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First cracks appear in BC Liberal facade

This has been a summer of quiet discontent for B.C. Liberals

Not much of that discontent has been made public, but Barry Penner's sudden and unexpected resignation from cabinet is the first evidence of the tensions that are mounting behind the scenes.

With Premier Christy Clark insisting on getting ready right now for an election, Penner was being pressured by the party to sign his nomination forms and to get out and recruit a volunteer campaign team. But with a new baby in the family, he decided he wouldn't be running again.

He told me it would have been disingenuous of him to recruit friends to work on his campaign if he wasn't planning to run, so he took the extraordinary step of quitting cabinet.

It was the way he did it that raised eyebrows: Penner issued his own news release to reporters, and he caught the premier, the government and the party completely by surprise.

This was not the kind of move an MLA makes when he is happy with what's going on in the party.

Penner is not alone. I'm not sure if anyone else will quit, but I know of at least a handful of MLAs who have spent the summer issuing loud grumbles on the barbecue circuit about the direction of the government and the party under Clark's leadership.

They are concerned about what they see as a lack of a game plan for the government, and they are nervous about the prospect of a fall election that could end in disaster.

Some think there is a not-sosubtle attempt to deny them their own re-nominations.

Clark has talked about creating a "jobs agenda" but has provided no details about what that really means. She has said the legislature will resume sitting in October, but it's unclear how heavy a legislation package will be introduced.

She has announced she will travel to China and India in November on a trade mission. To hear her talk about it, you'd think she was the first Canadian politician to discover that area of the world.

Clark has been criticized for appearing to govern by photo-op. Her brash call for swift justice in the wake of the Stanley Cup riot now looks opportunistic and in fact simply highlights the problems of a clogged court system that suffers from, among other things, lack of funding from her government.

She keeps talking about her "families first" agenda, but as time goes on, it begins to wear a little thin as her government cuts daycare subsidies and closes group homes.

She's been tagged as "Premier Flip-Flop" by some for her contortionist exhibitions on certain policies (the timing of the HST vote and the two-cent-a-litre gas tax, to name two).

In the meantime, Clark appears to have done little to unite her team behind her.

The government caucus does not meet often, and has held one retreat since she became leader.

Her bid to head the party was backed by just one MLA, remember - and that was Harry Bloy, who has been under fire for his weak handling of the social development ministry. There are few signs anyone else in the caucus has warmed to her running the show.

Of course, it is the dog days of summer right now, and not much is being done anywhere. But expectations are high for the post-Labour Day period. That's when the public will start focusing again on policies and politics, and the pressure will be on Clark to step up and prove to her own colleagues she's got what it takes when it comes to running a province.

I've said before the prospects of a fall election seem to be fading. If the house does indeed resume sitting and Clark does go to Asia, it leaves precious little time for a 28-day campaign.

I'm told internal party polling shows Clark continues to lead her own party in popularity. Perhaps, because of that, she thinks she's her party's best and only hope for winning that election.

Perhaps. But I think the bloom came off her rose some time ago, and the public now wants to see someone govern, rather than play electoral politics.

She'll have to lead by example and show that she indeed has a plan and a vision for B.C.

She had better do that soon, or those grumbles in her own party are going to become a lot louder.

Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC

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