By SANDY MacDOUGALL
THE NEED to campaign effectively with a united front to defeat the NDP’s proposed preferential ballot referendum, to be held this coming October, seemed to be the single issue upon which all six candidates agreed in Tuesday’s televised debate.
Michael Lee, Dianne Watts and Sam Sullivan serve little purpose in the campaign, other than to position themselves for cabinet consideration, by the ultimate victor — if the Liberals actually win the next general election.
Dianne Watts resigned her seat as a member of parliament to run for the provincial Liberal leadership. Despite her claims of success everywhere she casts a shadow, few examples have been uncovered of even a single instance where she accomplished anything in Ottawa except collecting her pay.
In her role as the mayor of Surrey, she distinguished herself by joining ranks with Gregor Robertson on the mayors committee on transit in an attempt to bully the rest of Metro Vancouver into spending unlimited funds on their shared dream. If successful, it would have been the most inequitable transportation deal in the province’s history.
In Tuesday’s debate, the out-of-touch and poorly prepared Watts kept up her nonsensical claim that Liberals were the only free enterprise party in B.C. Although they might not currently be great in numbers, provincial Conservatives will be offended by that bit of arrogance.
Sam Sullivan has clever ideas on urban development but even though he had many years around Vancouver city hall and even served as mayor, the city was no better off when he left than it was before he arrived.
All of Sullivan’s schemes and visions have amounted to nothing with one notable and totally negative exception. Sullivan’s harm reduction policies for homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics and those suffering from various mental illnesses have served no useful purpose and have created more harm than good.
Sullivan, along with BC Housing, still clings to those infamous four pillars but, again, there seems to be no example of the success of the programs. As retired B.C. Justice Wallace G. Craig said years ago in a North Shore News column about the failure of harm reduction programs, “The jig is up Mayor Sullivan: Humpty Dumpty Vancouver is about to fall off the harm reduction wall; and when it does, all your spin doctors and medical health officers will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.”
If Sullivan were to become Liberal leader and subsequently premier, he’d be shoveling that harm reduction manure all over British Columbia.
Michael Lee was born and has lived his entire life in British Columbia. He is energetic and a hard worker but he lacks presence outside of the Lower Mainland. Lee’s constant theme has revolved around the need for Liberal party renewal.
He claims he has a lot of business experience in many areas of British Columbia but he remains relatively unknown.
Lee’s frequent reference to the declining number of seats held by Liberals in the past several elections has angered some longstanding Liberals but Lee appears to be counting on the support of new party members but that won’t be enough to get him past the first or second ballot.
There is no doubt that Lee could be a great help in resurrecting Liberal fortunes in Vancouver but his influence will be negligible in the rest of the province.
The eventual leader will almost certainly be chosen from among the remaining three candidates but even this trio have issues which will dog them beyond the leadership vote.
Todd Stone, the lone candidate from B.C.’s vast Interior, carried the highways ministry portfolio in Christy Clark’s cabinet. In that capacity he is well known throughout the province but it isn’t all good news.
Kamloops favourite son did well in most sectors of the province but highways on Vancouver Island are still a mess, particularly the volume plagued main roads between Nanaimo and Victoria. Highway 4, that miserable stretch of tortured asphalt between Coombs and the west coast of Vancouver Island, remains as probably the worst major highway in the province but few of Stone’s efforts did anything to alleviate the nightmare drivers using any of these roads have to face.
As Liberal leader, Stone’s record as highways minister would do little to improve the party’s tough sell problems on Vancouver Island but it is his lack of major transportation and transit accomplishments in the Metro Vancouver area which could be the albatross around Stone’s neck.
Although Stone isn’t solely responsible for the continuing monster which masks itself as Metro Vancouver’s mayors committee on Translink, the province’s lack of recognizable major improvements to the Lower Mainland’s chaotic traffic system was a big cause for the loss of several Liberal seats in last May’s election and Stone will have to carry much of that baggage.
Stone could very well carry the Liberal party in Interior and northern ridings but not so much west of Hope or on Vancouver Island.
Australian-born Andrew Wilkinson has lived in British Columbia since he was four years old. He makes much of the fact that, although he currently lives in Vancouver, he has lived and worked in several parts of B.C., including Kamloops and on Vancouver Island.
Possessing degrees as a Doctor of Medicine, Bachelor of Law, a Queen’s Counsel, and a Rhodes Scholar, Wilkinson is probably the brainiest of the six candidates but he was prone to display a lack of grace during the debates with some of the other candidates who are otherwise presumably his friends.
If he is chosen to lead the party, Wilkinson could help regain some of the Vancouver and Lower Mainland seats lost last May to the NDP but he will have a tough row to hoe without the active support of Dianne Watts, Michael Lee and Sam Sullivan, none of whom he has shown much respect for during the debates.
To succeed in the next election, as leader, Wilkinson will have to mend the fences he damaged with his argumentative style with the other leadership candidates during the debates. Wilkinson was one of only two candidates who stated they had made second ballot commitments to each other. Michael de Jong being the other candidate to express his second ballot commitment.
Michael de Jong has served in several important cabinet posts since his initial victory in a 1994 by-election where he narrowly defeated Grace McCarthy, the veteran Social Credit candidate. Prior to the May election, de Jong had served as Minister of Finance since 2012.
The only candidate with previous experience in a leadership campaign, de Jong finished fourth behind Christy Clark in the 2011 campaign.
Although many people have paid tribute to de Jong’s fiscal finesse in creating the $2.3 billion dollar surplus, not everyone sees that as a plus factor. Many of de Jong’s critics within the Liberal party claim he should have spent the money prior to the election to help bolster support in weak or swing ridings.
Despite his apparent shortcomings, de Jong has widespread support from most corners of the province and is probably the leading contender going into the final week of the leadership campaign.
If de Jong is leading on the first ballot and Wilkinson is able to deliver on his promise to recommend support for de Jong on second ballot, de Jong will win on either the second or third ballot.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired newspaper reporter. He was elected for three consecutive terms to Maple Ridge municipal council in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and also ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Kim Campbell’s ill-fated federal election campaign. Unaffiliated with any party, he writes frequently for Kamloops BC Conservative Alan Forseth’s Thoughts on Politics blog.