Photo Credit: VanIsle.News staff

Who Will Be the New BC Liberal Party Leader? Should Islanders Care?

Six candidates compete for the top job

Who’s running to replace Andrew Wilkinson? And how could that affect Islanders?

EDITORS NOTE: This is an update of a story originally published on May 27th

Last fall, Andrew Wilkinson stepped down as the leader of the BC Liberal Party, and – so far – six candidates have signalled they want to replace him when the leadership vote happens next February. 

One thing is clear, the “big tent” party that former Premier and BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell created has vanished. None of the six likely candidates seem to have the background, personality, or support needed to attract the odd mixture of Federal Conservative, Federal Liberal, and former provincial Socred and Reform party voters that Mr. Campbell rode to election victories in 2001, 2005 and 2009. 

And a quick review of the candidate’s websites and social media highlights that none of them are offering much for Islanders, especially those of us who live outside the big cities. Most of the candidates have been focussing on different paths to rejuvenate the party such as whether the party needs to change its name.

Val Litwin – is a 44-year-old former CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce and owner of hair and makeup company Blo Blow Dry Bar. Litwin is the latest candidate to throw his hat in the ring to replace Wilkinson. So far, Litwin’s platform is light on substance, mainly focussed on trying to excite young voters and refresh the BC Liberal party brand. He thinks the party should be “thinking bigger.” According to Littwin, the BC Liberals “need modern, outside-the-box solutions to age-old problems. Someone who doesn’t just talk about social issues, diversity, and equality.” Not surprisingly, given his previous role as Chair of The Forum (previously Forum For Women Entrepreneurs), Litwin hopes to attract women and younger voters who he claims feel “politically homeless.”

Kevin Falcon – is the former Finance Minister under both Campbell and Christy Clark. Falcon is arguably the highest-profile candidate to throw his hat in the ring. Since leaving politics, Falcon has been working as an executive with Anthem Capital, a financial services firm heavily invested in property and the mining sector. Falcon, who narrowly lost the 2011 BC Liberal leadership race to Christy Clark, comes from the federal Conservative – not the Federal Liberal – side of Campbell’s big tent. He endorsed Maxime Bernier in the 2017 Federal Conservative leadership race won by Andrew Scheer. Falcon’s online presence offers nothing specifically relevant to Islanders beyond some vague bromides about leadership and renewal. The one specific policy he is promoting is changing the name of the BC Liberal party. His campaign tagline is: “Let’s Go!”

Ellis Ross – is the current MLA from Skeena and former elected chief councillor for the Haisla Nation was the first to officially declare he’s running to replace former leader Andrew Wilkinson. Ross briefly served as Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing under Premier Christy Clark. Ross’s main claim to fame is his aggressive advocacy for expanding Liquified Natural Gas in BC. Before entering politics, Ross signed a $50 million agreement with Kitimat LNG to build a liquid natural gas plant on Haisla Nation reserves. Ross told the Vancouver Sun he promises “to run a clean campaign free of personal attacks,” although his track record illustrates a tendency to blast those that disagree with him. Ross’s campaign website, and social media channels, have little Island-focused other than his criticism of the currents government ban on cruise ships. Not surprisingly, given his background, Ross’ campaign website features his support for LNG, and his tagline is “Change that can WIN.”

Gavin Dew – describes himself as a political consultant and Chief Strategy Officer for Patient Choice, an online medical platform that connects medical cannabis patients, licensed producers, and processors. Dew, who ran and lost as the BC Liberal candidate in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant 2016 byelection, also worked on the leadership campaigns of his Kevin Falcon (in 2011) and Michael Lee (in 2018). Falcon and Lee are now his opponents. Dew’s social media and campaign website contain no specific policies relevant to Vancouver Island. However, Dew does highlight various environmental concerns and says he was “driven to run because he’s concerned about the lack of affordability facing BC families.” His campaign slogan is: “Believe in a Better BC.”

Michael Lee – a former corporate lawyer, is currently the MLA for Vancouver-Langara. This is the second time Lee has sought the BC Liberal Leadership, having come in third in the 2018 leadership race behind Diane Watts and Wilkinson. Lee’s campaign website and social media channels contain nothing relevant to Vancouver Island, just the usual partisan attacks on government policies. “Strength” seems to be his campaign tagline.

Aaron Gunn – the former BC Proud spokesperson, launched his “Official Exploratory Committee to seek the Leadership of the BC Liberal Party.” That sounds like he is throwing his hat in, but maybe not. Gunn is the insurgent candidate. He’s trying to harness the angry, fed-up-with-the-status-quo sentiment that Donald Trump tapped. He will be disruptive. In a recent interview, Gunn attacked the other leadership candidates saying, “we don’t need to start scouring the list of the witness protection program to find the next leader of the BC Liberal Party.” Although dismissed by mainstream pundits as un-electable, Gunn shouldn’t be discounted. He has by far the largest social media following of any of the candidates and seems to have the best grasp of modern campaigning. Although based in Victoria, surprisingly, Gunn’s website and social media contain nothing relevant to Islanders. Instead, they feature attack-dog media stunts and super partisan rants.

As the campaign intensifies, it will be interesting to see if any women join the leadership race and whether any of the candidates bring forward ideas that can help Islanders.

Voting to determine the next BC Liberal Party leader is restricted to party members. However, people interested in helping choose the Opposition Leader can sign up or renew their membership by December 29th to participate in the new leadership in February. Remember, BC Liberal Party membership is open to BC residents aged 14 and up.