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Can Christy Clark get along with federal Tories?

Christy Clark makes her way to a news conference at Government House in Victoria after she was sworn in as B.C. Premier on March 14, 2011.


British Columbia's new Premier, Christy Clark, met for the first time with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tuesday. While he has not commented on what they spoke about, she said she pushed him on a mine project rejected by the federal government for environmental reasons.

That decision needs to be revisited, she said, stressing she is not backing down. And so begins another chapter in federal-provincial relations.

What kind of partner will Ms. Clark be for the Tories in Ottawa?

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For starters, she is viewed with some suspicion by federal Conservatives. At least that's the take of one of her closest advisers and supporters in British Columbia.

Ms. Clark - who leads the B.C. Liberal Party, which is a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals aimed at keeping the NDP from power - won the leadership with no help from prominent federal Tories.

Harper cabinet ministers stayed out of the race but some senators supported Kevin Falcon, who was considered the Conservative favourite in the race. John Reynolds, the former veteran B.C. Tory supported Mr. Falcon, as did Liberal Senator Larry Campbell, a former Vancouver mayor.

"I think that the days of fed-bashing by provincial governments, it doesn't simply doesn't bear fruit, and I think we've seen that over the past few years with Premier [Gordon]Campbell," the senator said when he made his endorsement public. "And I think [Mr. Falcon]will continue on in that tradition. There's no sense in having a fight."

Mr. Falcon came second to Ms. Clark and is now her deputy premier.

"[The Harper Tories]were so afraid that a federal Liberal would become premier," a source close to Ms. Clark told The Globe. The new Premier was a young Grit supporter and later served in Jean Chrétien's first government as an aide to transportation minister Doug Young in 1993. She left Ottawa in 1996 with her husband, Mark Marissen. They have since separated but have a friendly relationship and share custody of their son.

Mr. Marissen is the cause of some of that Tory suspicion as he was a principal in Stéphane Dion's Liberal leadership. He was a co-chair of the last election campaign and continues to help Michael Ignatieff's team in British Columbia.

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"They just assume [because of her former husband]and think 'oh well, she's a federal Liberal'," the source said. The suspicion was fuelled even more by the fact that Ms. Clark served for a short time as a political commentator on CTV, where she was sometimes very critical of the federal government.

So it's no surprise she received no enthusiastic support from the Prime Minister's B.C. caucus. Still, she had little support from Liberal MPs, either, with the exception of Newton-North Delta MP Sukh Dhaliwal

In the backroom, Ms. Clark was supported by both federal Liberals and Tories - including Praxicus Public Strategies pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who did all of the voter tracking for the Clark campaign. Mr. Pantazopoulos has polled for Stephen Harper and most recently ran numbers for Rob Ford's successful mayoral bid in Toronto.

So what kind of leader will she be? "Once you've taken on the role of premier, you're premier for everybody," the source said. "I can't imagine her taking a different approach with the federal government than Gordon Campbell did."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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