|George Abbott at Saturday's BC Liberal Special Convention after weighted vote lifts weight off his shoulders - Bill Tieleman photo|
|Yellow-T-shirted Christy Clark campaign delegates at BC Liberal Special Convention - Bill Tieleman photo|
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
By Bill Tieleman
“I don’t have any personal animosity at all towards Christy Clark.”
- B.C. Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott
B.C. Liberal Party leadership candidate George Abbott has gone crazy -- crazy like a fox -- in the endgame to become the province’s next premier.
He may not be able to beat likely winner Kevin Falcon but you have to admire his moxie -- because Abbott knows he has to muscle opponent Christy Clark out of second place to have any chance at all.
And that’s why Abbott’s negative attacks on Clark as “only visiting” the B.C. Liberals so long as she has a chance to be leader and calling her a lightweight on policy are bound to continue till the February 26 vote.
It’s not that George isn’t a gentleman, but taking Clark down a big notch is really the only possible way for Abbott to win.
And now with B.C. Liberal Party special convention delegates this weekend overwhelming approving a weighted vote leadership ballot that was essential for Abbott’s chances, the Shuswap MLA is going all in to beat the favoured Falcon.
If that makes Clark an unfortunate road bump on Abbott’s fast route to the premier’s office, too bad.
‘A good friend in my life’
In a convention interview, Abbott told me he actually likes Clark.
“Christy Clark has been a good friend in my life and I want to keep her as a good friend in my life but that won’t stop me criticizing her ideas,” he said.
And Abbott has done that in spades, saying in a statement Thursday that: "This is not about Ms. Clark as an individual, but about the highly controversial and contradictory positions that she has presented over the past three months.”
In a heated debate on CKNW radio Friday Clark complained about Abbott’s antagonism, saying it would only benefit the New Democrats.
“I think the kind of personal attacks that we've seen from you, George, are writing the NDP's script for them in the election," Clark complained. "I don't say those kinds of things about you or about any of the other candidates."
But Abbott would have none of it and pumped up the volume.
"There's been no personal attacks from me, you're making that up, I'm sorry," Abbott replied.
"This is a campaign, we should be debating the issues and when we have a vigorous debate of the issues, I think that's not negative, it is constructive. It's important that we have that debate."
‘Such a plethora of issues’
The day before that Abbott was again on the offensive.
“Ms. Clark has given me such a plethora of issues to work with. If anybody thinks I should give a free ticket to Christy for whatever reason, they’re wrong. Whatever Christy says is fair game for debate, and that’s what I intend to do,” Abbott said.
“She walked away from government seven years ago, leaving the party to rebuild on its own and only returned when there was an opportunity to be in charge,” Abbott continued, referring to Clark’s sudden departure from the B.C. Liberal government in 2004.
On Saturday Abbott told me that it was Clark’s campaign that had fired on him first.
“Of course, it wasn’t Christy who attacked me -- it was Pamela Martin,” Abbott said with a slight twinkle in his eye, referring to the ex-CTV news anchor turned Clark campaign official and enforcer.
Pamela the enforcer
And indeed it was Martin who signed an open letter to supporters denouncing Abbott.
Martin wrote: “George Abbott keeps sending out more negative attacks against Christy. Sadly, it’s a pattern. It seems like every day brings more negative campaigning…. These negative attacks are misguided and misleading…. Come on George -- let’s not turn people off with mud-slinging.”
Clark’s team knows exactly what Abbott is doing. That’s why they aren’t shying away from counterattacking the former health and aboriginal relations minister.
A ruthless equation
But the reason why Abbott is taking on Clark is simple. The math on weighted voting and the knowledge that Kevin Falcon likely has more first-ballot support than him or Clark.
As one delegate wryly said Saturday at the Vancouver Convention Centre gathering, it’s like George Orwell’s book Animal Farm – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
The B.C. Liberals have made all ridings equal, but not all voters. Rural voters are far more equal than others -- maybe ten times more equal.
Here’s how it works: each of the 85 ridings will have 100 points, with candidates getting a proportion of that 100 based on the percentage of member votes they receive on February 26.
But a small riding with 500 members has the same 100 points as a huge riding with 5,000.
The weighted vote takes away an enormous advantage from candidates like Falcon -- who signed up 17,500 new members, Clark, who added 20,000 or more and likely fourth-place finisher Mike de Jong, with about 12,000 signups.
Those three alone have likely added more than 50,000 new B.C. Liberal members, predominantly in urban ridings.
And an unknown but large number of new members are in the South Asian community, which is concentrated in relatively few B.C. ridings.
It will take 4,251 points to win – 50 per cent plus one of 8,500 points in total -- meaning there will likely be several rounds of ballot counting, though only one vote.
The bottom candidate will be dropped off after the first count and their second choices added in, and so on until a winner is declared.
The critical ballot will likely be the one where the fourth or possibly third place candidate is forced out.
That’s why Abbott is pounding on Clark’s credibility -- and is being diplomatically but clearly supported by Falcon and de Jong, who also want Clark’s numbers to drop by questioning her legitimacy.
Falcon, for example, says he’s “sticking around regardless of the outcome” of the leadership contest and that he’s “ready to govern” immediately -- because unlike Clark, he’s already an MLA.
Abbott knows that if he can edge past Clark on one of the ballot counts, he can stay in a two-person race against Falcon. And if Clark somehow gets ahead of Falcon, Abbott may still have a shot at Clark in the final ballot.
But if Abbott gets seriously behind both Falcon and Clark, he’s through.
No Mr. Nice Guy
So Abbott’s strategy is simple and -- to Clark -- brutally negative.
Abbott doesn’t care much about Clark supporters’ second choice or third choice picks. He is willing to risk alienating Clark’s core base in order to win second and third round support from Falcon, de Jong and also-ran candidates MLA Moira Stilwell and business owner Ed Mayne.
Some observers presume Abbott is crazy for repeatedly criticizing Clark.
But the old adage “nice guys finish last” exists for a reason.
And it’s hardly crazy that Abbott is determined to finish first.