B.C. Liberals: Endorsements give Todd Stone a credibility boost

VICTORIA — Two senior officials in former premier Christy Clark’s government have thrown their support behind Liberal leadership candidate Todd Stone, providing him with a boost as the race enters its final two weeks.

Dan Doyle and John Dyble were in charge of Clark’s cabinet, government and civil service. Both have taken out party memberships and endorsed a politician for the first time, lending decades of experience under Social Credit, NDP and Liberal governments to the Stone campaign.

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“We learned a big lesson in the last election,” said Doyle, Clark’s former chief of staff. “Christy knows that. I know that. The voters gave us some pretty good information about what we were doing wrong. The party has got to go in a new direction. I think Todd can take it there.”

Dyble was Clark’s deputy minister and head of the public service, giving him  unique insight her entire cabinet, including rival candidates Mike de Jong and Andrew Wilkinson. He said Stone is “the way the future needs to go.”

“I think I bring him the credibility coming from someone how has worked with a lot of politicians and has seen all of cabinet interacting together,” Dyble said in an interview. “I understand what leadership is in that forum, and understand how one needs to make decisions that are ultimately in the best for British Columbia and how to present those and articulate those. In my assessment, having seen all that, I think he’s the strongest candidate for premier.”

The endorsements from Dyble and Doyle are unlikely to cause a stampede to Stone. But they are important character endorsements. Stone has always had youth and charisma on his side. Yet some have long wondered if he’s more flash than substance after his time as Minister of Transportation was marked by a failed transit referendum, a dysfunctional relationship with Metro Vancouver mayors and other missteps.

Doyle provides Stone with some cover, even on the 2015 transit referendum. It was a bad idea, and poor policy, but Stone was obligated to follow through on it after Clark inserted the promise into the 2013 election campaign at the last minute.

“I don’t think it had any chance of success,” said Doyle. “He had a very tough job, and we put him in a tough spot.”

Doyle, 76, spent 50 years in government, including 36 years in the  Ministry of Transportation, a stint as chairman of B.C. Hydro and as executive in charge of construction for the 2010 Winter Olympics. He served 10 premiers, but he most compares Stone to former Socred transportation minister Alex Fraser. Both were able to put partisan politics aside and champion projects in the province’s best interest even in ridings where voters had elected opposition MLAs, said Doyle.

“He had different ideas than I heard around the table than others,” Doyle said of Stone. “And he took on some pretty tough shit and did a pretty good job of it.”

De Jong made headlines recently for acquiring the backing of interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman. Wilkinson, meanwhile, is relying on the groundwork of 13 sitting MLAs, the most of any contender.

“It’s a great asset because these people are vouching for you to the very same people who elected them,” Wilkinson said. He said his MLA endorsement list spans Vancouver Island (Michelle Stilwell), the coast (Ellis Ross), the Interior (Donna Barnett), the North (John Rustad and Mike Morris), Kootenays (Doug Clovechok, Tom Shypitka and former MLA Bill Bennett) and Metro Vancouver (Mary Polak and Tracy Redies), among others.

Wilkinson and de Jong also signed a deal on the weekend to encourage their supporters to cast second ballot votes for each other, in an attempt to boost the chances one of them could win if the other is eliminated.

The candidates with fewer endorsements, Dianne Watts, Michael Lee and Sam Sullivan, are clearly hoping that big-name supporters won’t make much of a difference in the race, because they don’t have many.

Sullivan has instead focused on setting himself apart with unique proposals, such as reintroducing the harmonized sales tax in a new modified form, allowing more privatization of health care, following Alberta’s model of charter schools and selling off government liquor stores. 

Meanwhile, Watts and Lee have instead focused in signing up as many new members as possible, believing that to be the best path to victory by locking up dedicated new supporters to the party.

Liberals begin voting in the leadership race Feb. 1 with results announced Feb. 3.

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