Waters: Premier shouldn’t duck her opponents in upcoming byelection

Christy Clark should not skip all-candidates debates in the upcoming Westside-Kelowna by-election.

Westside-Kelowna voters

will go to the polls again July 10 in a provincial byelection.But the question remains: Will they have heard Liberal candidate, Premier Christy Clark, debate her byeletion oponents directly by then?

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that the Liberals see Westside-Kelowna as a “safe” seat. Former MLA Ben Stewart easily held the riding for the party in the May 14 provincial election, taking 58 per cent of the vote before he agreed to step down so Clark could run. Stewart’s large percentage of the vote was up from 2009, when he also took a morethan 50 per c ent of all votes cast.

In fact, candidates from right-of-centre provincial parties have always had success on the west side of the lake. The area was represented at one time by two former Social Credit MLAs, former premiers WAC Bennett and his son Bill.

So, it’s unlikely any reluctance on behalf of Clark to debate NDP candidate Carole Gordon or B.C. Conservative candidate Sean Upshaw will hurt her chances. But the optics of ignoring all-candidates debates in the riding over the next 28 days will look awful.

She’s already a Vancouver gal, parachuting into a riding five hour’s drive away who feels she’ll have no problem winning. If she wants to appear anything but a carpetbagging opportunist, she needs to show locals cares about local issues.

Unlike during the provincial election camapign, where Clark skipped all-candidates meetings in her  Vancouver-Point Grey riding which she lost to NDP challenger David Eby, the premier cannot argue she has a provincial camapign to spearhead this time, or that she alrady has a track record as the local MLA. This time, here, it’s different. This time there’s only one task at hand—winning a byelection to become the local MLA.

Clark’s party is already the government and she won the job of premier election night, when, despite losing her own seat, she lead the Liberals to an unexpected come-from-behind win with a majority of seats in the B.C. Legislature.

This time it’s about picking an MLA, not a premier for B.C. Win or lose July 10, Clark will still be the premier.

On Thursday, she was non-committal about participating in all-candidates’ debates here, saying only that she would “consider” it. She did say, however, she plans to knock on plenty of doors.

Given that her strength is debating, as well as one-on-one meetings and speaking directly to voters, it’s astonishing she would decline to play to those strengths.

By refusing to show she has a grasp of local issues and her party has a plan to deal with them, she opens herself to criticism that running here realy is a cynical move of convenience.

Refusing to participate in all-candidates debates will not likely make or break her byelection bid but it will tarnish what appears to be a reprieve from the political bashing she withstood leading up to the May 14 election.

By breaking with tradition set by all her premier predecessors in the last 30 years of not debating other cadidtes at the riding level, Clark can show she is a different sort of politician.

In last month’s provincial camapign, she went out and connected with people across B.C. and that helped get her candidates elected.

Now she needs to do that for herself.

And, as was proved in Vancouver-Point Grey, that won’t necessarily happen if she doesn’t show up—or appears not to show up.

Sure, her opponents may try and re-run the May 14 vote on a local scale here, but Clark should be prepared for that.

Ducking her rivals may be the politicaly expedient thing to do, but it sends the wrong message.

If Clark truly to represent Westside-Kelowna as its MLA, and be simply a political placeholder for the next four years, she needs to speak up.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.


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