What goes on behind closed doors at Premier Christy Clark's women's-only meetings in communities around the province?
Lots of talking and hugging, of course, what else?
"To me the really important part of it is the dialogue," said Clark in an interview with local media before one such meeting Thursday at the Coast Chilliwack Hotel. "What happens in these groups is it's not a dialogue between me and the woman who's offered a comment. It's a dialogue in the whole room. What often happens is one woman will say something, I'll respond and then another woman will chip in and a another woman, and we will be talking as a group."
She went on to describe how, at another meeting recently, she started by shaking hands with the women as they arrived until one woman asked the premier if she hugged.
"After that, everybody-and these were women executives and entrepreneurs-hugged," Clark said. "That does not happen in groups of men."
The Women's Dialogue with Premier Christy Clark was hosted by the BC Liberals.
Outgoing Chilliwack MLA John Les has been quoted as saying that's not an indication there's a battle shaping up in Chilliwack for the female vote despite much having been made of the sex factor Jan. 19, when the NDP picked two women (former Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce executive Patti MacAhonic and current MLA Gwen O'Mahony) to face off against two male Liberal candidates (John Martin and Laurie Throness) in the upcoming May 14 election.
But Clark has faced her own gender battle since becoming premier, with polls showing women's support for both her party and her premiership lagging behind the NDP.
Clark dodged when asked if she's tired of answering questions about the "woman politician" thing ("I never get tired of questions," she said), but took a shot at explaining some of the challenges of being a woman in politics.
"There's always a balance to be found between leading and listening, and I think women, in particular, want both," she said. "And I think women expect it from women politicians more than they do from men politicians."
Another challenge, she said, is the media's preoccupation with female politicians' looks.
"For women there is a tendency to focus on what you wear, how you talk that doesn't really apply to men all the time, and I think that's a distraction for the media," she said. "I don't think for the public, I think it's a distraction for the media. And I only say that because I notice how often the media talks about what I'm wearing, how I look, those kinds of things."
Given that focus, are youth and attractiveness a liability or an asset for female politicians?
"I don't know," quipped Clark. "I don't feel like I have either, so maybe I'm the wrong person. Maybe you should ask [former B.C. finance minister] Carole Taylor."
A Courtenay, B.C., 98.9 JetFM radio listener didn't see it that way last month, though, when he asked the premier via DJ Justin "Drex" Wilcomes what it was like to be a MILF (a lewd acronym for an attractive mom).
Clark has been criticized for her response, which was to laugh at the question and say it was better to be a MILF than a cougar (slang for an older woman who seeks the company of younger men). She also said she saw the question as a compliment and thanked the listener who prompted it.
Would Clark answer that question differently today?
"I don't know," she said. "I answered it the way I answered it. I suppose if I'd answered it a different way, you might be asking me, 'Would you have answered it differently? How come you have no sense of humour?"
In Chilliwack, which had never elected a woman to a political office higher than the municipal level until O'Mahony won the 2012 byelection, female voters who want to see women have more influence in government could be tempted by the NDP's all female slate.
Clark, however, urges those women to look higher up in government.
"If gender matters to you, do you want a male premier or a female premier?" she said. "I guess you could put it in that context. If you look at the cabinet, we have more women in this cabinet than I think we've ever had in any cabinet-or we've come close-in British Columbia. The most powerful people in the province, are women. Would you like that to continue?"
For the most part, though, the premier said women ultimately care about the same issues as men come election time.
"Between elections, women may be thinking about different issues," she said, "but I think when you get to an election, women are thinking about the same fundamental economic issues: How do I make sure that my family's future is secure? How do I make sure my kids have a better life than I did? That's a universal question whatever your sex."
QUESTION: "WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO ATTEND PREMIER CHRISTY CLARK'S WOMEN'S ONLY MEETING?"
Lee Anne Hanson, manager with Pacific Community Resources Society
"I came because I thinks it's really important for women to share in decision-making and to make our presence known."
"My friend asked me to come. And I thought it was really great because I've never gotten involved in politics before, but I do watch it and I listen to all the news and everything. And I like Christy Clark. I think she's pretty."
Hanne Selby, realtor with Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board
"I want to find out what Christy has to tell us. I'd like to see what she has to say."
"I think it's an opportunity to be part of something that is important to women and everyone. It's a chance to meet our premier, and how many opportunities do you get to do that?"
Debbie Denault, Chilliwack Learning Community Society, literacy outreach co-ordinator
"I think it's a really special opportunity. She the leader of the province and I don't know what I'm going to learn. I'm sure I'm going to learn something."
Mary-Anne Gehman, RootZone Landscape and Design owner
"I just wanted to see what Christy Clark had to say. And it's a Women's Dialogue event, so I though why not."
Kristen Mundstock, lawyer and partner at Patten Thornton
"It's just an opportunity to see the premier. Just to see what she's like and to see her up close in person.
I've never seen her in person or speak in person. It's just an opportunity to see what she's like as a speaker and because she's in a position of power as a woman."
"I wanted to hear what she had to say about women's issues."
Sue Attrill, Chilliwack City Councillor
"I came today because Christy Clark is our premier, and I'm always interested to hear what the provincial government is up to, and I think she'll probably focus a little bit on women's issues, which is interesting."