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

Just Posted

Richard Peter pivots to para badminton

Duncan’s Paralympic champ making Parapan Am debut in new sport

New owner, new era for junior B Islanders

Carl Ollech takes the reins at Kerry Park

Shirley Skolos, former Citizen publisher, dies after battle with cancer

Well known for her enthusiasm and energy, Skolos succumbed early Aug. 21

Fire damages Vancouver Island medical marijuana facility

Fire broke out at an industrial facility at the corner of Drinkwater… Continue reading

Memorable weekend of family fun at Lake Cowichan celebrates 75th anniversary

From parading a birthday cake through town to the return of timbersports, the big event was great

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Cross-examination begins for B.C. dad accused of killing young daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes

Large number of cruelty investigations, plus normal ‘kitten season’ to blame

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Retired Vancouver Island teacher ‘Set for Life’ after $675K lottery win

Patrick Shannon plans to buy new sails for his sailboat

Most Read