Author Tags: Politics

At first coddled by the press as a nursing mother and the youngest MLA ever elected to the B.C. Legislature, Judeline (Judi) Tyabji, representative for Okanagan East, was greatly impressed with Gordon Wilson when he took over as leader of the moribund B.C. Liberal Party in October of 1987. Her affair with the nerdy but articulate Wilson and her custody battles with her husband, then ex-husband, led to a radical shift in her public profile. Wilson was elected as the MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast in October of 1991. After six years as an MLA, Tyabji (b. 1965) wrote her memoirs and told her love story in Political Affairs (Horsdal & Schubart, 1994), with a chapter by Gordon Wilson. As Judy Tyabji Wilson she became a television host for CHEK television in Victoria and published Daggers Unsheathed: The Political Assassination of Glen Clark (Heritage), an insiders view of how Premier Glen Clark was removed from power by forces both within and outside the New Democratic Party.

In 2006 she wrote Christy Clark: Behind the Smile (Victoria: Heritage House). $ 32.95 / 9781772031065. See two reviews below.

[BCBW 2006] "Politics"

Sgaana Jaad ~ April White: Killer Whale Woman

Blonde, half-Haida artist April White was born on Haida Gwaii as the daughter of a British-American mother and a father within the Edenshaw family. As a self-taught painter and former geologist she has painted since the 1980s and produced the coffee table art book, Sgaana Jaad ~ April White: Killer Whale Woman (Powell River: Maradadi Pacific, 2008), edited by Judi Tyabji Wilson. The images of Haida Gwaii are presented in four sections: Landscapes, the Haida World, Haida Spirits Manifest, Haida Art and Legends. 0-9809888-0-2 $49.99

Christy Clark biography coming
Press Release (2015)

Heritage House publisher Rodger Touchie today announced plans to publish Christy Clark: Behind the Smile, a biography of British Columbia’s 35th premier. “This book will provide the first in-depth look at the experiences and political milestones that have shaped the career of the province’s first elected female premier,” Touchie said. The book, due in stores by May 2016, will be authored by former Okanagan MLA and BC political insider Judi Tyabji.

Born in Burnaby, BC, in 1965, Christina Joan (Christy) Clark won her first election in 1996 and since then has defied odds, blazed trails, and weathered her fair share of controversy in the blood sport of BC politics. As education minister in the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell, Clark introduced changes to the K–12 system in 2001 that continue to reverberate fifteen years on. As Campbell’s deputy premier, she was implicated in the scandal arising from the sale of BC Rail in 2003, then opted not to run in the 2005 election. In 2007 she began a three-year stint as a talk-show host at CKNW in Vancouver before making a startling comeback in 2011 to snatch the leadership of the BC Liberal Party, a feat matched only by her astonishing upset election victory over the NDP two years later.

“For all of her high-profile achievements, though, Clark remains an enigma to many,” Touchie said. With the next BC election about eighteen months away, British Columbians are curious to know more about the woman behind the unflappable façade and trademark smile. “Who is this charismatic woman and where did she come from? What are her aspirations, personally and for the people of BC? How do her experiences as a single mother play out in her role as premier?”

For Judi Tyabji, a political contemporary of Clark who is no stranger to controversy herself, the book is an opportunity to bring balance to the public’s perception of Clark. “This is the third time in my life where I have felt compelled to tell a political story from a perspective that is a little different,” Tyabji said. “I’m delving back thirty years to put the full story together that brings us to this premier at this time, and her choices.” Tyabji says the book will be based on extensive research and more than twenty-five interviews with public figures from across the political spectrum, including the premier herself.

Judi Tyabji was born in Calcutta, India, and immigrated to Canada with her family as a young child. In 1991, at the age of twenty-six, she became the youngest BC MLA on record at the time and the first to give birth while in office. She has worked as a journalist and television talk show host and is the author of two previous books, Political Affairs (1994) and Daggers Unsheathed: The Political Assassination of Glen Clark (2002). She lives in Powell River with her husband, Gordon Wilson.

