The BC Liberal Party will select its permanent replacement for former party leader Christy Clark in early February. Photo courtesy THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward.

Two Comox Valley liberals weigh in on party leadership race

The leadership race for the BC Liberal Party is entering the homestretch.

The Official Opposition will decide its permanent replacement for former party leader Christy Clark early next month. Voting among party members will begin Feb. 1, with a leader selected Feb. 3. Voting can be done online or over the phone.

There will be one more official debate among candidates before voting takes place. The debate will be held in Vancouver on Jan. 23.

There are six candidates vying to lead the party, five of whom are currently members of the party’s caucus. Sitting MLAs include Mike de Jong (Abbotsford-West), Michael Lee (Vancouver-Langara), Todd Stone, (Kamloops-South Thompson) Sam Sullivan (Vancouver-False Creek) and Andrew Wilkinson (Vancouver-Quilchena). Rounding out the field is former Surrey mayor and MP Dianne Watts.

Like the Federal Conservative Party’s leadership race in 2017, the BC Liberal Party is using a ranked ballot system to select a leader.

With the race wrapping up soon, the Record reached out to some card-carrying liberal party members in the Comox Valley to see what they thought of the leadership race and who they are supporting.

“It’s been a good contest. [There’s been] lots of interest and lots of qualified candidates, so I think that bodes well,” said Comox mayor Paul Ives, who has been a member of the party for several years.

Ives said he is supporting Andrew Wilkinson as his first choice, who he has known since his law school days. Todd Stone is his second choice, and he hasn’t decided beyond that.

“I think [Wilkinson] closely reflects my values and beliefs, and what the BC Liberal Party is all about — a coalition dedicated to free enterprise and targeted social programs with measurable results,” said Ives. “He doesn’t want to spend money we don’t have, and I think he’s got broad support across the province. He’s got 13 sitting MLAs in his support, including Michele Stilwell here on the Island.

“He’s a smart guy and he’d be able to handle the job right from day one.”

Jim Beninger, who ran for the Liberal Party in the Courtenay-Comox riding in the 2017 B.C. general election, is currently working with Michael Lee’s campaign as a co-chair.

Beninger touted the surprising momentum of Lee’s campaign. Despite being a “rookie” MLA, Lee’s camp has sold more party memberships than any other candidate since the leadership race began.

“That has to be worth something — it’s a tangible result,” said Beninger.

Granted, he acknowledged the competitiveness of the field.

“There’s no doubt that the former cabinet ministers — Andrew Wilkinson, Todd Stone, and Mike de Jong — would be great leaders on day one,” he said. “But I think our party needs to renew a little bit and regroup. We need to broaden our appeal to voters.”

Ives agrees with Beninger on the need for the party to broaden its appeal, saying the party’s priority moving ahead should be to build support throughout the province, instead of just the Lower Mainland.

“[The party] was accused at some point along the way of ‘not listening,’ and all the candidates have recognized that,” he said. “It’s one thing to balance budgets, but it’s another to make sure you have good social programs as well.”

The Liberal Party was the governing party in B.C. from 2001 until 2017. Despite narrowly winning the most seats in the 2017 election, (forming a minority government in the process) the party was ousted from power by a non-confidence vote by the BC New Democratic Party and the Green Party.

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