Former Premier Christy Clark announced her resignation as leader of the BC Liberals on Friday, sending shockwaves through the provincial political landscape.
Clark made the announcement during a caucus retreat in the BC Interior, which caught many Liberal Party politicians off-guard, according to Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka.
“It came out first thing this morning,” Shypitka said. “I was a bit shocked, disappointed and dismayed, but that being said, Christy Clark is an incredible leader and what she really wants is what’s best for British Columbians and our party.
“She’s obviously done some soul-searching and she knows this party is in good hands; we’re really deep with the people that we have in the party and she put it out there that she thinks the long term benefit to the party is if she steps aside.”
Shypitka highlighted her legacy as being the first elected and re-elected female premier, and credited Clark for ‘almost single-handedly’ winning the 2013 election, where pollsters had the NDP winning a majority.
“Go win an election,” was Clark’s last message to party MLA’s, said Shypitka.
Former Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, who retired before the May election, tweeted out his support for Clark’s decision.
“Many ignorant opinions — only a few know CC [Christy Clark] — she is a strong, intelligent, compassionate woman who chose party & province over self,” he wrote.
— Bill Bennett (@KootenayBill) July 28, 2017
After 16 years in government, the Liberals were re-elected in May with a minority government. However, the party lost a non-confidence vote in June after the BC New Democrats and the Green Party made a pact to topple the Liberals and to support each other in confidence and supply votes.
Following the non-confidence vote, Clark signalled her intent to stay on as Leader of the Opposition, however, that has changed with the announcement today.
“There was such an up-and-down momentum going there,” Shypitka said, referencing the uncertainty from the election results to the NDP/Green agreement and the non-confidence vote. “We really didn’t know what was going on from day-to-day and I think her first instinct kicked in and she wanted to protect the party. She’s a leader and she’s a person who likes to take charge and I think that was her immediate reaction.”
In addition to resigning her party leadership, Clark also gave up her seat in Kelowna-West.
Former deputy premier Rich Coleman, the MLA for Fort Langley-Aldergrove who served in cabinet in Liberal governments, will step in as interim party leader until a leadership vote, according to a party press release.
“It was fairly unanimous from the floor that he assume that role,” Shypitka said. “He is one of the people that was very disappointed and shocked about Christy’s decision today, but he took the bull by the horns and everybody obviously saw the leadership skills that he has and the time that he’s invested into the BC Liberal Party, so he’s definitely more that suited to take this task on and we all welcome it.”
While no date for a leadership vote has been set, the party executive will meet within the next 28 days to hammer out a timeline for a leadership campaign and vote.
Despite political differences, BC Premier John Horgan, with the NDP, and Andrew Weaver, leader of the Green Party, issued statements thanking Clark for her public service in government.
“I want to thank Christy Clark for her many years of service on behalf of British Columbians,” said Horgan, through his Twitter account. “I wish her and her family the very best. While we represented two different parties, we are united in our belief that our job is to work every day to build a better province.”
Said Weaver, in a press release: “I want to thank Christy Clark for her years of service to British Columbians, both as an MLA and as Leader of the BC Liberals. She has been a fierce advocate for British Columbia, here at home and around the world.”
While the leadership campaign and convention details get sorted out by the party executive, the BC Liberals are staying on task with their opposition duties, Shypitka said.
“We need to pick critics, outreach with people, we need to fill those duties to be a strong opposition, so that’ll be first and foremost — to assume party roles to hold the new government accountable and we’ve got a really strong team to do that,” he said.