Christy Clark bio goes beyond the smile

Former B.C. MLA Judi Tyabji pens an unauthorized biography of the B.C. Premier




By Judi Tyabji

Tyabji, a former B.C. MLA, may have been granted only one interview with the B.C. premier for her new biography. But she made the most of it, getting Clark talking about the toughest period of her life: the first two years she spent as leader of the B.C. Liberals, starting in February 2011, after Gordon Campbell’s stunning resignation. It was brutal. Only one MLA had supported Clark’s leadership bid. Half the caucus was openly hostile. The rest were indifferent, sure the Liberals were fated to tank in the upcoming provincial election. The headlines were unrelentingly grim. Clark was pleading with caucus troublemakers: “Can we make it to the end of the day, or the end of the week, without an explosion?” she tells Tyabji.

She described for Tyabji the moment she was able to turn it around. She was swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean, near her family cabin in B.C.’s Gulf Islands. “For the first time, I felt overwhelmed, thinking that I just didn’t know how we were going to win the election.” She’s always been a nervous swimmer, she admits, wary of the creatures beneath her, and of the open ocean after her father’s and sister’s near-drowning in a boating accident. “I remember swimming and thinking, I don’t know if I’m going to win the election, but it all depends on me, and I’m not going to be scared about the outcome,” she tells Tyabji. I’m going to let go of all my fear about it.” In that moment, she “stopped being afraid.”

Clark, after being roundly dismissed by pundits and even her own party, went on to pull off an upset for the ages: a stunning Liberal majority in 2013. Tyabji believes Clark, whom she first met when the two were Young Liberals in the early 1980s, is portrayed as a “heartless, arrogant, corporate sell-out,” and wanted to try to correct the record, and write about the woman behind the smile.

The biography was unauthorized, but it’s not clear the premier will appreciate the help. Earlier this spring, she had to spend a day in question period fending off criticism about a $128,000 provincial government grant Tyabji received for a shearing project on the sheep farm she and her husband, former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, own on the Sunshine Coast; $67,000 went directly to Tyabji’s supervision of the project, which the NDP called a “direct conflict of interest.”

Clark has also had to fend off criticism involving Wilson, who is being paid $150,000 a year to run LNG-Buy B.C., a site aiming to connect B.C. businesses with LNG opportunities. When the site became the focus of media attention two months ago, it was empty, listing no opportunities. (It has since been reformatted and beefed up.) It can’t help author or subject that the book received grants from the B.C. Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.

Clarification, June 5: This review has been updated to clarify that it was publisher that received standard financial support from the Government of Canada (Canada Book Fund), the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.