Political waffle
is costing B.C. dear

Hard-working minister resigns
as Premier Christy Clark wavers
on a fall election decision

Michael Smyth, Vancouver Province, Aug. 21, 2011


British Columbia Attorney General Barry Penner packs up his office
after announcing that he is resigning. Photo: Postmedia News.


Barry Penner say he’s ditching politics to spend more time with his family, and I believe him.

But the truth is he’s quitting on someone else’s timetable. Premier Christy Clark’s continual wavering on whether to call a fall election or not has cost British Columbians one of their hardest-working cabinet ministers.

Penner told me he resigned as attorney-general last week because the Liberal party was pressuring him to prepare for a possible fall campaign.

He was getting phone calls from party officials pestering him to fill out nomination papers and assemble a volunteer campaign team.

So I asked Penner: if Christy Clark had clearly ruled out a snap election this fall, and vowed to get down to governing instead, would he still be attorney-general today?

“That’s possible," he told me. What about other cabinet ministers? Now that Penner has set the bar, are his colleagues also pondering their own futures as Clark frets and fusses?

“Everyone approaches the job differently," he said. “For me, it was an all-or-nothing thing." In other words, he wasn’t going to pretend to be running for re- election just to keep drawing that cabinet paycheque for a while longer.

Penner’s resignation has caused a buzz in government circles, as other cabinet ministers ponder what to do themselves.

I’m told Clark has not sought an in-or-out declaration from her ministers as she plays her election guessing game — which, to me, is just more evidence of her unsteady hand on the wheel.

She’s getting contradictory advice. Some Liberals think an election call would blow up in their faces, and voters would backlash against an election that’s costly, unnecessary and unwanted.

But other insiders think the political situation for the government is not going to improve, and Clark’s best hope is to call an election soon.

The election-now camp are watching nervously as Conservative Leader John Cummins attracts media attention and voter support on the right wing. Better to call an election now, they argue, before he gets any stronger.

Even more worrisome for this group is the gloomy state of the government’s finances, the probable defeat of the HST in the referendum, and the gathering economic storm clouds over the United States and elsewhere.

All of which could play havoc with the government’s budget, and force Clark to make painful and unpopular spending cuts. Perhaps it’s better to roll the dice on an election now, rather than face all that voter anger later.

Gamble or govern? That’s the conundrum facing Clark, and she can’t seem to figure out the answer.

But, as Penner proved, lots of Liberals are getting fed up with her waffling.

Go to Shirley Bond and BC Liberals page
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