Clark second choice in conservative Chilliwack

BC Liberal Party members in the two Chilliwack ridings remained loyal to their conservative roots, solidly backing MLA Kevin Falcon as their first choice for leadership of the party and interim premier of the province.

But Christy Clark, seen as the outsider and the most liberal-leaning of all the candidates in Saturday’s vote, was their surprising second choice.

Chilliwack MLA John Les, who backed Falcon’s bid for the leadership, shrugged off opponents’ claim that Clark’s win marked the end of caucus unity among BC Liberal MLAs, and the end of the conservative coalition that dominates the party.

He said there was “disappointment” after Saturday’s vote, but “no bitterness” among the losing candidates and their supporters.

The NDP claim that they prefer to run against Clark in the next provincial election is just the usual political rhetoric, he added.

“The fact of the matter is, they may be more concerned about running against Christy Clark than (against) Kevin Falcon,” he said, because of her popularity with British Columbians who aren’t BC Liberal Party members, and it’s those voters who will choose the next premier on May 14, 2013.

Cliff Roulston, head of the BC NDP’s riding association in Chilliwack, was delighted by Clark’s victory.

“I think she’s a pretty good target,” he beamed, during a telephone interview Wednesday, recalling the school closures made while Clark was minister of education and her management of the children and family services ministry.

“She left the department in chaos,” he said.

Despite Clark’s “liberal-leaning” tag, Roulston said he doesn’t expect any substantive changes in BC Liberal policy under her leadership.

BC NDP party members vote for a new leader on April 17, and MLA Adrian Dix is seen as a leading candidate in the Chilliwack riding.

Whoever wins the leadership, Roulston said they will need to be “inspiring” to win the next general election.

“If the NDP is going to win, it’s going to have to get its vote out, so we’re looking for someone who’s inspiring,” he said.

Ben Besler, BC Conservative party regional director, said Clark’s victory is “an end to the split-the-vote argument” made by BC Liberals to keep voters from casting ballots for BC Conservative candidates. Such a split in the conservative vote could lead to an NDP victory.

“The Fraser Valley is conservative,” Besler said. “I don’t believe Christy Clark is a conservative.”

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner, who remained neutral during the party’s leadership race, said the election of Clark showed “a clear appetite for change at the political level” that’s also being seen in the U.S. and other Canadian provinces.

Penner was once a classmate of Clark’s at SFU studying political science.

In the Chilliwack riding, Falcon had 66.2 points in the third and final round of balloting Saturday, while Clark came second with 33.8 points. Candidates George Abbott and Mike de Jong had no points in the riding.

In the Chilliwack-Hope riding, Falcon had 57.4 points in the third round, while Clark again came second with 42.6 points. The other candidates again had no points.

Province-wide, Clark came first with 4,420 points or 52 per cent of the total, while Falcon came second with 4,080 points or 48 per cent of the total.