02/23/2013 06:37 EST | Updated 04/25/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. premier unveils candidates, talks economy in run-up to May 14 election

VANCOUVER - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has unveiled the Liberal party's candidates at a pre-campaign kickoff to the May 14 election, which she says will be a tough, close fight.

Clark told supporters Saturday that her government's delivery of a balanced budget last Tuesday is a solid foundation for growing the economy.

She touted the proposed development of a liquefied natural gas industry as "the opportunity of a lifetime" and a way to pump trillions of dollars into B.C.'s economy so the province's debt can be erased in the next 15 years.

The party has yet to nominate seven of 14 candidates on Vancouver Island, but Clark said the best representatives in each community are being sought.

"They don't have what we have," she said of the Opposition New Democrats as 60 candidates stood behind her in the ballroom of a Vancouver hotel.

The NDP currently holds 10 of 14 seats on the Island.

Sixty-four Liberal candidates have been nominated or acclaimed so far, including RCMP Insp. Amrik Virk, who will be running in a Surrey riding.

Virk said he'd been approached to run for the Liberals before the last two elections but the time wasn't right because of career and family obligations.

He accepted the offer now, "at a critical time" for the party, Virk said.

"When the battle is hard that's when leadership has to step forward," said Virk, who left the Langley RCMP detachment and has worked in various provinces before deciding to run for the Liberals.

"It's difficult to leave policing after 25 years," he said. "The way I look at it, I protected and served Canadians for 25 years, now I'm going to protect and serve Canadians in a different aspect."

Four former mayors are running for the Liberals, including Sam Sullivan, who defeated Christy Clark to run for mayor of Vancouver in 2005.

He said the two got past the "dustup" quickly and added that he was the first guest on her former radio talk show.

"Politics is a very interesting business in that you can be enemies one day and friends the next day," said Sullivan, who taught at the University of B.C. before returning to politics.

Outgoing 17-year Liberal MLA Colin Hansen said the party's lack of consultation before the HST was introduced in 2010 may be a sore point for some voters as the Liberals try to form government for a fourth term.

"We did a lousy job," he said of the lack of communication over the tax, which was scrapped after a referendum. British Columbians will return to paying a provincial sales tax and the federal Goods and Services tax on April 1.

"We were in the middle of a global economic collapse," he said of the tax being introduced in B.C. after Ontario brought it in as a way to generate revenue.

"I wish it was otherwise but despite those ups and downs I think the B.C. Liberal record is still an incredibly strong record," Hansen said.

University of Victoria political science Prof. Michael Prince said the party's use of the slogan "Today's B.C. Liberals" is a bid to distance itself from issues such as the botched HST.

"Forget the HST, forget the jobs cuts, forget the labour contracts that were broken in the first term" is the message, he said.

The Liberal party's provincial council also met Saturday, and NDP Leader Adrian Dix will give a speech to candidates and supporters on Sunday, when that party's council is also set to meet.