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Explaining Christy Clark's brief flirtation with Senate reform

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to The Globe and Mail's editorial board in Toronto on June 24, 2011.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Well, that was a fast trip through the perilous terrain of Senate reform. B.C. Premier Christy Clark was in and basically out in 24 hours. No wonder, when you consider the political situation in British Columbia.

During her first official visit to Ottawa last week, Ms. Clark floated two proposals for Senate reform in one day. First she said wanted as many as 10 more senators for B.C. to reflect the province's growing economic clout. Then, before the sun set, she suggested appointing a fuller complement of senators for the "underrepresented" West than "overrepresented" regions.

The next day, the whole issue was in Ms. Clark's rear-view mirror.

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"I'm really cautious about starting a national conversation about constitutional change when people care about jobs," she told The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Friday.

"I think the national project is not changing the Constitution. The national project is, 'How are we going to connect what we do and make [it]to the big markets in the Far West, in Asia?' That's the big national project we should be working on."

Long story short is that conventional wisdom is hardening into the reality of a fall election in British Columbia this year, with a probable voting day in October, as the rookie Premier seeks her own mandate two years ahead of the scheduled 2013 vote.

Ms. Clark has conceded she faces a tough fight against a rejuvenated B.C. NDP so policy and proclamations, for now, presumably have to be advanced through the prism of what gives her traction in a looming vote.

Lobbying for B.C.'s share of multi-billion dollar federal shipbuilding contracts, which was said to be at the forefront of Ms. Clark's visit, would presumably advance that effort. Senate reform might not, though pollster Mario Canseco of Angus Reid Public Opinion says his firm's surveys have found some interest in the subject among British Columbians.

But political scientist Norman Ruff says Ms. Clark seemed off course with her musings about the Senate, though the comments suggest the new Premier may be more assertive on national issues than her predecessor, Gordon Campbell.

"I think it was a distraction from her presumed main focus - shipbuilding. I was surprised she got drawn into the Senate debate," the University of Victoria professor emeritus said. "There are no B.C. votes in Senate reform."

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Ms. Clark, on the evidence of the week's developments, appears to agree.

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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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