VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier Christy Clark never seems to miss the chance to put on a hard hat and pose with workers for what has become the trademark photo opportunity of her government.
She's donned hard hats in Nanaimo at a lumber yard, at a mine site in Princeton and at the Howe Sound location of a proposed liquefied natural gas plant.
British Columbians can expect more hard-hat appearances as Clark looks to secure her second term and a fifth straight Liberal mandate in next May's election.
"Whenever I'm wearing a hard hat, I'm usually talking about all the things we can do to support job creation,'' Clark said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press. "Why do I go to work sites? I want to make the point that jobs matter and government makes a difference in whether or not those jobs get created.''
B.C. Premier Christy Clark listens to a question at the Woodfibre LNG project site near Squamish, B.C., on Nov. 4, 2016.
New Democrat Leader John Horgan is also familiar with a hard hat.
"I've said in the past, I've worn a hard hat to protect my head, not just get my picture taken,'' Horgan said in an interview as he placed a union-sticker covered hard hat on his head. He smiled as he joked that he'd never be mistaken for actor George Clooney.
Clark said job creation will be her primary message in the coming months and the choice will become more clear for voters.
"Why do I go to work sites? I want to make the point that jobs matter ..."
"When I was growing up and my dad would come home from his union meetings, it was obvious there were two parties,'' she said.
"Now in B.C. there is one party that supports employers and supports workers because we support job creation, and there is another that doesn't support jobs. That's what will be at stake for us over the next six months.''
Horgan said Clark's Liberals have underfunded public education, presided over an exodus of forestry jobs in rural communities and provided tax breaks to the wealthy.
"Sixteen years these people have been in power, and I've been maintaining Christy Clark cares about two things, and you are not one of them,'' Horgan said, suggesting Clark cares more about herself and her party.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan is photographed in his office at legislature in Victoria on Dec. 5, 2014.
The premier has warned her Liberal party supporters that they are in for a fight this spring.
But she's leading Canada's strongest economy and is betting that issue and jobs will hit home when voters go to the polls May 9.
"What I know is a job means stability,'' she told the annual gathering of the B.C. Road Builders Association earlier this month. "It means food on the table. It means you can own your own home.''
B.C.'s economy is projected to grow three per cent this year, more than double the projected national average of 1.2 per cent. B.C.'s jobless rate at 5.6 per cent is the lowest in the country.
Clark highlighted major projects and the jobs they created, pointing out each one has been opposed by the NDP. The Evergreen Line, South Fraser Perimeter Road, Port Mann Bridge, the Canada Line, Site C hydroelectric dam and Pacific NorthWest LNG are either complete, proposed or underway.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark puts on a pink hard hat during a provincial election campaign stop along the South Fraser Perimeter Road in Delta, B.C., on May 6, 2013.
"And then there's Kinder Morgan, 15,000 new jobs, and they oppose that, too,'' she told the convention.
The $6.8 billion Trans Mountain expansion project from northern Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. would triple the oil pipeline's capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day.
Horgan said British Columbians are struggling to make ends meet as hydro, insurance and medical costs increase.
"I've worked in mills. I've worked on a roof,'' he said. "I've worked in construction. I know what it's like to try and make ends meet, pay cheque to pay cheque.''
NDP should define themselves 'before the Liberals do it for them'
Political scientist Hamish Telford, at University of the Fraser Valley, said Horgan must increase his public profile ahead of the campaign.
"If you went to downtown Vancouver, Victoria or any other town in the province and stopped people on the street and asked them to name the leader of the NDP, I suspect nine out of 10 people couldn't do it,'' he said.
Telford said the Liberals are vulnerable on education, transportation, housing and the unequal distribution of economic gains. Clark's Liberals failed to deliver on their big promise of thousands of LNG jobs, he said.
"We are five months away from the election and the NDP have to get him (Horgan) known and defined before the Liberals do it for them,'' Telford said.