Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson announces new MLA supporters in Victoria, Nov. 30, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: B.C. Liberal battle getting bitter

Front-runners Andrew Wilkinson, Todd Stone target Dianne Watts

B.C. Liberal leadership hopefuls Mike de Jong, Sam Sullivan and Michael Lee seemed to be enjoying the show at their recent debate in Kelowna, as apparent front-runners Andrew Wilkinson, Todd Stone and Dianne Watts went toe to toe for party member support.

As their arguments became more heated in front of a packed room, de Jong and Lee were doubled over in their chairs to muffle their laughter. Sullivan suggested the next debate should be a cage match.

A quick summary of the Floggin’ in the Okanagan: Wilkinson waved a glossy copy of his platform, insisting only his is costed to balance budgets. He had a former deputy finance minister look at Stone’s, pronouncing it a deficit-prone spending spree.

Stone fired back that his plan is balanced but bold, describing Wilkinson’s as old and tired, like its author.

Both of them turned on Watts, who remains embarrassingly unprepared for B.C. politics since resigning her Conservative MP seat. Plan? She doesn’t even have the proverbial cocktail napkin with scribbled notes on it.

As in the Prince George and Nanaimo debates, Watts was grilled on complex issues like forest policy, and she didn’t have a clue. Watts has money, name recognition and almost nothing else. If any party members still think she’s Christy Clark 2.0, they haven’t been paying attention.

Watts has a vision, but can’t articulate it. She promises to listen, then blames the B.C. Liberals for losing 11 seats because they didn’t listen. Her opponents remind her that she only joined the party in May.

I usually don’t give polls the attention that even dogs do, but this is not a general public decision. Interim B.C. Liberal leader Rich Coleman tells me party membership is about 40,000 people, as sign-ups continue until Dec. 31 in preparation for an online vote to be revealed Feb. 4.

Those members have all been phoned and door-knocked by the leadership teams, and the candidates must have a good idea where they stand.

If there’s a front-runner now, it’s Wilkinson, formerly a cabinet minister, party president, city lawyer and country doctor. He reminds everyone that his MLA support is more than all other candidates combined.

Cabinet veterans Mary Polak (Langley), John Rustad (Nechako Lakes), Michelle Stilwell (Parksville-Qualicum), Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Mike Morris (Prince George-Mackenzie) are in Wilkinson’s camp, along with experienced backbenchers Donna Barnett (Cariboo-Chilcotin) and Laurie Throness (Chilliwack-Hope). Newcomers Ellis Ross (Skeena), Tracy Redies (Surrey-White Rock), Doug Clovechok (Columbia River-Revelstoke), Tom Shypitka (Kootenay East) and Joan Isaacs (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) have come on board, showing Wilkinson has party support all over the province.

Stone is backed by MLAs Peter Milobar (Kamloops-North Thompson), Greg Kyllo (Shuswap), Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver-Seymour) Coralee Oakes (Cariboo North), Ian Paton (Delta South) and Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission).

Stone, a smooth-talking former technology entrepreneur from Kamloops-South Thompson, likes to describe himself as young and “relatable,” playing to the perception of Wilkinson as an elitist from wealthy Vancouver-Quilchena.

De Jong trailed Clark and Kevin Falcon in the 2012 leadership campaign, and judging by the latest debate, he seems resigned to third or fourth again. He’s endorsed by Surrey South MLA and former cabinet minister Stephanie Cadieux, fellow Abbotsford MLA Simon Gibson, Chilliwack’s John Martin, Richmond’s Teresa Wat and Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier, who dropped out of the leadership contest early on.

De Jong’s record as finance minister is both his greatest strength and weakness, as he tries to emphasize five balanced budgets and move past the penny-pinching reputation that members blame for the election loss.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

BC legislatureBC Liberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pacific Coastal won’t open until community is ready

The company has suspended operations until further notice

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Celebrations continue for Tsilhqot’in Nation after court victory against Taskeo Mines Ltd.

Supreme Court of Canada upholds 2014 decision rejecting New Prosperity mine on May 14, 2020

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

B.C. drive-in theatre shuts down to await appeal of car limits, concession rules

Business owner Jay Daulat voluntarily closed down the theatre awaiting a health ministry decision

Most Read