-- From Heritage House Publishing

Christy Clark: Behind the Smile (Heritage House $32.95)
Review (2016)

from Shane McCune
There are two kinds of biographies of living persons: authorized and unauthorized. Unauthorized biographies, while not necessarily negative, tend to include facts and rely on sources the subject might not like.

Conversely, authorized biographies, while not necessarily puff pieces, tend to avoid such facts and sources.

What, then, to call Christy Clark: Behind the Smile? In her introduction, Judi Tyabji insists it is not an authorized biography. She decided to write it whether Clark co-operated or not, had the contract with Heritage House in hand before speaking to the premier, and did not provide Clark with a draft copy of the book.

“To my relief, she agreed to co-operate.”
Did she ever. Each chapter begins with a quotation chosen by Clark from one of her favourite books, The Road to Character by David Brooks. The pre-publication draft I was given to review was accompanied by a welter of photographs of Premier Clark, from childhood to present day — most of them credited either to Christy Clark herself or the government of B.C. They are unrelievedly bland.
Of the three dozen or so people Tyabji thanks for interviews or “input,” at least a third have some connection to the Liberal Party, either provincial or federal. I recognized only two with outright NDP affiliations, but there may be a few more.

In short, this is an affectionate profile. Once you accept that, Tyabji’s book is a serviceable, mostly chronological account of Clark’s rise from campus political junkie to premier. Here are childhood friends recalling a confident and outgoing girl, here she is meeting future hubby and federal Liberal strategist Mark Marissen, here she is agreeing to run for office. It all flows together with a certain inevitability.
I say “mostly chronological” because Tyabji occasionally wanders down a byway, such as a short and puzzling chapter about the legislative press gallery, which serves mainly as a hat-tip to Global TV’s Keith Baldrey, and the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer.

What you won’t find is any deep analysis of Clark’s political philosophy. In fact, on the evidence presented, Marissen was the policy wonk in the family while Clark concerned herself with campaigning and inspiring the troops.

Nor will you find many pithy quotes from friend or foe. This may be due to Tyabji’s practice of conducting interviews by email, then letting interviewees vet the results—not the likeliest route to spontaneity.

The liveliest description of Clark as a political rookie comes from press gallery veteran Keith Baldrey, whose first impression was “a bit of a party girl (who) smoked a lot, partied hard and worked hard.”

No bio of Clark would be complete without a look at the sexism she has weathered, and Tyabji, to her credit, addresses her husband Gordon Wilson’s ill-considered reference to brooms as Clark’s vehicle of choice. But should that chapter include 12—12! —pages of an essay from a retired Halifax psychologist whom Tyabji encountered on social media?

Of Clark’s 2001 cabinet debut, Tyabji writes: “Christy Clark, as education minister, changed policies to help working mothers and moved forward with an agenda to change the education system to expand the role of parents and introduce a rating system, which was not something welcomed by the BCTF,” Tyabji writes.

Um, yes . . . but she also tore up a legal contract, stripping the teachers’ union of its right to bargain on class size and composition and sparking a legal battle that is awaiting a hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada. This is glossed over.

Clark’s enthusiastic embrace of liquefied natural gas as a cure-all for B.C. economic woes also escapes close scrutiny, even as world demand and prices tumble.

One of Clark’s sharpest political shivs was directed at former cabinet colleague George Abbott, who ran against her for the party leadership. She bounced him as treaty commissioner two weeks before he was due to take the job.

Tyabji mounts a barely coherent defence of this.
And yet, that same chapter, dealing with Clark’s relationship to First Nations is one of the best in the book, benefiting from Tyabji’s interviews with a dozen or more First Nations and Métis leaders.


Former Province columnist and editor Shane McCune writes clearly from Comox.

