Thursday, April 26, 2012

Some positive messaging from Christy Clark in BC – but that name change…

I wrote earlier this week about some lessons I hoped BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark would take from the experience of Alberta PCPremier Alison Redford, who was able to win election and beat back a threat on her right by moving to the centre and appealing to progressive voters. And I expressed my frustration with Clark ignoring the left flank of the “coalition” while lunging to embrace the right.

So I was pleased to read comments Clark made to reporters this week in Victoria, in reaction to the Alberta election results:

“The lesson, for me, is that people want a strong coalition,” Ms. Clark told reporters in Victoria on Tuesday. “In British Columbia, the recipe for success is to make sure we have a strong thriving economy and the reason we want that is so that we can make sure people can put food on the table for their kids and look after the most vulnerable in society.”
“The thing for us, in our coalition, is to speak to all the members of our coalition,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of things that have made conservatives happy, and a lot of things that have made people at the centre, liberals, happy, I hope.”

As the Globe said, Clark’s remarks were a “tacit acknowledgment that her efforts to win back supporters from the B.C. Conservatives has left more centrist, liberal voters cold.” I’m pleased that, at least, there is awareness of the problem, and I welcome a shift in message emphasis. It needs to be followed-up, though with concrete action. Clark mentioned raising the minimum wage and the promised family day holiday as examples, but both are rather old. She’ll need to marry words with action to win the centre. 

And I think the way forward is in the same focus that won her the leadership: helping B.C. families be happy, healthy and successful. Most people don’t think about left, right or centre. They think about their families, and their daily lives. Speak to them with real, moderate solutions to their problems and you’ll do well.

About that name…

Premier Christy Clark says she's open to a name change if it can be done in time, as part of her appeal to unite the centre-right vote in B.C.
"(Former Liberal finance minister) Colin Hansen raised it at the last provincial convention, and I said at the time I was more than willing to entertain the idea, and so we've been talking. One of our vice presidents has travelled the province and talked to members all across the province about it, so we're working on it and I'll let you know when I have some new news."

In a neutral context, I’d be all for a name change for a number of reasons. For one, the name hasn’t really been representative of the party since the Socreds took it over in the 1990s. And for two, as a federal Liberal it would save us so much drama.

But here’s the thing: we’re not considering this in a neutral context. We’re considering it in the context of a sustained lurch by the party to the right and an alienated left flank. To stuff your office with Harperites, actively court the right, and then dump the word Liberal from the name would be a pretty big middle-finger to the l/Liberals in your camp looking for a reason to stay.

It’s the right idea, but I’m not sure the timing could be worse. For one, it reeks of desperation at this point. If they do it, I hope they accompany it with some major outreach to the left flank of the party to make clear this isn’t the final move in pushing them out the door.

The other risk is that it feeds the negative conceptions that many may be harboring about the party, and the government. The left says it proves they’re not very liberal. The right says you can change the name but Clark is still a liberal. And those dissatisfied with the Campbell years say they’re trying to pretend they’re a new party but I remember their record, and I’ll show them they can’t hide.

Just after she won the leadership, maybe. But in the current context, I just don’t know. But I think actions would and need to speak louder than names at this point.

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