Mike Smyth: Chance encounter on campaign trail blows-up on Clark
Published:April 29, 2017
Updated:April 29, 2017 4:02 PM PDT
Linda Higgins, left, a retired social- worker assistant from the Sunshine Coast, said it was just 'a fluke' that she bumped into Clark while the premier was meeting and greeting voters at a North Vancouver grocery store. PNG
Columnist Mike Smyth speaks with Linda, the woman snubbed by Premier Christy Clark this week.
It was a campaign-trail encounter that lasted all of seven seconds, but it blew-up into a social-media firestorm that backfired on Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals.
Now the woman at the centre of the storm is speaking out against Liberal charges that she was an “NDP plant” sent out to embarrass Clark in front of the TV cameras as part of a campaign “stunt.”
Linda Higgins, a retired social-worker assistant from the Sunshine Coast, said it was just “a fluke” that she bumped into Clark while the Liberal leader was meeting and greeting voters at a North Vancouver grocery store.
“I decided on the spur of the moment to go up and talk to her,” Higgins told me. “I’m not voting for her and I wanted to tell her why.”
After Clark shook her hand, Higgins told her: “I would never vote for you because of what … ” But Clark cut her off.
“You don’t have to — that’s why we live in a democracy,” Clark said, before turning her back on Higgins and walking away.
This is one of the risks of going out and talking to voters in a grocery store. #BCVotes2017
Clark’s brush-off was a gift to the NDP. An online backlash erupted with an #IAmLinda hashtag on Twitter, as Liberal-bashers everywhere took to their computers and smartphones.
When Higgins got home that night, she got a phone call from her nephew.
“He said, ‘Auntie Linda, you’re trending on Twitter!’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Sure enough, the #IamLinda hashtag had become one of the hottest Twitter trends in B.C., and was still registering thousands of online hits this weekend.
The online posts list all manner of gripes against Clark’s government — everything from soaring B.C. Hydro rates to overcrowded schools to backed-up emergency rooms — all with the #IAmLinda hashtag.
But the Liberals fought back, unleashing a conspiracy theory that the whole thing was cooked up by the NDP.
“#BCNDP is free to send their members to disrupt #TeamBC2017 events,” Liberal campaign director Laura Miller tweeted.
As @ChristyClarkBC says, we live in a democracy. Which is why #BCNDP is free to send their members to disrupt #TeamBC2017 events. #bcelxn17 https://twitter.com/NicholasSimons/status/858013387019624448 …
Other online Liberal surrogates called it an NDP “stunt” and a “sneak attack.” Lobbyist Mark Marissen, Clark’s ex-husband, called Higgins “an NDP plant.”
Higgins is shocked by it all.
“This was not set-up by the NDP — I’m not a member of the NDP or any other party,” she told me. “Nobody knew I was going to talk to Christy Clark. I didn’t even know it myself until I saw her. I’m not a political person. It was just an impulse thing.”
Higgins said she wanted to tell Clark about how the high cost of living has priced her adult kids out of the Vancouver housing market.
“They have good jobs, but they can’t afford a home,” she said. “I was also upset about those health-care workers who were fired, including a man who committed suicide. I wanted to tell her my concerns and I genuinely thought she would listen.”
Instead, Higgins said she was shocked again by Clark’s later comments about the incident.
Clark told reporters: “She said she didn’t vote for me last time, she’s never voted B.C. Liberal and she never will and she’s not going to vote for me again. Perfect. That’s her right,” Clark said.
“I said no such thing to her,” Higgins told me. “I didn’t say anything remotely like that. It was all on tape. I don’t know where she got that from or why she would say that about me.”
Higgins said it’s not true that she’s never voted Liberal or that she would never vote Liberal in future.
“I think I voted for Gordon Wilson once,” she said, referring to the former B.C. Liberal leader. “And I wouldn’t rule out voting for them again if they had a good candidate.”
But she is voting NDP this time, and the Liberals pointed to a Facebook photo of her with Sunshine Coast NDP candidate Nicholas Simons. Simons is also a former social worker and he said Higgins used to work in the same provincial government building with him before he became an MLA 12 years ago.
“I think I’ve seen her on the ferry a couple of times since then,” he said. “She’s never been involved with the NDP, as far as I know. What the Liberals said about her was absolutely reckless.”
Simons said he reached-out to Higgins on Friday to see how she was holding up and she later stopped by one of his campaign events. He posted their photo on Facebook, triggering the Liberals’ conspiracy theory that she was an NDP stooge.
All-in-all, this was a bad gaffe by Clark that she and the Liberals made worse by making stuff up. With just over one week to go before voting day May 9, it makes me wonder if the Liberals are getting worried.
Clark had another stumble the other day when she seemed to suggest the Liberals might be open to an HST-style, “value-added tax” in B.C.
The Liberals imposed a 12-per-cent harmonized sales tax in 2009 after saying in the previous election that the tax was “not something that is contemplated.” The HST was withdrawn after voters rejected it in a historic 2011 referendum.
The business sector has been angling ever since for another HST-type tax, known as a value-added tax.
“We will not consider an HST as long as I am premier,” Clark said. “We do know that the Tax Competitiveness Panel came back with a recommendation for a value-added tax, which is different. So what I’ve said is, ‘Look, we’ll be prepared to talk to the business community … ‘ ”
The NDP naturally jumped all over this, saying Clark was considering another HST with a different name. But the Liberals insisted Saturday that they will not impose a value-added tax on British Columbians.
The finish line is in sight. It could be a wild final week.
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