Christy Clark’s aversion to doing business in the capital is more pronounced than it has been in the last half-dozen premiers.
But a lot of other things have contributed to the steady erosion over the years of the legislature’s importance as a political hub.
There was a time in the distant past when the premier and cabinet lived in Victoria and worked in the legislature, period. Those days are gone.
Information technology, demographics, travel patterns and personal preferences have pretty much erased the old model. Clark’s distaste for leading B.C. from the capital just formalizes that fact.
Command and control of the provincial government is wherever the cabinet is. And it’s no longer based solely in the legislature.
If announcing her new cabinet at a Vancouver waterfront ceremony — rather than at Government House — didn’t make it perfectly clear, Clark drove the point home again. She cancelled the fall session of the legislature and expressed distaste at the idea of closing herself off in Victoria, rather than being out consulting with people.
That followed comments last year — the first time she cancelled a fall sitting — that illustrated her active dislike for the legislature.
“You’re never going to find me in Victoria,” she told a reporter. “I try never to go over there.
Because it’s sick. It’s a sick culture . . . You get captured by this inside-the-beltway debate, and it’s really unhealthy.”
She’s doing a good job of avoiding the plague. At the last year-end interview I did with Clark, I was struck by how vacant the premier’s office looked. The desk was clear, the personal pictures are mostly on the anteroom wall rather than inside and there was no sign it was regularly inhabited.
There are still a lot of staff in the premier’s office, but the premier mostly shows up there during legislative sittings, and there aren’t many of those these days.
Partly it’s because a single mother wants to be home with her son most nights. But it’s clear she simply doesn’t like the place, either.
The bulk of the civil service continues to toil in Victoria and always will. But the day-to-day political leadership has dispersed over the years. You’re just as likely to find a cabinet minister in Vancouver most days as in Victoria.
Old hands say the shift started in the 1980s. There used to be a cabinet and executive office in Robson Square, where former premier Bill Bennett would hold a cabinet meeting every month or so. After Expo 86, that office moved into the swanky new Canada Place on the waterfront. It features a cabinet room, a premier’s office, some boardrooms and a complement of staff.
Bennett’s successor, Bill Vander Zalm, frequented the office, and every premier since then has continued the practice.
Communication technology, reliable air commuter lines and the Internet seem to have a net effect of easing the requirement for political leaders to work out of the legislature.
There are 46 ridings in the Lower Mainland, more than half the population of B.C. lives there and it’s simply where the action is.
Victoria is a hive of government activity, but the Queen Bee and the decision-makers govern from afar.
Les Leyne writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.