BYELECTION12: Christine Clarke — B.C. Conservative

Christine who?

That’s the question political pundits were asking in December when a virtually unknown candidate with a name remarkably similar to the premier’s was acclaimed as the BC Conservative candidate for the Port Moody-Coquitlam byelection.

For some, the only quality Christine Clarke brought to the table was the ability to confuse voters.

The question is, does Christine Clarke think she’s an underdog?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no.

“I’d say we’re the common-sense choice,” Clarke said of the BC Conservatives.

She may be an unknown outside of Tory circles but is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and exhibits considerable amount of moxie — even bravado — for a political newcomer with few roots in the local school or volunteer community. But although Clarke is relatively new to the area, having lived here for just 12 years compared to decades for her political opponents, she has strong ties with the federal Conservatives, having worked for both Diana Dilworth’s and Yonah Martin’s (unsuccessful) federal Conservative campaigns. She has also been a party worker for the BC Liberals, helping Iain Black, who left his post as Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA for a job with the Vancouver Board of Trade, and she even door-knocked with current opponent Dennis Marsden in his last provincial campaign in Coquitlam-Maillardville.

“My focus has been more national than local because my role has been to work with all parties,” Clarke said, pointing to her work as an advocate with the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance (she has psoriasis), and among her accomplishments, she said, is working on a federal policy on natural health care products.

But she clearly sides with parties that share her views on issues such as small government and the justice system, which she calls the “catch-and-release system” owing to funding cuts that have led to delays of criminal cases.

Her party has been sending out press releases mostly targeting the BC Liberals and what Clarke and BC Conservative leader John Cummins insist is a “tax-and-spend” party: issues such as TransLink executive bonuses, the 2-cent-a-litre gas tax hike to pay for transportation and transit, including the Evergreen Line, and money lost through fare evasion.

“What I am honestly being told [on the doorstep],” says Clarke, “is that things have to stop going up: gas, hydro, MSP, ICBC... and the carbon tax is going up again [in July].”

She said voters are fed up and the Conservatives would find ways to run government without dinging the taxpayers.

“We believe in leaner government. We’d be looking for waste and stop funding people’s pet projects,” she says, citing rebates for people purchasing electric vehicles and government advertising budgets as areas the BC Conservatives would cut or re-purpose to reduce overall spending.

While the party doesn’t yet have a costed-out election plan, Clarke said it will have one by the time the general election is held in May 2013. Until then, she said, voters can look at the party’s position on issues such as balanced budgets and justice reform.

Clarke said she doesn’t believe the BC Liberals are truly balancing the budget because doing so will require the sale of $700 million in assets and on the issue of education, Clarke wants more choice for parents seeking private school alternatives and increased funding for private schools.

While she said she supports and respects individual teachers, she believes the current bargaining system between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers Association is “deeply flawed” and was so disenchanted with the public school system when her kids were growing up in Kelowna that she helped start a private school.

On the current education imbroglio, Clarke said: “You have to separate class size and composition from wage demands” and added that she believes the BCTF should work with the government, more like an advocate than an adversary.

As the newbie in the race, Clarke and her BC Conservatives have ascertained that transportation is a key issue. They argue for a more robust effort to crack down on fare evaders and people who don’t pay their fines, and Clarke agrees with the Liberals that TransLink’s spending needs more scrutiny before more money is syphoned from commuters and taxpayers.

“I’m not so sure how extensive an audit will be,” Clarke said, “but it needs to be pretty darn extreme.”

Whether the BC Conservatives’ lean-government message resonates with voters remains to be seen but Clarke doesn’t view herself as a spoiler.

“We don’t believe any party owns your vote,” she said.

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