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Future of BC Liberals ‘by no means assured’ says ex-MLA

Last Updated Oct 27, 2020 at 8:47 am PST

FILE: BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson answers questions from the media following the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Summary

A historian and political commentator says what comes next for the BC Liberals will have implications on our democracy

BC Liberals' success in rebuilding will impact all of us as party expected to remain as official opposition: former MLA

BC Liberals coming off disappointing provincial election; Party leader has announced he would step down

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Whether or not you voted for the BC Liberals, what comes next for the party has major implications on our democracy, says a historian and political commentator.

The Liberals’ performance in the pandemic-election represents its worst outcome in decades, resulting in the promised resignation of leader Andrew Wilkinson just three years after Christy Clark stepped down.

“Political parties don’t always get it right the first time. Sometimes they don’t get it right at all,” says David Mitchell, a historian and former BC Liberal MLA, when asked about the back-to-back leadership shuffles.

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Mitchell predicts the party is likely to be stuck in the role of Official Opposition for some time, and its success in rebuilding, especially choosing a new leader, will impact all of us.

“Our democracy depends on it, the government will be stronger if we have a strong opposition,” he says.

“That’s really the mission for the BC Liberal Party right now, to be in a position to pick up the ball when the NDP inevitably drops it because governments don’t last forever.”

‘Lack of diversity falls squarely on the leader’’

Mitchell, who sat in the legislature as an MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi before that riding changed to cover the entire Sea to Sky region, says Wilkinson and the Liberals failed to appeal to urban voters, women, and young people.

“They need to be looking for stronger female voices but not necessarily voices from the past: voices from the present and prospective voices for the future and they need to be thinning of the province as a whole,” he says.

Critics say the party itself lacks diversity, as does the caucus, and the Liberals need to diversify and invite more people of colour into positions of power.

“Blaming the snap election for the BC Liberal’s (sic) failure to field more candidates who identify as women is such a stretch! The responsibility for the lack of diversity falls squarely on the leader,” tweeted Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

Just weeks before the election and while voters were filling mail-in ballots, the Liberals’ membership chair, Nicole Paul, said publicly that Wilkinson no longer represented party values.

Mitchell says it’s important to remember that the BC Liberals didn’t just lose the election — the NDP won and had the advantage to do so.

“We need to dissuade ourselves from the notion that an opposition leader is going to tear down a government. Typically, that doesn’t happen. Governments, if they are defeated, they defeat themselves,” he says.

What comes next will depend on how much of the political right the Liberals can coalesce, he says.

What the Liberals need to do is consolidate the non-NDP bulk; what used to be called the private enterprise coalition in British Columbia. And they’ve got a few years to do that progressively, by recruiting a new team of future leaders through that generational change process, he says

Mitchell isn’t convinced of the permanence of the Liberals’ place in opposition or in the popular vote.

“Let’s face it, the Liberals, provincially, have been a dominant party for almost a generation now. Prior to that, they were the third party, a distant third, and it was Social Credit versus the NDP. The future of the Liberal Party in British Columbia is by no means assured right now, there could be a fluidity in provincial politics,” he says.