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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: Showdown at Penticton caucus retreat “was really ugly”

Exclusive: Showdown at Penticton caucus retreat “was really ugly”

Bob Mackin 

In what she said was her last news conference as a public figure, ex-Premier Christy Clark told reporters that none of her 42 fellow BC Liberal MLAs wanted her to quit the party leadership.

But after a walk on a beach, she did so anyway, for the good of the party. Because her head caught up with her heart.

“I talked to the caucus the day before [her July 28 resignation], I asked them all, did they want me to stay, did they want me to go?” Clark said July 31 in Vancouver. “Every single person in the room asked me to stay.”

That is not the way it went down, according to two independent sources intimately familiar with the caucus retreat at the Penticton Lakeside Resort. Clark chose to quit instead of being dumped.

In Penticton, Prof. Plecas pressed previous premier.

Clark had repeatedly vowed to stick around as both the MLA for Kelowna West and the opposition leader — “as long as my caucus wants me to” — after losing the June 29 confidence vote that led to the NDP’s John Horgan becoming premier. The June 22 “clone speech,” which copped parts of the NDP and Green platforms that her party campaigned against, backfired and threw the party into an identity crisis. She was a lame duck. 

The sources told theBreaker that, during the retreat, Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas demanded a review of Clark’s leadership. He even threatened to quit caucus and sit as an independent when the Legislature reopens this fall. 

Plecas was not alone in the release of pent-up anger directed at Clark. Of the prevailing mood at the retreat, one of the sources said bluntly: “It was really ugly.” 

The pivotal Penticton meeting came two weeks after theBreaker revealed details of closed-door BC Liberal campaign post-mortems in Vancouver and Surrey. Defeated cabinet minister and former adman Peter Fassbender (Surrey-Fleetwood) was said to be the harshest critic: “She lost it for us. Period. End of story.” 

Plecas was a star candidate recruited before the 2013 election, from his job as an accomplished and oft-quoted criminology professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. He defeated independent incumbent John van Dongen, who quit the BC Liberal caucus in 2012 over Clark’s rapidly waning integrity and her habit of being economical with the truth. “When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure,” van Dongen told the Legislature in a prophetic speech.

Clark put Plecas in charge of a blue ribbon task force on crime reduction, but the premier’s office ensured the panel’s report was relegated to obscurity. It was released with no fanfare on the last Thursday before Christmas 2014, buried under dozens of news releases and more photo ops than the province’s media could keep up with.

That the end of Clark’s political career (for now) has an Abbotsford angle is an intriguing historical footnote. While Kamloops used to be British Columbia’s bellwether riding, Abbotsford has become the end of the road for right-leaning leaders, provincial and federal.

Clark held the last rally of her province-wide campaign tour May 8 at the Quality Hotel in Abbotsford.

On Oct. 18, 2015, Stephen Harper ended his ill-fated federal Conservative campaign at Cascade Aerospace, before flying home to Calgary to become the ex-Prime Minister.

Late Social Credit leader Grace McCarthy attempted a 1994 comeback in Matsqui, but Liberal Mike de Jong eked-out a 42-vote, by-election upset over B.C.’s first lady of free enterprise. 

Most of the Clark-less caucus appeared before cameras in Penticton after the publication of her written resignation, which is effective Aug. 4.

“What she’s given to this province should never be forgiven,” said distraught interim leader Rich Coleman, who held back the tears and corrected himself a moment later. “Forgotten.”