A new leader will be elected by British Columbia’s Liberals on Saturday after a month-long campaign that often focused on renewal and a new course for a party that lost consecutive elections after 16 years in power.
The party seeks its third leader since 2017 and replaces Andrew Wilkinson, who stepped down in 2020 when the NDP was re-elected by a majority government.
The campaign was not typical due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with online debates and virtual events rather than large rallies and gatherings, but it consistently centered on soul-searching and a focus on the party’s identity by those trying to its new to be. leader.
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Seven candidates, including three members of the liberal caucus, three relative newcomers and a former cabinet minister taking his second chance at leadership, are vying to replace Wilkinson. The candidates are lawmakers Michael Lee, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield; business leaders Gavin Dew, Val Litwin and Stan Sipos; and Kevin Falcon, a former Liberal cabinet minister and leadership candidate in 2011.
An election post-mortem report released by the party last June said the Liberals were seen by many as a lack of diversity and should start with a rebrand that supports the values and aspirations of voters. It said the province had changed and so should the BC Liberals.
The party has fallen behind and the leadership competition is critical for the Liberals, who were weakened after the 2020 election and have not yet recovered, says Stephen Smart, a press secretary to former Prime Minister Christy Clark and a liaison strategist in Vancouver .
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“The party continues to flourish support and perhaps, more worryingly, the party remains relevant to many voters, especially urban voters,” he said.
The Liberals were reduced to 28 seats in BC’s 87-seat legislature, losing 13 seats in the 2020 vote, including several in major Metro Vancouver rides and defeats suffered in former party strongholds in the Fraser Valley.
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Smart said cracks are still forming in the party founding, which despite its liberal name consists of a long-standing coalition of federal liberals and conservative supporters. The party is not affiliated with the federal liberals.
“For a long time, there was a lack of recognition that voters changed, and the party stopped developing with the voters,” said Smart, who is a member of the party but not to any of the leadership campaigns are not connected.
“The new leader will have to read the chamber and find out what voters are looking for today and how they can make the party relevant for that and 2024 and beyond.”
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Each of the seven candidates made the BC Liberal Party’s reconnection with voters a central theme in their leadership presentations.
“This party requires, despite its great history, it requires a recharge and a rebuild and a potential brand name,” Falcon said during the first leadership debate last fall.
Mary Polak, a former Liberal cabinet minister defeated in 2020, said the decline in support for urban voters was worrying, but the party’s success has historically always been the ability of its leaders to bring people from different regions and cultures together. bring.
Those leaders knew what issues to put aside and instead focused on liberal core values, she said.
“It’s healthy to have people in the caucus who have very different views of the province, whether from a rural or urban perspective,” said Polak, who now volunteers as the Liberal row president for the Langley. constituency she lost in 2020.
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“It’s healthy to have that tension in the room because it exists in the province,” she said. “You always have to balance those interests if you are going to have a successful government.”
Colin Hansen, co-chair of the leadership election committee, said the party gained more than 20,000 new members during the campaign and he believes they will help lead a liberal rejuvenation. Liberal party membership now stands at about 43,000 members, he said.
Voting online or by phone will run from Thursday to Saturday. The winner is expected to be announced Saturday night.
The leader will be elected through an arranged ballot process where registered voters select their candidates in order of preference, ranking them from first to seventh.
In the voting process, each of BC’s 87 rides is worth 100 points for a total of 8,750 points, Hansen said. The first candidate to receive 4,350 points, plus one, will be selected as the winner.
The Liberals used the same ballot process in the 2018 leadership race that Wilkinson voted for on the fifth ballot.
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