Top of Mind - July 18, 2011

It's been just under two months since John Cummins was elected leader of the BC Conservatives. But, during that time, Mr. Cummins has demonstrated there is ample political space available for an alternative right-wing party.

Last week, the BC Conservatives got some earned media for opposing a proposed two cent gas tax increase in Metro Vancouver. That opposition is smart because New Democrat transportation critic Harry Bains won't say whether he supports that increase, while the Liberals are at least partially responsible for it. Similarly, Mr. Cummins attacked the Clark administration earlier this month for failing to "protect students by allowing the College of Teachers to wipe clean the records of suspended or dismissed teachers" - something the New Democrats don't appear to have yet done, likely because of their connection to the British Columbia Teachers' Federation. But it remains to be seen whether commenting on such issues will translate into actual ballot box support for the BC Conservatives.

The British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association provides an example of why the BC Conservatives are both necessary and may have trouble finding support.

Since Christy Clark came to power, the provincial government has made a number of decisions that will or could negatively affect the restaurant industry. In addition to supporting the harmonized sales tax introduced by her predecessor Gordon Campbell, Ms. Clark's administration has raised the minimum wage, announced it will respond to demands to know the nutritional content of restaurant food and shelved plans to revise tough new drinking and driving laws. But the association has seemed to pull its punches regarding those decisions, presumably because it's reluctant to criticize British Columbia's so-called "free enterprise" party - even though there's now a right-wing alternative to the Liberals.

"Flip-flopping Clark honeymoon clearly over." "Christy Clark Show keeps heads spinning." "Critics attack premier over mixed messages." "Clark's stumbles raise political question." Those are just some of the headlines from last week which criticized the premier. But it's important for her not draw the wrong lesson from that criticism.

During Ms. Clark's leadership campaign, she promised to "do politics differently" by sharing with British Columbians the policy options under consideration by her government. That's still a laudable idea. But before presenting those options, Ms. Clark needs to have an understanding of them. And that's where she appears to be struggling.

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