B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Todd Stone says he’s proud of many things his party achieved during its time in power. But it’s time for a change.
And the former transportation minister said he feels if his party is to be successful again, it will have to win back public support, specifically by attracting young people, women and visible minorities.
Speaking to the Capital News Wednesday while on his way to Kelowna to attend a reception following the annual general meetings of the three Central Okanagan Liberal riding associations, Stone said shortly after the B.C. Legislature reconvened earlier this fall with NDP in power, he looked across the aisle and noticed the disparity between the NDP ranks and his own party.
“They have seven of eight MLAs under 40, we have none. They have seven South Asian MLAs, we have one. They have five Chinese MLAs, we’ve got two,” said Stone.
At 45, Stone is the youngest candidate in the six-person Liberal leadership race. The Kamloops-South Thompson MLA is currently serving as his party’s municipal affairs critic.
He has been touring the province listening to the concerns of residents and said he has visited more than 60 communities in the North and the Interior in the last month. And what he’s hearing, he said, is that people in the North and the Interior do not feel the current NDP government understand their issues.
Stone recently released his plan for rural B.C., which includes what he considers a re-balancing of both sides in the energy resources debate. Stone said it’s looking likely the NDP will kill off the massive Site C damn project in northern B.C., a move he opposes and one he said could also kill off 2,400 jobs. He also supports the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project and the economic benefits he says it would bring to First Nations and municipalities along the route.
Stone wants to double the Rural Dividend Fund that provides money to small rural communities in B.C.to $50 million, eliminate the hospital capital tax that requires cities and towns outside the Lower Mainland to contribute to the cost of hospital expansion and extend high-speed internet across the province.
“I’m putting my ideas on the table,” said the former tech company CEO turned politician.
Dubbing his campaign “a new generation of leadership,” he said it’s not just rural British Columbians who are concerned about how B.C. is moving forward under the NDP.
Lower Mainland residents are also concerned about issues like housing affordability, the growing opioid crisis and transportation, issues he feels they are not being addressed adequately by the new NDP government. He noted in larger Interior cities, like Kelowna and Kamloops, those issues are also top of mind.
“These are urban centres in a rural setting,” he said of both cities.
Stone is also the only candidate in the Liberal race to categorically rule out any taxpayer subsidy for his party under the NDP’s plan to scrap corporate and union donations for political parties and replace them the with a $2.50-per-vote public subsidy. Under Stone’s leadership, the Liberals would not accept the subsidy, even it puts the party at a financial disadvantage to both the NDP and the B.C. Greens.
He is also opposed to changing B.C.’s way of electing MLAs to proportional representation, saying it will deprive smaller communities of a voice and will hurt the province economically because “perpetual” coalition governments won’t move forward with big projects because they will be afraid of losing support of other parties in the coalition.
“It’s bad for democracy and the economy,” said Stone.
The Liberal leadership candidates will debate each other Dec. 2 in Kelowna.
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