Opinion Column

Christy Clark quitting starts civil war inside B.C. Liberal party

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (Postmedia Network/Files)

Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (Postmedia Network/Files)

“The allies we gain by victory will turn against us upon the bare whisper of our defeat.”

- Napoleon Bonaparte

When Christy Clark left the political battlefield by resigning as B.C. Liberal leader last week she also started what will likely be a devastating civil war inside her party.

That’s because the often shaky coalition of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals that make up the separate B.C. Liberal Party will now have to find a new leader who can bridge significant ideological and personal divides.

The B.C. Liberals are merely the latest version of the anti-New Democratic Party coalition that has existed since 1941, when Liberal and Conservative MLAs joined together to keep the NDP’s predecessor Co-operative Commonwealth Federation from winning government.

And now, with Clark hastily exiting after losing the premiership in a B.C. Legislature vote to B.C. NDP leader John Horgan with Green Party backing, the right-wing coalition is again preparing to go to war – with itself.

Clark precipitated the hostilities, first by blowing the May election and then with a Throne Speech that literally destroyed the B.C. Liberal Party brand of fiscal conservatism by effectively promising to implement almost the entire NDP election platform.

Clark’s faint hope of remaining premier didn’t convince the public – but it did completely alienate those B.C. Liberal MLAs who are fiscally and socially conservative – and who heavily lean towards the federal Conservative Party.

That sets up the coming fierce battle for control of the B.C. Liberals between the right-wing coalition’s federal Conservative and Liberal wings.

Expect South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts to be the main Conservative candidate for B.C. Liberal leadership, with likely support from hard right-wing MLAs like Rich Coleman, Mary Polak and Mike de Jong.

But former Surrey mayor Watts’ decision to join then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s team in the 2015 election means she will have to wear their discredited campaign tactics – which Watts defended. She would also alienate federal Liberals.

The B.C. Liberals’ challenge is to find a leader who doesn’t aggravate either side of the existing coalition – and can also defeat Horgan whenever the next election happens.

The more likely alternative is a B.C. Liberal civil war where one side wins – and then loses the support of the other side, before likely losing the election to the B.C. NDP.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at billtieleman.blogspot.com. Twitter: @BillTieleman