Column: Which Liberal leader hopeful carries least baggage?

A Matter Of Integrity

By Dermod Travis

When the political landscape changes, it changes fast.

On July 27, the B.C. Liberal party was one case of bad flu away from trying to regain power.

But in less than 24 hours, former Premier Christy Clark was gone, both as leader and as MLA.

Within five weeks the race was on to find a successor, but there was one more tectonic shift to come.

Less than two weeks later Darryl Plecas – Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South – became Speaker of the B.C. Legislature.

The B.C. NDP had secured the legislative equivalent of a flu vaccine.

The Liberals, however, may have missed seeing the gift horse in the mouth.

A race only two weeks old – without a single, official candidate – could have easily been postponed to give the party a chance to take stock and would-be candidates an opportunity to reflect on their chances.

Instead, Plecas became the target of the Liberal’s wrath.

It’s left party members with a field of six candidates where they’ll have to factor in which comes with the least carry-on baggage.

Former Vancouver mayor and Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan has baggage aplenty from his one-term at city hall but is perceived by observers as being at the back of the pack – he gets to be this contest’s ideas man.

Former Advanced Education minister Andrew Wilkinson may be the only one of Clark’s ministers to have been publicly taken to the woodshed by auditor general Carol Bellringer for his claim that she had signed off on the B.C. government’s $20.5 million pre-election advertising blitz.

Less well known, however, is his constituency office ad spending. Wilkinson “topped the list of all 85 MLAs in advertising expenses for 2016/17: $58,692 out of a constituency office budget of $120,482,” as Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin reported in August.

You can get a sense of the chances a candidate has by the tasks they take on. Wilkinson is the pack’s principal attack dog on possible front-runner Dianne Watts.

The only one of the six without a seat in the legislature, Watts’s carry-on baggage centres around a reputation for enjoying the entitlements that come with public office: business class airfares, “office supplies” made out of quartz, and what came to be known as the Watts Mahal, Surrey’s new $150 million city hall that ended up mired in cost overruns and lawsuits.

Then there’s Mike de Jong, leadership aspirant for the second time round.

In 2010, as solicitor general Mike de Jong – who as finance minister always appeared in a well-laundered shirt and tie – claimed to have been troubled over links between organized crime and casinos in the province, stating: “If some of these early reports are true, yes, it’s troubling.”

So troubled in fact he did little about it – either as solicitor general or later as finance minister – as the Vancouver Sun’s Sam Cooper has well documented in recent weeks.

Former transportation minister Todd Stone is trying to juggle three pieces of carry-on baggage: the MV Nimpkish affair, the triple delete scandal and the fiasco at the Insurance Corporation of B.C.

To be fair to Stone, he’s not alone in responsibility for the mess at ICBC, despite the best efforts of two of his former cabinet colleagues – Wilkinson and de Jong – to try and hang it on him.

Stone may have been the skipper at the time ICBC went aground, but they were his first mates.

His day may yet come, but Stone may want to hope that it’s not this weekend.

Nearly forgot one candidate – Michael Lee.

Maybe that’s because he’s the only one without any baggage from the last 16 years, notwithstanding a few miscues in his campaign, such as choosing to respond to a questionnaire from anti-abortion group Right Now.

Or was it strategic messaging?

With key political strategist Mark Marissen in his corner it may not have been a miscue.

The answer to that and other B.C. Liberal leadership questions will come on Feb. 3 during their pre-show to the Super Bowl pre-game.

The next election will answer the bigger question, though.

When Plecas became Speaker should the Liberals have put off till tomorrow what they chose to do today?

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

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