MERRITT, B.C. - A brief encounter between Liberal Leader Christy Clark and a woman who said she would never vote for her is continuing to reverberate in British Columbia's election campaign.
The hashtag #IamLinda has become a rallying point on Twitter for people who oppose Clark's government.
A video posted online last week shows Clark in a North Vancouver market shaking hands with a woman who introduces herself as Linda and says she would never vote for the premier and begins to explain why.
But Clark cuts her off.
"You don't have to. That's why we live in a democracy," Clark says before walking away.
"Thanks goodness. Hopefully you won't get elected in," the woman calls after her.
The encounter went viral and has been shared or retweeted thousands of times on social media. The hashtag had been used nearly 32,000 times on Twitter by Tuesday afternoon.
Campaigning Tuesday in Merritt, Clark said the exchange is part of the democratic process.
"I think it's the sign of a healthy democracy that we were able to have that discussion, although it was brief, and I would say my job is to represent everybody in the province," she said.
"If people want to confront their premier and say they don't like what you're doing, you can do that in our democracy. And that's what she did."
Mark Marissen, Clark's ex-husband, accused the woman of being a New Democrat plant and tweeted a picture of her with Nicholas Simons, a New Democrat member of the legislative assembly for Powell River-Sunshine Coast.
Laura Miller, the party's campaign manager, tweeted the same picture of the woman with Simons and said living in a democracy means the New Democrats are free to send their members to disrupt Liberal events.
Clark was asked what evidence the senior members of her campaign team had to support their claims the woman was an NDP plant.
"I don't have the answer to that," she said. "You'll have to speak to the people who tweeted that out."
The woman who was identified in media reports as being involved in the encounter with Clark could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said Clark's comment was fair but sounded flippant because she didn't want to engage with the woman. He said the Liberals' claim that she was working on behalf of the New Democrats went too far.
"The party needs to apologize. They've accused some random person of being an NDP spy. That's a pretty serious allegation."
Alfred Hermida, director of the University of British Columbia's journalism school, said the #IamLinda hashtag may have spread so effectively because it tapped into disillusionment people were already feeling and allowed them to insert themselves into the narrative.
"For these messages to catch on there needs to be a willing audience," he said. "It's a way of creating online solidarity. It shows you're not alone."
Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of Fraser Valley, said the exchange may have left voters feeling they got a glimpse into the premier's personality.
"Politicians are performers and here she was required to act on spur of the moment and possibly didn't act in the best possible way," Telford said.
Despite the risks, politicians can benefit from interacting with constituents, Telford added.
"It enhances a candidate's authenticity, a willingness to listen and also to explain their policies in ways that are comprehensible to ordinary voters."
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter