Well, it was quite an interesting leadership contest with no shortage of drama!
As I walked through the convention centre prior to the evening officially getting underway, it was safe to say that most everyone was confident how the evening would begin, but not at all confident how it would end.
Most everyone in the room anticipated that Sam Sullivan would be the first person out of the contest. Sullivan – who was thought to have entered the race mostly to discuss ideas that he felt strongly about – ran a rather quiet, soft-spoken campaign and never really stood a chance; though, to his credit, he was self-aware enough to know what to expect and handled his defeat graciously.
In the same way most everyone in the room anticipated Sullivan would be out first, a similar consensus existed that Mike de Jong would be out second. Despite being popular in his home-town of Abbotsford, and despite having held several prominent cabinet positions over the years, de Jong’s often-times ‘over the top’ performance during the leadership race had many scratching their heads.
In addition to his often times awkward performance on stage, it certainly didn’t help when – in the days leading-up to voting – former BC Liberal Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett went on the record regarding the inaccurate surplus figures, stating that de Jong “either knew we had $2-billion more in surplus than he told us before the election, in which case he is not trustworthy, or he actually seriously messed up as finance minister in calculating the surplus, in which case he is incompetent.”
Sadly, unlike Sullivan, de Jong and his supporters seemed shocked not only by his loss, but by the fact he was out of the contest so early in the evening. Based on my conversations with others in the room, it was rather obvious that this was how the evening would begin.
With the elimination of Sullivan and de Jong, this is where the evening began to shift. It was anticipated early-on that the final race would come down to Dianne Watts and one of the other three remaining nominees – but who would actually make it in to the top two?
Mike Lee said on numerous occasions that he had signed-up the most members; that, however, would not necessarily translate in to votes, as not everyone who signs-up takes the time to vote. Todd Stone, just a couple of days before the event, said that accordingly to his polling data it was going to come down to he and Watts. Finally, Andrew Wilkinson, whose political history included serving as President of the BC Liberal Party before getting elected as an MLA, was said to have a strong base of support amongst long-time party members that would give him a competitive advantage.
At the end of the day, as we all now know, it was Wilkinson who secured the BC Liberal leadership and defeated Watts in what some in the party described as a ‘relief’ after numerous poor-performances by Watts during the leadership debates; perhaps, the very reason why – despite her credentials as the former Mayor of Surrey and her service as a Member of Parliament – she was unsuccessful.
For The Record…
Now that Andrew Wilkinson is the new leader of the BC Liberal Party and, as such, the new leader of the Official Opposition, the question then becomes whether or not he has what it takes to actually change the discourse within the BC Liberal Party and, of course, convince British Columbians that they can once again entrust the BC Liberals to form government.
Speaking for myself, I am admittedly somewhat unsettled.
On the one hand – believing we are defined by the company we keep – and having a great many reservations about Mike de Jong I, like former BC Liberal Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett, was disappointed that Wilkinson chose to make an ‘arrangement’ with de Jong regarding first and second ballots. On the other hand, I was encouraged when, in his victory speech, Wilkinson talked about building on the narratives established by Mike Lee and Todd Stone; both of whom campaigned on the importance of re-defining the BC Liberal Party.
These examples, interesting enough, perfectly illustrate the notions of ‘old guard’ versus ‘new guard’ that served as an underlying theme throughout the leadership contest. The question therefore becomes: when it’s time to turn words in to actions, how will Wilkinson lead? Granted, only time will tell, but suffice it to say the following can be said about how he ought to lead.
First and foremost – as I have written about before – it is imperative that the essence of the BC Liberal party changes. Simply put, there are far too many BC Liberals like myself who have had a ‘challenging’ relationship with the party due to poor leadership and internal politics. From the top-down mentality that has made headlines on far too many occasions, to the impact that has had on those who believe in the party ideologically, but struggle to defend it at times, Wilkinson must make good on his comments regarding the vision projected by Lee ad Stone, as noted in his victory speech.
In that same vein, Wilkinson needs to surround himself with the ‘next generation’ of BC Liberals who – like myself – believe strongly in what the party stands for, but want to see it evolve in to a far more inclusive, transparent and collaborative party. Perhaps it’s generational, perhaps it’s because the topic of leadership has grown in to a scholarly topic, or perhaps it’s a little bit of both, but the reality is that the notion of leadership and engagement has changed and organizations (and their leaders) must adapt their approach to accommodate and make the most of these changes.
As for Wilkinson himself, though I remain somewhat unsettled because of what feels like a push-and-pull battle between the past and the future, I will say that since becoming leader he has already taken some positive and encouraging steps that leave me feeling more optimistic with each passing day. To that end, so long as he uses his experience, intellect, and continues to maintain the narrative he established the evening of the leadership results, I do believe that he can lead our party in to a new chapter and help us regain the confidence of British Columbians!
Justin P. Goodrich is the Managing Partner of Alliance Public Affairs Group.
Previous editions of ‘For The Record’ can be found online at: www.patrika.ca/for-the-record.