopting in a bid to disassociate itself from the toxic Liberal brand.

Ms. Clark has been singing the same tune, as have other prominent B.C. conservatives who are worried that a fractured coalition will all but seal the Liberals' fate come next spring's election. Of course, they're right. But so far that message has failed to alter voter intention.

Every new poll seems to deliver more bad news for Ms. Clark.

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The latest, this one from Angus Reid, came out on Thursday. It was a national ranking of provincial premiers and Ms. Clark found herself second from the bottom, just ahead of Nova Scotia's Darrell Dexter.

In December, when eligible voters in B.C. were asked by the same polling company if they approved or disapproved of Ms. Clark's performance, 40 per cent said they approved. By March of this year, that number had fallen to 33 per cent, and in this latest poll it fell another three points to 30 per cent.

Worse for Ms. Clark, when Angus Reid looked at the popularity of provincial opposition leaders, it showed that her arch-nemesis, NDP Leader Adrian Dix, is doing quite well. The poll indicated he is the second-most popular opposition leader in the country with an approval rating of 53 per cent.

Yes, these are polls with almost a year to go before the next election and much could change between now and then. But the fact is, Ms. Clark has been trending in the wrong direction for some time now. Mr. Shepard seems to think it's all the media's fault, that it has nothing to do with Ms. Clark's performance. If only the public could see the Premier as he sees her every day all would be fine, he insists.

They all say that. And in many cases the supporters and aides who make those reflections are right. Often, politicians are stronger and more effective in smaller circles. Gordon Campbell is a classic example of that phenomenon. Unfortunately, that's not the way the game is played.

Ms. Clark enjoyed a fairly lengthy media honeymoon until her party lost the HST referendum last summer. That, along with the resurgence of the B.C. Conservative Party, has impacted the Premier and her party's standing with the public. A natural centrist, Ms. Clark has tacked hard to the right at times in a bid to save her coalition. It has led to criticism that she doesn't really stand for anything but the lust for power itself.

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The Liberals haven't been helped by the fact that Mr. Dix has had an extremely solid first year on the job, surpassing many people's expectations. His biggest challenge, it would seem, is to stay out of the way of a government flailing about as it desperately clings to office.

But then again, one should never underestimate a person of Jim Shepard's credentials. The man has even written a children's book. It's entitled Adventures of Commander Didlittle and the Lost Battalion. It's about a guy with a big ego who gets himself into trouble when he isn't quite prepared for a big adventure he embarks on.

Sounds like a script that he could be writing now.

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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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