BRITISH COLUMBIA
05/14/2014 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Clark hit B.C. election campaign OK with possible defeat but firm on values

VICTORIA - The prospect of losing last year's British Columbia election didn't bother Premier Christy Clark who was prepared to sink or swim on the Liberal party's message of jobs and economy first, say backroom campaign workers who witnessed that strategy gain strength with voters in the final two weeks of the race.

Down about 20 points in the public opinion polls, wounded by an ethnic voter manipulation scandal and still packing the legacy of the hated harmonized sales tax, Clark's Liberals did not start the campaign on a high note.

But on the one-year anniversary of Clark's May 14, 2013 comeback election win over the Opposition New Democrats, those backroom workers still marvel at Clark's quiet, but determined confidence in running a campaign focused on jobs and the economy, win or lose.

"A month before the campaign, she said, 'if I run on my values and what I believe in and people don't support it, I'm good with that. I can't be somebody else,'" said one campaign worker, who asked not to be identified.

By the second week of the campaign, it started to feel that Clark's values about jobs and the economy were the same as those of many British Columbians, said the campaign worker.

"We were supposed to be 20 points down, but it sure didn't feel like that in Prince George, Kelowna and Surrey," the worker said. "It seemed like her values are their values. People were warm to her and yet, apparently, we're behind. How's that possible?"

Another Liberal campaign worker, who also asked not to be identified, said the more job sites Clark visited across the province, the more her support grew.

"At about the second and third week you noticed as we started visiting these sites, the response was getting warmer," the campaign worker said. "By the third week we were visiting sites where it was standing ovations, stuff that was not prompted."

Clark, wearing a hard hat toured manufacturing facilities in Cranbrook, Kelowna and Kamloops. She sat in a lunchroom with miners in Princeton.

"I was seeing how by the third and fourth week the resounding kind of response we were getting," the campaign worker said. "It was totally different than the first couple of week of the campaign."

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the pre-election status of the Liberal party did not deter his decision to seek a nomination in a Surrey riding. The long-time municipal politician said Clark's vision of jobs and the economy convinced him to run even though the speculation was the Liberals would not be elected to a fourth consecutive mandate.

"I'm the eternal optimist," said Fassbender. "I didn't run with a view to lose. I ran to win. Running was my way of saying I want to be part of the solution. I had confidence that this government could win because of the clarity of our vision.

Former Penticton mayor Dan Ashton battled three other potential Liberal candidates to win the party nomination, fully aware he was running for a party pollsters and pundits said was heading for defeat.

"It wasn't a sinking ship," he said. "It was a very good party and it's a good fit for me. The media made us all aware, but many of us with our noses to the grindstone and our ears to the floor, we heard outright it was a good opportunity."

Retired political scientist Norman Ruff said politicians sense long-term opportunities and the possibility the Liberals could lose last year's election likely did not phase them from running.

"They must have had in their mind the strong possibility they could lose," he said. "But if the party did go down, they would have to rebuild and if they won their seat, they'd be in a position to be on the ground floor."

Ruff said the Liberals have done much talking about the potential of liquefied natural gas development since last May's election, but little else has happened.

"What's happened in the last 12 months? Very little," he said. "We're still on LNG — the big promise for the future."

Ruff also said Clark has not been as visible as she could be since the election, calling her a "premier who in large part is AWOL."

Newly appointed Opposition NDP leader John Horgan said on election night a year ago, he couldn't believe the results.

"I thought someone in the graphics' department was going to get fired because those numbers (I saw on the screen) are backwards," he said. "Then I changed the channel and that graphics' department was exactly the same. I was personally devastated by the result, but today, 12 months later, I've got a positive feeling."