Christy Clark launches B.C. election campaign in Victoria, says voters have stark choice

Premier Christy Clark launched what she called “the most important election in modern history” at Government House in Victoria this morning after Lt.-Gov. Judy Guichon dissolved parliament and kick-started the 28-day provincial election campaign.

Clark said voters have a stark choice between her B.C. Liberal party’s plan to grow the economy and pay down the debt, and what she described as the B.C. NDP’s vision to grow government, spend more and leave more debt for future generations.

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“I can’t remember a campaign where the choice is as stark as this one,” Clark told reporters outside Government House.

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She said voters will define the next decade for British Columbia on May 14 and the province “is at a crossroads, with two very different choices, in the most important election in modern history.”

The premier brushed aside questions about how her party can run on a plan to eliminate B.C.’s multibillion-dollar debt in 15 years using liquefied natural gas revenue, when she’s grown the province’s debt during two years as premier.

It’s only after balancing the budget, which Clark said she did in February, that a government can turn to paying off the debt, said the premier.

She also played down her party’s continued poor polling, which show the Liberals far behind the NDP — and even, in one recent poll, trailing the B.C. Greens on Vancouver Island.

“I think the election campaign is a choice for people, it’s not a choice for pollsters or media to make, it’s for citizens to make,” said Clark. “We’ll see on May 14 what people think.”

The premier’s visit to Government House officially launched B.C.’s 40th general election, which was also marked by a flurry of rallies, lawn signs and door-knocking across Greater Victoria..

The premier also kicks off her re-election bid at a rally with seven South Island B.C. Liberal candidates in downtown Victoria later Tuesday.

The Liberals still have yet to name a candidate in Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

Clark’s early presence on the Island could be a boost for embattled cabinet minister Ida Chong, who is facing a tough three-way race in the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

Chong, the region’s most senior cabinet minister, began her fifth election campaign like most local candidates, by staking out a spot on a busy highway and waving to passing commuters.

Despite her time in politics, she said she feels like the underdog in a riding she barely won in 2009. “I do feel behind, and that’s why I need to catch up,” said Chong.

“[Voters] know my record of working hard. They know my record of being persistent in a number of areas to get things happening for this community. I may not be in the spotlight, shall we say, as much as others may be, but that doesn’t preclude me from getting the job done.”

B.C. Green candidates also gathered on major intersections to begin the day.

“We’re really excited, the momentum is just building,” said Andrew Weaver, Green candidate in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

Weaver, a climate professor at the University of Victoria who was part of a Nobel Prize-winning research team, is widely seen as the Green party’s best chance to win its first seat in the B.C. legislature.

His campaign blitzed the riding with 300 lawn signs Monday. It’s part of a Green campaign that party leader Jane Sterk has said will have more money and volunteers than past elections, and has been rejuvenated by Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May’s federal electoral success in nearby Saanich-Gulf Islands.

“We just need to get the vote out,” said Weaver.

For some, the start of the 28-day campaign period couldn’t come soon enough.

Jessica Van der Veen won the NDP’s nomination in Oak Bay-Gordon Head 19 months ago, and has maintained a busy pre-campaign effort. “I’m just excited it’s finally here,” she said. “I’ve been working very hard for the last year, and have knocked on 5,000 doors already.”

Van der Veen, an arts and heritage advocate, lost by 561 votes to Chong in 2009.

“I’m much better prepared than I was last time, and much more experienced,” she said.

“We came so close. I’m not going to forget that number, 561. It will be in my head for the rest of my life. We came that close and I really feel if we stick together we can do this.”

NDP leader Adrian Dix will spend his first campaign day in Greater Vancouver.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

For full election coverage, visit: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/b-c-election

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