Upbringing, student politics shaped ideology of Liberal leader Christy Clark
Published Tuesday, April 11, 2017 5:03PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- It was the lure of ice cream that first drew Christy Clark into politics.
As a child, the future premier of British Columbia would accompany her father as he knocked on doors around Burnaby during his several attempts for public office.
"He'd promise us ice cream," Clark, 51, said in a recent interview.
"Hi, will you vote for my daddy?" she laughed, miming knocking on a door. "Who's not going to vote for a candidate, or who's at least not going to say something positive?"
Since then, Clark has enjoyed the sweet taste of her own political victories. She is leading the B.C. Liberal Party in its bid for a fifth consecutive election victory after she pulled off a come-from-behind win in 2013.
Beyond her father's political ambitions, Clark's family played a powerful role in shaping her approach to life and politics. Political debate was a mainstay around the dinner table.
"The only way for me to survive and succeed was to fiercely fight for what I believed." said Clark, the youngest of four children. "I learned that at a very, very young age. If you didn't cover your plate, somebody would eat your food."
Clark would apply those lessons during her time in student government at Simon Fraser University, which she said was "the nastiest politics I've ever been involved in."
She corralled a cohort of right-of-centre students to "break the stranglehold" the left had on the school's student society. Clark won by a razor-thin six votes, but was later disqualified after forgetting to pay a small fine because she failed to remove campaign material.
Andy Tomec, who covered Clark's run at student politics for the campus newspaper, remembers her as a consummate politician.
"I think she got up in the morning thinking about politics, and I bet she went to bed thinking about it as well," Tomec said.
"I don't know if she has an off button."
The budding politician's charisma and disarming smile were renowned.
Mike McDonald, a longtime B.C. Liberal who directed the party's 2013 campaign, met Clark at Simon Fraser. They spent time as volunteers driving around the province before the 1991 election to recruit candidates for the upstart provincial Liberal party.
"I would identify who the prospects were and she would go close the deal, because you couldn't say no to Christy," he said. "She has that personality that a lot of people want to say yes to."
Those who were asked for comment on the premier say she is known for having a penchant for rough-and-tumble politics.
"She's no shrinking violet," McDonald said.
Clark was first elected to the legislature in 1996 and became deputy premier and education minister after the Liberals' landslide victory in 2001. She left government in 2005 to spend more time with her family.
After a failed bid to run for Vancouver mayor the following year, she hosted a radio talk show.
Tom Plasteras, who hired Clark for the job, remembers her work ethic.
"Things that tend to exhaust the rest of us energize her," said Plasteras, former program director at CKNW.
In 2011, Clark won the B.C. Liberal leadership as an outsider candidate with the support of only one member of the legislature. She became the first woman in B.C. to lead a party to victory two years later.
Clark enters this election with baggage.
The RCMP are investigating potential violations of political contribution laws by the two main parties, rosy forecasts that liquefied natural gas would herald an economic windfall have come up short, and there is opposition in the Lower Mainland to a pipeline expansion the government supports.
When she's not working, Clark is an avid fan of musicals and plays, a passion she shares with her 15-year-old son Hamish, who she says has ambitions to become an actor.
But even when it comes to the theatre, politics isn't far from her thoughts. Her favourite musical is Les Miserables.
"It's a political show," she said, smiling.
Quick facts about Christy Clark
Born: Oct. 29, 1965, in Burnaby, B.C.
Education: Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Universite de la Sorbonne in Paris.
Family: She is separated from ex-husband Mark Marissen, a former senior strategist for the Liberal Party of Canada. Her son, Hamish Marissen-Clark, is 15 years old. They have a female cat named Kevin.
Political career: Clark was first elected in 1996 and was named both deputy premier and education minister in 2001. She became premier in 2011.
Personal career: While on hiatus from politics, Clark hosted a radio talk show on CKNW between 2007 and 2010.
Idols: Former B.C. premier W.A.C. Bennett, actress Mary Tyler Moore and Abraham Lincoln
Quote: “I really regret that. Because I still want a cigarette every day. Every single day. It's terrible.” - Clark on her decision to take up smoking at the age of 12. She quit 17 years later after turning 29.