PRINCETON, B.C. — Christy Clark appears unruffled by the rebuff of a shy one-year-old outside a cafe in southern British Columbia, who buries his head in his father’s shoulder.
Unfazed, the B.C. Liberal leader plucks a red-and-white pinwheel from a nearby flower box and coaxes a smile from the youngster, who accepts the spinning toy.
As she campaigns across the province, Clark, 51, comes across as similarly confident in her ability to win over B.C. voters in Tuesday’s election.
Clark is a seasoned campaigner and in the 2013 provincial election, her first as party leader, she was widely predicted to lose.
“We were 20 points behind,” Clark recalled in a recent interview. “It was just terrible.
“The caucus was divided. The party was broke. We were doomed. Everybody said we were going to lose the election.”
Despite losing her own seat, Clark achieved the unexpected and led the Liberals to their fourth-straight majority government.
This time Clark is running on her record after a full-term in office.
“I feel like this time I have more to say to people than just, ‘Trust me, I’m going to try and do my best for you,’ ” she said between campaign stops in the Okanagan region.
“This time I can say, ‘I told you I was going to do my best for you. We have made British Columbia number one in the country. I hope you’ll trust me to do it again.’ “
Clark’s campaign is highlighting the Liberal party’s stewardship of a provincial economy that has led the country in growth while trumpeting its financial management by stringing together five straight surplus budgets and promising four more. She has reminded voters the last time the NDP was in power in the 1990s the economy stagnated.
But incumbency also has its challenges.
Clark’s record is weighed down by a child-poverty rate in B.C. that is the highest in the country. Housing affordability became an issue under her watch and there appears to be growing discontent over political fundraising laws.
Clark is no stranger to politics, nor to political defeat. As a child she helped campaign with her father, who was a three-time candidate for the B.C. Liberals, a party that was virtually non-existent at the time.
He was never elected, but in 2011 the party he championed chose his daughter as its leader. By then Clark had survived the crucible of student politics during her time at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
After she was first elected to the legislature in 1996, she went on to serve as education minister and deputy premier in Gordon Campbell’s government.
The Liberal campaign’s focus on the economy and job creation has also seen Clark portray herself as the only leader willing and able to stand up to “rising protectionism” south of the border.
Late in the campaign, Clark threatened tough action against the thermal coal industry in the United States, asking Ottawa to ban the coal from travelling through U.S. ports after the Americans slapped new duties on softwood. She says she is also willing to go it alone by taxing the coal if the federal government doesn’t back her.
Her friends and opponents have described Clark as a fierce political competitor with a knack for electioneering.
“Campaigns are a test of character, as much as a test of policy,” she said.
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