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BC Liberal leadership hopefuls make first pitches, dwell on mistakes

Last Updated Oct 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm PST

Six of the BC Liberal leadership candidates at the Surrey debate. (Ellen Coulter, NEWS 1130, Photo)

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – Six candidates vying to replace Christy Clark as BC Liberal leader have faced off in their first debate, spending much of the afternoon dwelling on what went wrong in the May election.

MLA and former transportation minister Todd Stone has no doubt he’s the man for the job, and arrived at the Crown Palace Banquet Hall to chanting and cheering from a large group of supporters.

“We need a leader who will be as relatable in Williams Lake as in Yaletown,” he told the room. “We need a leader who will be relatable to Millennials and Baby Boomers. Folks, I believe that I’m that leader.”

He wants a BC Liberal party with more women and more young people.

Despite having no provincial political experience, former Surrey mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts was also popular with the room.

She offered up her reason for the BC Liberals’ dire election result in May.

“I go back to the fact to the fact that it wasn’t that the ministers didn’t know their file, it was because we stopped listening.”

She says the party needs to make itself more attractive to young people.

“And we have to get this right, because if we don’t, we will remain in opposition for a very long time. ”

Mike de Jong says he’s proud of his record of balanced budgets, despite claims that he was too careful with the taxpayers’ dollars as finance minister.

“I have heard the criticism.. ‘that tight-wad de Jong.'”

Former minister of advanced education Andrew Wilkinson says he has the experience to lead the Liberals. He believes the BC Liberals failed to engage voters during the election campaign.

“We were preaching at people from 30,000 feet. Telling them about credit ratings, telling them about debt to GDP ratio. It meant nothing in their living rooms. We need to meet people in their living rooms and understand what their pressures are.”

Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan listed housing as one of his top priorities, and says the party needs to be more compassionate.

“You can’t win the election with just the rural vote. You can’t win the election with just the urban vote. You need both.”

He was the only candidate to mention the province’s opioid crisis during the debate.

Lesser-known candidate Michael Lee, a Vancouver business lawyer who only joined the Legislature this year, isn’t worried about a lack of name recognition.

“I am bringing a new perspective, a new approach, to not just the BC Liberals but to our government here in this province.”

Lee had a surprisingly large group of supporters in the room.

A seventh candidate, Terrace business owner Lucy Sager, was not at the debate. The party says only candidates who paid all applicable fees were allowed to participate in the debate.

There had been eight candidates for the top Liberal job, but Mike Bernier dropped out of the race on Saturday, instead throwing his support behind Mike de Jong.

Candidates discuss innovation in BC

Technology and innovation were key topics for a party trying to re-brand itself after a dire election and subsequent defeat in the Legislature.

Mike de Jong pitched the idea of creating an Office of the Chief Scientist, like in Israel. He says taxpayer funds could then used to support tech ventures chosen by the office.

“Bestowing upon a separate third party with expertise the ability to provide recommendations around support and commercialisation I think makes a whole lot of sense.”

Sam Sullivan instead favours low business taxes.

“I’ve never been a fan of giving money to businesses. I’ve never been a fan of picking and choosing which industries are going to be the future successes.”

There will be five more debates before a leader is chosen in February.