SURREY Gordon Campbell's former deputy premier says the Liberal Leader was being "patronizing" to Carole James when he told the NDP Leader during the televised debate that running B.C. was a big job she might not be able to handle.
But Christy Clark, who played the role of female leaders in mock debates with Mr. Campbell, noted that her former boss had an occasional tendency to be patronizing, which would have prompted him to say the same thing to a man.
"I do think it had a patronizing tone to it for sure ...," said Ms. Clark, now host of the Christy Clark Show on CKNW Radio.
"It smells a little of a double standard to me because I think he is quite capable of sounding just as patronizing when he talks to men, and no one would have commented if he had made that comment to [former NDP premier] Glen Clark."
During the last debate before voters go to the polls a week from today, Mr. Campbell responded to a jab on crime policy from Ms. James by saying that being premier was "a big job and it's hard to get a handle on it."
Ms. James, who would be the first elected female premier from one of Canada's largest provinces if she wins, said she was used to such shots from Mr. Campbell, who is seeking a third term.
On the campaign trail yesterday, Mr. Campbell said he did not intend the remark as a personal putdown of his NDP rival, and that he hoped people did not misinterpret it.
"It wasn't meant to be an issue. I don't think it would have been an issue if there had been anyone else. This is about the New Democrats getting a handle on what they have to do," he told reporters. "This is a big job. It is a $40-billion enterprise. You can't make it up as you go along. And it's tough. I recognize it's tough."
Ms. Clark was elected to the B.C. Legislature as an opposition MLA in 1996, and appointed education minister and deputy premier after the Liberals won power in 2001. She also served as minister of children and family development. She retired from politics in 2005 to spend more time with her young son.
She is no longer a member of any political party, she said yesterday.
Ms. Clark said she did not think Mr. Campbell's comments were "any kind of anti-woman thing.''
"It looked like he was really controlling himself because he knows he sounds better when he's calm than when he's angry."
She said the Campbell jab had become an issue because nothing else happened in the debate.
"This is something people already know about Gordon Campbell, that he has a tendency to lecture and patronize and he has a tendency to get brittle and lose his temper when he's criticized."
Ms. Clark said this didn't hurt him because it didn't come as a surprise.
"We're used to Gordon Campbell. He's kind of like your mother-in-law, lumps and all. You get used to her. Or your father-in-law. You don't notice the shortcomings as much any more." Ms. Clark said a male candidate in a race against two women has to be careful, and noted that the issue came up when she played Adriane Carr, former leader of the Green Party, in mock debates with Mr. Campbell.
"The No. 1 thing that the Liberals are always looking out for when it comes to debating is 'Don't create a gender issue.' That's the No. 1 issue they're thinking about because it's so easy to do in a TV debate."
With eight days to go before voting day, Mr. Campbell yesterday held rallies in North Vancouver and Surrey to support his candidates.
Ms. James was out visiting three rural B.C. communities - Smithers, Prince George and Mackenzie - in the same day, but the Liberal Leader denied he was taking it easy.
"I don't think anyone could look at our campaign and say we have been running [at] a slow pace," he said. "There's 85 elections to win. There's 85 constituencies. I am going to do everything I can to make sure that people see the quality of our candidates."
He is expected to take his campaign outside the Lower Mainland later this week.