Kelowna to host Liberal leadership debate

Kelowna to host Liberal leadership debate

With four visits from candidates last week, expect more in the coming weeks in the Kelowna area

Kelowna was a hot spot this week for Liberal leadership hopefuls as four different Liberals made stops in Kelowna, looking to drum up support to replace Christy Clark as Liberal party leader.

And the city is likely to be front and centre as the party looks to replace Clark with a vote in February. A scheduled leadership debate on Dec. 2 is set for Kelowna.

This week Mike DeJong, Diane Watts, Andrew Wilkinson and Michael Lee all appeared in Kelowna to speak to party supporters.

Local Liberal MLAs, Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) were also on hand at each of the events.

Both have yet to publicly endorse any of the eight candidates running for the Liberal leadership and Letnick said he will not do so until after the leadership candidates’ debate to be held in Kelowna. That debate will be open to all members of the public, not just B.C. Liberal Party members.

Letnick said a key requirement for whoever wins the leadership will be the ability to then go on to win the next provincial election.

“We need a leader who can beat (current NDP leader and Premier) John Horgan,” he said.

Both Letnick and Thomson said all the leadership candidates bring different strengths to the race and that is a good thing. The leadership race, said Thomson, is about moving forward, not looking back.

Watts, the former Surrey mayor who quit as a Conservative MP last month to run for leadership of the B.C. Liberals, says the party has to reconnect with British Columbians if it hopes to wrestle back power from the NDP in the next provincial election.

Speaking to a group of about 50 people at a downtown restaurant, Watts—considered by many to be the front-runner in the race—said it was clear from the loss of 11 seats by the party in the provincial election in the spring, the party has lost its connection to many British Columbians, especially in urban areas of the Lower Mainland.

“And we need to reconnect,” she said.

DeJong, the province’s former finance minister and long-time Abbotsford West MLA, used a hockey analogy Wednesday morning in Kelowna when describing what his party needs in a new leader.

He told the small group who turned out to hear him speak the governing NDP will “go into the corners with their sticks up,” so the Liberals need a captain who is not afraid to enter the fray and fight.

And, with his political track record, he said he’s the guy to do just that.

“We are a free-enterprise team,” said DeJong. “We need to work together to win, as we have in the past. We delivered the goods for 16 years.”

Andrew Wilkinson, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena and the province’s former advanced education minister, attorney general and technology, innovation and citizen’s services minister made a return visit to the city, his third since announcing his bid for the party leadership.

Wilkinson met with a small group of locals at the Rotary Centre for the Arts for a round-table discussion about local issues.

Prior to that, he told reporters he feels Kelowna is the “political heart” of both the province and for B.C Liberal Party.

“So, as this B.C. Liberal leadership race unfolds, Kelowna is where the action is and all of the candidates will be coming through here quite regularly,” he predicted.

Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee says the BC Liberal party needs more balance.

The former business lawyer is running in the party’s leadership race and made a pit stop in Kelowna Tuesday night at Farris Law.

“It’s not about making choices, which is a false choice between the economy and the environment and health care, social programs, or education. I think the BC Liberal party can find the right balance,” he said. “We have become too well-known for our focus on jobs and the economy.”

There are eight candidates in the running for the new Liberal leadership.

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kparnell@kelownacapnews.com

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Kelowna to host Liberal leadership debate