When I enter Magee Secondary School on Tuesday morning, half an hour before the all-candidates debate starts, the theatre is still nearly empty. Bill Clarke is sitting on the stage by himself, reading a newspaper article about Monday’s party leaders’ television debate.
When I ask him for an impromptu interview, he agrees friendly and relaxed, and we get right at it.
Clarke says he watched the debate at home with his wife and thinks his leader came out pretty strong. Clarke hasn’t even met John Cummins yet at this point, since he only jumped into the race last week.
So why run on such a short notice?
“The people of Quilchena would be deprived of a [conservative] candidate if I didn’t run,” says Clarke.” And I would have to vote for a Liberal or NDP or the Greens and I just couldn’t do that (laughs), so I decided I’d jump in and here we are. And I think we have a good chance to win.”
Clarke, a chartered accountant and four-time MP, thinks his main qualities for the race are his experience with budgets and the federal government. During the last provincial election in 2009, there was no Conservative candidate in Quilchena.
“Colin Hansen’s Liberals managed to convince the voters that they were really conservatives,” Clarke says, adding that this resulted in Hansen winning 70 per cent of the votes. “Now I’m here as a Conservative candidate, we’re going to get a lot of votes.”
Due to a clerical error in the BC Conservative Party, Clarke’s name may appear on the ballot without a party affiliation. As this article was being published, Clarke was announcing legal actions against Elections BC to have the issue resolved.
Why vote for you instead of Liberal Andrew Wilkinson?
“Because he’s a Liberal and I am I,” says Clarke. “And the Liberals have really botched it up. And Andrew was right in the middle of that. He was deputy minister for at least the last 10 or 12 years and he’s part of the problem. He’s not the solution. I’m the solution.”
Since he is about to address over 500 students, I ask him why young people between 18 and 25 should care about the provincial elections.
“Because it’s their future,” says Clarke. “If they don’t take part in the election, then they haven’t any right to complain later on. What happens after the election will affect them directly, so they should have some input and take an interest.”
Clarke knows how to play the young crowd at Magee
When the debate at Magee Secondary starts, Clarke, at 79, is by far the oldest candidate on the podium. But the father of nine children and stepchildren, and grandfather of 19 grandchildren between the ages of 8 months and 23 years, interacts comfortably with the young audience.
His short answers and dry jokes about skilled workers and the benefits of having rich parents give him a lot of sympathy and underdog-bonus. And the 500+ crowd knows how to make some noise!
Dunbar a more critical audience
Surprisingly, Clarke has a much harder time later that day at the all-candidates debate organized by the Dunbar Residents Association.
The large hall at St. Philip’s Anglican Church is packed with what looks like mainly seniors, but Clarke’s opening statement seems to shock most of the people present.
“Pipelines do not pollute,” says Clarke, a proposition he will repeat throughout the evening.
Clarke is adamant that both the Northern Gateway/Enbridge pipeline and the Kinder Morgan expansion are necessary to create thousands of jobs in B.C. He thinks modern technology will prevent spills and the alternatives to the pipelines; transport via rail or road, are not acceptable. But this position does not make him the most popular man on the podium.
Clarke a man who stands by his opinion
Clarke also says he is in favour of fish farms and BC Hydro smart meters, opinions that differ significantly from his competitors, especially NDP-candidate Nicholas Scapillati and Green Party man Damian Kettlewell.
But Clarke, always the accountant, says he’d agree to more funding for the arts and TransLink, if the books allow the expenses. And the way to get there is… the pipelines.
Although there are many supporters of the oil and gas industry in the province –just read the op/ed by Daniel Fontaine in 24 hrs today- it’s hard to defend the industry while being in the spotlight.
Liberal candidate Andrew Wilkinson gives a rather evasive statement, referring to Christy Clark’s five conditions for the Northern Gateway project.
Finally, we revisit some of the brief questions I’ve discussed with the other candidates:
–Name a good thing the current BC government has done the last 12 years.
“Now there must be something… I can’t think of one! (laughs)”
-Name a good thing the City of Vancouver has done in the last years.
“The Canada Line”
-What is your main means of transportation?
-Name me some BC movies you have seen in the last year.
“None, I seldom go to movies.” However, Clarke says he has seen Argo, Skyfall and Lincoln. “That was a good one, too.”
Next, we discuss some of the CBC vote compass questions:
–What is your view on the legislation of marijuana? (Conservative Party: strongly disagree)
“I strongly agree that it should be legalized. I don’t use it personally, but people shouldn’t get a criminal record because of it. I know lots of people who do use it, and they shouldn’t be criminals. Maybe stupid, but … (laughs)”
-How many more immigrants does BC need ? (CP: somewhat fewer)
“I’d say neutral, because there is a lot of discussion,” Clarke says, referring to the Chinese miners and Royal Bank of Canada foreign workers.
“My son went to the Philippines and met and married a Philippino. It took him nine months to get her into Canada. Whereas, if she had been coming in to take care of my grandchildren, she could have done it in two weeks. (laughs) There is something wrong with the system.”
–Should immigrants adopt Canadian values? (CP: somewhat agree).
“Yes, I strongly agree. It would make their lives easier.”
–How much oil tanker traffic along the B.C. coast should be permitted? (CP: somewhat more)
“That’s a tough question by itself. But: somewhat more. Because we need those pipelines.”
Reported by Katja De Bock
Extensive live coverage from the Dunbar debate on April 30, 2013 on @katjakanada.