Behind the Smile
Review (2016)

REVIEW: Christy Clark: Behind the Smile
by Judi Tyabji

Victoria: Heritage House, 2016. $ 32.95 / 9781772031065

Reviewed by John Douglas Belshaw


In Christy Clark: Behind the Smile, Judy Tyabji -- Liberal MLA for Okanagan East from 1991-1996 -- provides a biography of Christy Clark, Premier of B.C. since 2011. In the process she charts the mainstream currents and shoals of B.C. political history over the last decade and a half.

Reviewer John Belshaw provides a close and penetrating analysis of this book and ranges over the merits, personalities, scandals, and achievements of the Christy Clark era in B.C.

This book is neither fish nor fowl. Judi Tyabji, a former MLA who broke with the Liberal Party in an acrimonious split, states at the outset that this is not a biography “…because [Christy Clark] is still premier” (1). Why this should be an obstacle to writing a biography any more than the fact that Clark still draws breath is not clear. And the book is certainly not hagiography, nor a political study per se; neither is it an edited collection of the “wit-and-wisdom” variety.

Christy Clark: Behind the Smile might be described as a corrective. Tyabji “felt the portrayal of [Clark] as a heartless, arrogant, corporate sellout did not match the truth about her or the work she was doing on our behalf” (338).

But this is an odd sort of straw woman in that, first, no evidence is provided that Clark is portrayed consistently in that way by anyone other than cranks and, second, what does it matter if she is heartless? Does a premier need to be a beacon of empathy? Is it not arguably better to have a hard-nosed and competent manager of a cabinet -- filled, maybe, with empathetic ministers?

“Arrogant”? Has there been a B.C. Premier who was never accused of arrogance?

Having committed to correcting this image, though, does Tyabji succeed? It is difficult to say. The accusation that Clark is a “corporate sellout” provides an example. Mud from the 2003 BC Rail scandal stuck to Clark and her team but is brushed off with Tyabji’s glib reassurance that she “could not find any real evidence” linking Clark to the sale of the provincial asset.

What’s more, she turns to Clark herself for an explanation as to why the press linked her to the scandal (“I have no idea”), and then to her brother, Bruce Clark (“That’s a very good question”), and seems satisfied that due diligence has been done (108-10).

The degree of trust Tyabji accords the Clarks is typical of what she calls an “impartial” approach to her subject and sources, in which uncritical acceptance of testimony and even-handedness are conflated.

In part this lack of investigative rigour reflects a crying need for better editing throughout. Plenty of the interviews could have been trimmed, if only to stop well-meaning sources from making fools of themselves.

For example, Tyabji quotes activist Jenny Garden, who says “It’s the fox guarding the henhouse, and it’s left all the chickens vulnerable to being devoured” (342). Is that extra detail necessary? Did we not know that fox + chickens = giblets for dinner?

Similarly, Clark herself is quoted as saying, “If we can become the L.A. of the world for film, why can’t we become the Nashville of the world for music?” (364) Answer: because L.A. is the L.A. of the world and Nashville is the Nashville of the world.

We know what Garden and Clark meant, which is what should appear in print -- not a clumsy misstatement. Too often Tyabji dumps whole quotes and passages into the book that might have been deftly and discreetly paraphrased or edited before publication.
The trick here is not to peer beyond a curtain but a set of teeth. Turns out there’s quite a bit behind the smile. One can barely talk about the “Liberal Party of B.C.” without considering Clark’s role in it. She was a dedicated member of the provincial party back in the days when federal Liberals pillaged its coffers and instructed its members to vote Social Credit. Clark was known in the 1980s and 90s to be “a true believer,” someone who wanted the Liberals to be a political force in B.C. independent of the Socred coalition.

Tyabji finds her feet when she describes the internal wrangling that led to Gordon Campbell’s rise and the subsequent shift in allegiances from the Party of Bennett to a resurrected Liberal brand in the 1990s. Clark, the true believer, suddenly found herself surrounded by the very people against whom she used to rail.

The enmity within the right-wing coalition is no small matter: it nearly consumed Clark as party leader in the 2013 election campaign. The “801s” -- so called because they expected Clark to fail and proposed to start the replacement campaign at one minute after the polls closed on e-day -- made her life a misery, much more so (it has to be said) than the NDP on Adrian Dix’s watch.

