Who will be the free-enterprise cheerleader?

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Your guide to the B.C. Liberal leadership race

The B.C. Liberal party — who prior to the last election had been preparing for another decade in government — are now leaderless. Former premier Christy Clark stepped down when she lost the confidence of the house, elevating the NDP into government and triggering a leadership race for the B.C. Liberals. The party officially launched the race on August 29th with a statement from party president, Sharon White, Q.C.

History will judge Christy Clark’s legacy, but the more immediate question is who will fill the void and be the next voice for free-enterprise in British Columbia.

After 16 years in government, there are many seasoned political veterans within the B.C. Liberal Party. Former ministers like Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, Mary Polak, Coralee Oakes, Mike Bernier, and Mike de Jong are to be considered front-runners in this field. The experience they gained from being in cabinet gives them a significant advantage.

Also popular and not too far off the public radar is George Abbott — remembered for his reconciliation approach between the provincial government and the teachers union while education minister. Kevin Falcon — a former finance minister who helped balance the provincial budget following 2008’s Great Recession — is still popular and well-known. Also of note is MLA Michael Lee, who is organizing events to prepare a leadership bid, as well as talks of Federal Conservative MP and past mayor of Surrey, Dianne Watts, running for the leadership position. Some polls suggest she would lead the race were she to run.

Altogether, five people have been actively organizing — Mike de Jong being the first to officially declare his candidacy. Mike Bernier, Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, and Michael Lee are also moving forward with an intent to run for the top spot.

The leader of a political party is the arbiter of power, policies and direction. It will be important to take note of the many potential leaders’ messages and visions moving forward.

The free-enterprise coalition that has ruled the province for most of the last 60 years has been successful when it offers a “big B.C. plan” for the province. In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, WAC ‘Wacky” Bennett sold his vision of an independent and powerful province with huge public infrastructure projects like hydroelectric dams and the creation of entities like BC Hydro and BC Ferries. Later, Bill Bennett and Gordon Campbell sought their electoral fortune by bringing events such as Expo ‘86 and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, respectively, into the provincial conscience. In the election this spring, the Liberals lost seats in their strongholds of Vancouver and the interior. A major topic for the leadership race will be finding a candidate who can bridge the urban-rural gap. It all boils down to one question: what will be the new vision of the B.C. Liberals?

After the election, Premier Clark offered a very different Throne Speech than what had been in her party’s manifesto. The speech included electoral finance and electoral reform, as well as new welfare initiative programs, just weeks after railing against these policies on the campaign trail: a courageous  volte-face to stay political execution (see Sir Humphrey Appleby). Christy Clark and her party’s vision this past decade had been “jobs, jobs, jobs” and the LNG prosperity plan — ideas that were quashed with her government’s downfall.

Darryl Plecas — the MLA for Abbotsford South and another name to watch out for — has been on the record speaking about how the B.C. Liberals need to be more humble, and that the party needs to be more mindful of people in need. He notes that, “you can’t have $6 billion of surpluses and not be doing things for people in need.”

These are early days yet, but I would encourage you to follow this race regardless of your political leanings. Ask questions and make your voice heard on issues that matter to you, for whomever the party chooses very well may be the next premier, if the people allow it.

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