Seven BC Liberals Step Forward to Replace Christy Clark
Kevin Kapenda // Columnist
The journey to replace Christy Clark and return the BC Liberals to government has begun. While most parties use leadership campaigns to refresh their platform or expand their base, the BC Liberals seem uninterested in doing either. Fresh off an election defeat fueled by their out-of-touch and stubborn ideology, each of the hopefuls is unconvinced major changes are needed. Luckily for them, BC’s population is not getting any younger, which is bound to favour them in the next election.
So far, seven candidates have stepped forward to lead the party. Vancouver MLAs Andrew Wilkinson, Michael Lee and Sam Sullivan are fascinating candidates, given their relationship with a city that is increasingly dominated by the NDP and left-leaning Vision Vancouver. Each of the MLAs will surely face questions about their city’s growing irrelevance to centre-right parties. After all, how can they lead the party if they can’t even deliver their city? This will disadvantage Sullivan the most as his stint of mayor ushered in the Vision Vancouver era.
Other candidates include Peace River MLA Mike Bernier, Kamloops MLA Todd Stone and Abbotsford MLA Mike de Jong. All three of them served as ministers in the former Clark government, making them obvious choices for the top job. De Jong is the longest serving MLA in the race and probably has the most name-recognition. Stone is a photogenic, one term-MLA who is popular among Liberals, but did a poor job as Transportation Minister. Bernier is a highly polarizing figure, having dismissed Vision Vancouver’s democratically elected school trustees for resisting his government’s underfunding of the education system.
The issue with Bernier, Stone and de Jong is the baggage they’ve accumulated as key faces in Clark’s cabinet. De Jong, having served under Clark and Campbell, does not represent change, while Stone and Bernier carried out much of Liberals’ dirty work over the last four years. Furthermore, all of them represent ridings East of Metro Vancouver, reinforcing the split that exists between the orange city and conservative interior. With that said, Stone’s youth significantly bolsters his chances in the age of retail politics. Patrick Brown, Jagmeet Singh, Justin Trudeau, Wab Kinew, Andrew Scheer and Brian Gallant all represent a trend of candidates aged 45 or younger that have been elected to lead federal or provincial parties.
The seventh hopeful, former Surrey Mayor and ex-Conservative MP Dianne Watts, is probably best positioned to win the media and popularity war. Watts spent nine years as mayor of one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities. While her legacy should be one of irresponsible planning, exemplified by endless sprawl and relentless traffic, she is largely attributed with helping a “country” suburb of 200,000 blossom into a melting pot of 600,000 residents. Watts and Lee — who is of Chinese descent — are already being tapped by the media as candidates that could help recapture ethnic votes the party lost in 2017. Sadly, this reeks of Trump-ism, and perceptions that visible minorities are misinformed in their support for progressive parties. However, if she does win, she could be instrumental in restoring the Liberals’ majority in Surrey and the rest of the South Fraser.
If the election were held today, Andrew Wilkinson and Todd Stone would probably face-off on the final ballot. Both of them are well connected with the party’s backroom and were appointed to the BC Liberal team in 2013 as star candidates. Secondly, both are best positioned to make the case of either leaving Vancouver behind and embracing peripheral seats, or reclaiming BC’s largest city from the NDP, which Wilkinson helped do as President of the party in 2001. Stone is very much the Maxime Bernier of this “conservative” race, while Wilkinson, who worked for Campbell and served in Clark’s cabinet, is Andrew Scheer. Like Scheer’s surprise win in the federal Conservative race, Wilkinson is too connected not to emerge victorious. As of right now, it’s his to lose.