VICTORIA - Big deals worth billions of dollars face Premier Christy Clark as she and her Liberal government return to the legislature Monday for a fall session.
Political experts and insiders are saying Clark could leave the everyday political trench warfare to her cabinet ministers this fall as she works on two major deals with the federal government and prepares for a trade mission to Asia.
Clark's Liberals and the federal Conservatives are currently embroiled in a public stalemate over ongoing negotiations to renew a 20-year RCMP policing contract between B.C. and Ottawa.
Clark is signalling she wants cooler heads to prevail after B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond said Ottawa gave the province a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum and federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said B.C. is free to leave, but thinks there's a good deal on the table.
Clark said she is hopeful B.C. and Ottawa can reach a deal, but she told community leaders she wants to make sure policing costs are controlled.
Heritage Minister James Moore, B.C.'s federal Conservative chief spokesman, appeared also to be seeking conciliation after saying the province didn't seem to appreciate contract deadlines.
University of Victoria social policy Prof. Michael Prince said the RCMP contract dust-up with Ottawa came at a politically opportune time — just as Clark's Liberals were meeting with provincial municipal leaders at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
The Liberals were able to tell community leaders the province was standing up for their interests and the mayors and councillors were able to vent their anger just before they start their fall re-election campaigns.
"The rhetoric's kind of gone a little silly," said Prince. "There's sort of this struggle over financing and accounting and then there's the larger question about the role of a national police force."
Prince said he can't see Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has made law-and-order one of his political meal tickets, allowing the RCMP contract talks with B.C. — which has the largest Mountie presence in Canada with 6,000 members — to end in failure.
The exact worth of the RCMP contract has not been revealed but last week, Moore mentioned $800 million in interviews with reporters in Ottawa.
The federal shipbuilding contracts are worth $35 billion over 20 years.
The date to announce the successful bidders of the two contracts, already extended once this summer, is expected by the end of this year.
The first contract, worth about $20 billion, is for 20 large navy warships. The second contract is worth about $8 billion and is for coast guard vessels and supply ships.
The federal government will also spend about $2 billion on other small crafts and repairs.
Vancouver Shipyards, owned by Seaspan Marine Corp., Nova Scotia's Irving Shipbuilding and a consortium that includes Davie Yards Inc. of Levis, Que., have submitted bids.
Last summer, Clark's Liberals pledged $35 million in labour training and tax credits to enhance the province's shipbuilding capabilities.
"The shipbuilding thing is huge," said a Liberal insider.
Prince said the results of the shipbuilding and RCMP contracts could impact the provincial economy. The results, also, depending on which way they go, could alter the dynamics of the relationship between Ottawa and B.C., which has been cordial over the past decade.
"This could be real kind of game-changing events, the shipbuilding and certainly the RCMP contract. Both of them have a lot of symbolism and a lot of rhetoric," he said.
Prince said he's impressed with Clark's plans to increase B.C.'s numbers of international students by 50 per cent over the next for years.
He said her international student plans include goals and targets while the other facets of her Asian market policy are open-ended.
Clark is going to China and India in November. She plans to visit eight cities.
Prince said Clark should look to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien's trade missions to Asia as a template for success.
"Love or hate them, the Chretien Team Canada trade junkets produced a lot of results," he said.