Former B.C. finance minister Mike de Jong will announce his candidacy for the leadership of the B.C. Liberals today, joining a growing list of caucus colleagues and ex-mayors vying for the party’s top job.
Andrew Wilkinson, who served as attorney general and minister of advanced education, and Mike Bernier, who held the education portfolio, both put their names forward Monday.
Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee has scheduled a news conference for today and is expected to add his name to the slate of candidates that includes former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, and ex-Surrey mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts.
Former transportation minister Todd Stone and Terrace businesswoman Lucy Sager are also considering runs.
De Jong, a 23-year veteran of the legislature, said he has the experience to help rebuild the party and lead it to victory against NDP Premier John Horgan in the next election.
“But that is not automatic,“ he said. “And before we get there, we need a captain that can stand up to the NDP and Mr. Horgan, who can hold the government to account.”
De Jong said he’s well-positioned to preserve the Liberal coalition of federal Conservatives and Liberals. The Abbotsford West MLA said observers would be hard-pressed to peg him as one or the other.
“I haven’t been a member of a federal party, I think, for 30 years,” he said. “I made that decision when I joined this coalition. The captain of this team needs to be able to draw in and work with both — free from the suspicion that he or she is favouring one or the other.”
Wilkinson, meanwhile, touted his work as the party president prior to the Liberals’ near province-wide sweep in 2001. He said he has a “deep understanding” of the province based on his work as a doctor in the rural B.C. communities of Campbell River, Dease Lake and Lillooet as well as at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
“We hear about this rural-urban divide and I’ve got a lot of skepticism about that because British Columbians are all based on the idea that we need to have the skills to succeed, we need to have the opportunities and the employment to succeed, and then we want to get on with it and live the prosperous life that we all aspire to,” he said.
“That means, in essence, that we need a leader for all of B.C. and I think what I bring to this room and this table and this opportunity is that life experience, having lived all through this province and knowing how it works.”
Bernier, too, stressed his ability to bridge the rural-urban divide, noting that he grew up in North Vancouver before moving to northern B.C., where he served as mayor of Dawson Creek before becoming the Peace River South MLA. He acknowledged that many voters felt that the former B.C. Liberal government cared more about a Triple A credit rating than it did for people and their futures.
“Well, I do care and it’s why I want to lead this party,” he said. “We have to do a better job helping those in need.”