B.C. Liberals need more than a new leader, they need a new name and new direction | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. Liberals need more than a new leader, they need a new name and new direction

B.C. Liberal MLA-in-waiting Norm Letnick.
November 06, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Norm Letnick is one of many B.C. Liberals in the Okanagan and Kamloops regions who was quickly declared victorious in his re-election bid on election night, even though much of the vote remains to be counted.

But he doesn’t necessarily want to run under that banner again.

“I think we should look for a better name,” the Kelowna-Lake Country MLA-in-waiting told iNFOnews.ca. “There is some confusion amongst a few people out there. Most understand we’re basically a free enterprise party with a social conscience and if you bottle that in a name, I’d be happy to hear it.”

It shouldn’t be the B.C. Conservative Party because, not only is that name already taken, Letnick said, but it doesn’t represent the “big tent” nature of the party.

The party considered changing its name after Christy Clark took over as leader in 2011 but decided it was too close to an election to effectively rebrand.

But, clearly there is an identity problem when the B.C. Liberals appointed Renee Merrifield as their candidate in Okanagan-Mission just six months after she lost her bid to become the federal Conservative candidate in Kelowna-Lake Country.

“We’re not aligned with the federal Liberals or the federal Conservatives,” Letnick said. “I can go to a door and someone says, ‘I like you because I like Trudeau.’ And then you go to another door and they say ‘I like you because I like Harper’.”

So, a name change is definitely on the table as the party seeks a new leader after Andrew Wilkinson stepped down following the party’s resounding defeat by the NDP.

But it’s going to take more than a name change to revitalize the party, according to Wayne Pierce.

“It’s going to have to be a fresh face and it’s going to have to be somebody with a frigging personality,” he said. “I’m sorry, but Wilkinson was a wet noodle.”

Pierce has been involved in politics in B.C. for decades. He was campaign manager for Stephen Fuhr, a federal Liberal who pulled a major upset by winning Kelowna Lake Country in 2015. He also served as campaign manager for Colin Basran, now in his second term as Kelowna mayor.

He also helped Christy Clark become leader of the B.C. Liberals in 2011 when she qualified as an outsider after leaving politics for a time under Premier Gordon Campbell.

Part of the problem with Wilkinson, other than his personality, is that he was put into power by the “old boys network,” Pierce said.

Gordon Wilson, who Pierce described as a true Liberal, took over a fledgling B.C. Liberal party and led it to official opposition status before his extra-marital relationship with Kelowna-Mission MLA Judi Tyabji.

That triggered a leadership review and Wilson lost to the very conservative Gordon Campbell.

Pierce describes Clark, who took over from Campbell in 2011 and served as MLA for Kelowna-West, as more towards the middle of the political spectrum but the party swung back to the right under Wilkinson.

“In 2018, I had conversations with people locally who were looking after the Interior and I said, if you don’t change your style you’re going to get wiped out in the next election,” Pierce said.

While that prediction came true, it was only because the party lost support in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone did run for the leadership in 2018 and finished fourth. He did not return requests for interviews from iNFOnews.ca about whether he will run again.

While Pierce sees Stone as someone who is inside the party, the fact that he is not from the Lower Mainland would not harm his leadership ambitions, given the time he would have to rebuild the party.

“They’ve got four years,” Pierce said. “So, if they pick their leader in January, that individual has four years to develop a good team around them and good candidates in those areas where they lost close races. Then it becomes policy. If you’ve got good policy that sells to the consumer, then that’s a big part of the battle. Then, if you’ve got a charismatic, outgoing, well spoken, sincere leader then, boy, you can turn that ship around in a hurry.”

As for people he’s helped get elected, like Basran and Fuhr, he thinks they have the skills to do that job. But they are not likely to be interested in a party as it’s currently constituted.

“Based on the structure of the party right now I would doubt there is much interest from anybody that has more liberal thinking in their head that they would join what I call the Conservative Party of B.C.” Pierce said.

Letnick said he has no interest in running for the leadership.

“I believe a younger person would be better accepted in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island,” he said, noting his primary interest in serving as MLA is to further the interests of his constituents.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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