Six BC Liberal Party candidates sparred for the top job. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

VIDEO: BC Liberal leadership candidates fight to add warmth to ‘jobs’ message

Surrey debate is key for Liberals who lost 10 seats to the NDP in the Lower Mainland

The BC Liberals’ self-admitted inability to connect with voters was the theme of their inaugural leadership debate on Sunday.

The six candidates made their pitches to a packed hall of more than 600 party supporters in Surrey.

But no matter who was speaking, the topic of the day was how the BC Liberals had failed to translate their message of jobs, economic growth and balanced budgets into one of tangible benefits for B.C. voters.

“The platform didn’t reflect what that meant to people in their own lives,” said former Surrey mayor and Conservative MP Diane Watts. “We lost 11 seats, 10 of those in the Lower Mainland. We stopped listening. We stopped connecting.”

Former transportation minister Todd Stone agreed.

“We were seen as to not be listening to British Columbians, particularly here in Metro Vancouver,” he said.

Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee put the blame on the opposition and the press.

“I believe that we need to change the narrative,” said Lee. “We need to get past the false choices that the NDP and the media have set up in this province.”

South of the Fraser has been painted as a key battleground for the party and Watts, as former mayor and South Surrey-White Rock MP, pressed for the hometown advantage as she pledged to improve Surrey’s transportation corridors.

“We have four stops in North Surrey and that was Expo ‘86. That’s the rapid transit line we have here in Surrey,” said Watts. She reiterated her support for the Massey Bridge but told the crowd it had to be part of a comprehensive transportation plan for B.C.

Former finance minister Mike de Jong went one step further.

“I think we should pick up where the Expo line ends at the King George Station and carry it through to Langley.”

Watts and de Jong weren’t the only two to focus on Lower Mainland losses.

“I think we’ve all had that experience of watching the election result and seeing how much we lost in the eastern suburbs,” said Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson. “Those are areas we should have won and the reason we didn’t is that we were preaching at people from 30,000 feet, telling them about credit ratings and debt-to-GDP ratio. It meant nothing in their living rooms.”

De Jong agreed.

“All of these terms that we use… balanced budgets, credit ratings, they are code for one thing: choices,” he said.

Housing was a key issue for all debaters.

Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan said that housing prices one of the top two threats to B.C. communities, telling the crowd that “large areas of [the Lower Mainland] are now reserved for only luxury housing; single, detached homes.”

Despite record-breaking illicit drug overdose numbers hitting record highs last week, only Sullivan made a promise to tackle the issue during the debate.

People with addictions need “the opportunity to wean themselves off… right now it’s illegal for a drug addict to wean themselves off drugs. The drugs are illegal.”

Sullivan pitched a reformed HST tax, which he dubbed the MST tax: everything the HST had but “minus haircuts and Chinese food.”

Candidates across the board promised to make B.C. a hospitable province for its ever-growing tech sector. Stone told the crowd that he would bring tech education to the province’s kids. Watts promised to fix procurement issues that she said dogged Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard.

But overall, there was a focus from several candidates that whoever party members picked to represent them in the legislature, that person would also have to represent B.C. to the world.

As Lee put it, “they need to sell the B.C. brand.”

All current candidates, except for Lucy Sager, a Terrace businesswoman – turned out for the debate. The day before the debate, former education minister Mike Bernier dropped out of the race, offering his support to de Jong.

This was the first of six debates that will take place across the province in the lead up to the BC Liberals leadership convention in February.

Watch the debate below:


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This photo of approximately 10 years ago shows Laureen Fabian, on the left, and daughter Caterina Andrews. Fabian went missing last October and her daughter is looking for answers. (Contributed photo)
Laureen Fabian’s disappearance remains a mystery

It’s been a year since she went missing

Adam Schmidt is currently at the BC Children’s Hospital. (GoFundMe/Laurel Miller)
Community comes together for a 15 year old Burns Laker admitted at BC Children’s hospital

A fundraising campaign to support the family is being run now

Last year’s Halloween saw a sunny day and in-person costume contests. (Blair McBride photo)
What’s Burns Lakes’ spooktacular plan for this Halloween?

Trick or treating, online contests and more for this season

WKE students pose with carpentry tools in front of the ADST trailer that will allow the school to have a fully operational mobile wood shop. (Karen Ware photo/Lakes District News)
William Konkin Elementary school undertakes project to teach intentional kindness

Students to learn to build crates, grow produce and share it with community

Daylight savings time ends at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1 2020. (File Photo)
Clocks ‘fall back’ one hour Saturday night

Remember to set your clock back one hour on Saturday night, as… Continue reading

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as fake Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

Most Read