For political observers in B.C. this may be revelatory. Clark beat the odds, sent packing those rightist Liberals who wore a lean and hungry look, and won a solid mandate in 2013. Did this usher in the return of genuinely Liberal leadership? Was it an opportunity to advantage fellow true believers within the Party of Free Enterprise?

Perhaps. But the Liberals lost traditional strongholds like Point Grey, and gained representation from traditionally conservative, evangelical, and hardcore Social Credit territory like the Fraser Valley, the North, and the Okanagan, where Clark won her seat in a by-election whilst paying homage to the Bennett dynasty.

The question that Tyabji leaves hanging, then, is Clark still a true believer? The Premier herself avoids the old categories and describes the Liberal Party as a broad church in which all God’s children may belong: “…there are left-wing BC Liberals and right-wing BC Liberals; there are green (pro-environment) Liberals and brown (pro-resource job) Liberals” (350).

Reader: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a British Columbian who will say aloud, “I am a brown Liberal.”

What does Clark actually believe, then? She eschews ideology in favour of a uniquely fluid pragmatism. It is a canard to say she is not an intellectual; she doesn’t pretend to be, and intellectuals do poorly in the Premier’s office. She’s no dope, but she seems vulnerable to persuasion. This may explain some policy inconsistencies. She voted against the Nisga’a Treaty (1998) and then took up Aboriginal issues with a passion.

She takes advice on environmental issues from her son, which, by the way, is not cute or endearing, and is setting up the poor boy for a lifetime of blame from his peers -- and from corporate bosses.

The Premier, in fact, looks a bit of a sucker. “I went out and started talking to industry about what we would need to do in order to attract investment to B.C. for [Liquefied Natural Gas]. They said you need a trained work force, a competitive tax regime, good environmental legislation, you have to work with us on First Nations issues, and you have to make sure the communities are ready” (166).

Fine words, but what can “good” environmental legislation mean in this context? In the absence of any interpretation by Tyabji, is it cynical to read this as a request from business to spend a lot of public money training workers who will be used up and thrown away, to cut taxes so the beneficiaries don’t have to carry the costs, to tie the environment to the railway tracks, arm-twist indigenous peoples, and market it all at Treasury expense? I must remember to start a corporation very soon. It sounds like a great deal of fun.

Perhaps this is just the biography for our post-truth era. Fact checking has been put on hold. No one’s veracity, let alone their venality, is called into question. When Rich Coleman -- Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Mines -- declares that “This government has done more for people on the social side than any other government in history,” one wants to cry out, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, “Don’t eat that, Arthur!”

When we’re told that B.C. produces “only” 0.2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, Tyabji fails to ask the obvious question of per capita outputs. With merely 0.06 percent of the human population, we’re well over our share of carbon. This matters because the reassuring “only” is deployed in service of various energy project proposals.

What the book delivers is a sense of what Premier Clark, an undeniably accomplished leader and political figure, is up against. That includes a world of casual sexism that is so pervasive that even her otherwise-alert biographer notes her “curviness.”

Up against the NDP, Clark has also proven effective in driving “wedge” issues into the heart of the left. It is hard not to come away from this thinking that Clark knows a jugular when she sees one, and that what we’ll find behind that smile is another row of teeth.


John Douglas Belshaw is a writer, professor, consultant, and an award-winning historian. He is the author, co-author, contributor, and editor of several books, including Becoming British Columbia: A Population History (UBC Press, 2009), Colonization and Community: The Vancouver Island Coalminers and the Making of the British Columbian Working Class (MQUP, 2002), Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960 (Anvil, 2011), Private Grief, Public Mourning: The Rise of the Roadside Shrine in British Columbia (Anvil, 2009), Vancouver Confidential (Anvil 2014), and two open textbooks on Canadian history (BCcampus 2015 & 2016). Belshaw resides in Vancouver’s East End where he runs, messes about with fiction, and teaches online with Thompson Rivers University.