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Newsmaker of the year: Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark is Capital News
Premier Christy Clark is Capital News' 2013 Newsmaker of the Year.
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"Remarkable" is the word Premier Christy Clark chooses to describe 2013.

It was a year that saw the premier lead the BC Liberal Party to a poll-defying provincial election victory and lose her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding the same evening.

The spotlight shifted to the Okanagan when Clark announced she would run in a Westside-Kelowna byelection, taking Liberal MLA Ben Stewart up on his offer to step aside.

Clark quickly became a familiar face in the Okanagan and earned a convincing byelection victory July 10.

Since then, the premier has continued to make local headlines with funding announcements, media interviews and event appearances.

And, according to her, there's a lot more work to be done.

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One day before the 2013 B.C. provincial election, an Angus Reid Public Opinion Poll suggested the New Democratic Party would earn 45 per cent of the vote; the poll predicted the Liberals would only earn 36 per cent.

Two months before that, The Province newspaper was bold enough to put NDP leader Adrian Dix on the cover, with the headline: If this man kicked a dog, he'd still win the election.

So, when Premier Christy Clark led the Liberals to a majority government, earning more than 44 per cent of the popular vote, the victory was that much sweeter.

"The biggest thing that happened this year, in my life, was succeeding in beating all the predictions from the pundits and the pollsters and winning the election," says Clark.

"That was a big day for me, and I think for the whole province."

But during the evening of celebrations, Clark watched as her own riding, Vancouver-Point Grey, slipped into the hands of NDP candidate David Eby.

Eby earned about 1,000 more votes than Clark and the loss led several Liberal MLAs throughout the province to offer up their seats so the premier could earn her way back into the provincial legislature through a byelection.

Westside-Kelowna's Ben Stewart was one of those MLAs; Clark took him up on his offer.

With tears in his eyes, Stewart stood in front of media at Quails' Gate Estate Winery June 5 and announced he would step aside so the premier could run in a Westside-Kelowna byelection.

"It's an important decision for the province, an important decision for the constituency of Westside-Kelowna and an important decision for myself," Stewart said June 5.

Over the next 35 days, Clark became a familiar face in the Okanagan as she attempted to win voters' favour.

Initially, most of the premier's appearances were set up as photo opportunities. On June 13, for example, media were invited to snap pictures of the premier using a drill to erect one of her campaign signs.

But Clark contended she was also taking time to hear residents' concerns.

In early July, she agreed to take part in two all-candidates debates at the riding level: Something no other sitting premier had done in the last 30 years.

And those efforts seemed to pay off.

Clark easily won the Westside-Kelowna byelection July 10 with more than 62 per cent of the popular vote—better than the 58 per cent support Stewart received in May.

It didn't take long for Clark to start delivering on some of her local campaign promises.

The day after the byelection, the premier announced $1 million in additional funding for paving along Westside Road.

Later that month, Clark followed through on another byelection promise by announcing $500,000 for flood mitigation work at McDougall Creek.

But as Clark attempts to please her Westside-Kelowna constituents, she has no shortage of provincial concerns to worry about.

"That challenge faces any premier," says Clark.

"Whatever riding (you) represent, you want to be a good MLA, and at the same time, you need to serve the entire province.

"But Bill Bennet and WAC Bennett figured out how to do it; I think I'm figuring out how to do it."

She admits, as premier, it's easier for her to accomplish goals for constituents at the riding level than it is for other MLAs.

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater agrees.

Although the district doesn't get the premier's ears as often as they might like, when they do, results often follow.

"It's been beneficial," says Findlater.

"We've seen some concrete things, in terms of asphalt (on Westside Road) and certainly the McDougall Creek upgrade.

"Those were very quick, positive wins for us."

Findlater says there is still a to-do list the district is hoping Clark will pay attention to.

"We have a tremendous amount of infrastructure needs we need to talk about…accessing funding of different kinds and consultation on First Nations issues is important to us as well."

Clark says she's aware of the region's needs and admits there is more work to be done.

"I've gotten a lot of feedback from people…how they want to see this community grow and thrive in the future," says Clark.

"There's still a lot of work to do on Westside Road—I intend to get on with that, as I said I would."

Clark adds a health centre and a second crossing over Okanagan Lake are priorities of hers; however, the second crossing is a long-term project.

"Engagement has already begun on that.

"Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has met with the mayor and folks in Kelowna, and I think West Kelowna as well, to talk about what it is they see (a second crossing) looking like—what the challenges are.

"It is very early stages. I don't expect that it will be done by the next election, but hopefully we'll have some significant progress in the planning by then."

The premier also envisions the Okanagan Valley as becoming a tech hub for North America.

"We want to attract the best and brightest from around the world to settle here.

"I hope that 20 years from now, people will say this community is not just about tourism and retirees and agriculture, this community is about being a tech hub."

During the byelection campaign, Clark said she would be on the hunt for a second residence in West Kelowna.

Clark says she's optimistic she will be in that second home before the new year.

"The dilemma I have is I want a small place, no lawn—kind of a turn-key operation. There are fewer of those on the Westside than there are in downtown (Kelowna)," says Clark, who adds she's still hoping to find a suitable location in West Kelowna.

That residence may end up being well-used for some time, as Clark has indicated her intent to run in Westside-Kelowna in the next election.

And, if that's the case, Premier Clark will likely continue making headlines in the Okanagan for years to come.

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

Twitter: @PatersonWade

 

 

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