Five guiding principles for the next B.C. Liberal leader

Christy Clark’s departure creates opportunity for party to renew itself

With Christy Clark’s departure from public life comes an opportunity for the B.C. Liberal Party to renew itself under new leadership. There is plenty of speculation as to who will run for the job.

More importantly, however, we should ask what the candidates will stand for.

If the 2017 B.C. election taught us anything, it is that our province is not immune to the sea change affecting democracies around the world. Social media, the disruptive economy, the flow of global capital and an aging society are just some of the major forces that are making election outcomes so unpredictable lately.

We should predict that the next leader will appeal to both the liberal and conservative leaning wings of the party.

They will of course uphold the principles of balanced budgets, show their free enterprise bona fides by keeping taxes low on individuals and businesses, and support the resource economy of which Site C dam and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project have become emblems.

But other themes have emerged, particularly during the spring campaign, that all prospective B.C. Liberal leadership candidates should take to heart.

I’ve grouped them into five categories.

1. Close the empathy gap

Last April, I overheard a voter being canvassed at her doorstep, who claimed to be generally satisfied with Clark’s government with one exception — “poverty.” Not enough of British Columbians were benefiting from the province’s overall economic success, she said.

Though Clark herself touted B.C.’s Single Parent Employment Initiative on her re-election campaign, the B.C. Liberals struggled under the weight of public opinion that the party did not care for the little guy.

The next leader must therefore be able to close that “empathy gap” with voters who perceive — perhaps unfairly — that B.C. Liberal governments are uninterested in people’s welfare.

2. Have a plan for our cities

The urbanization of our planet is happening with remarkable speed, yet the growth and influence of our urban centres are rarely acknowledged by provincial governments. To be fair, some of our mayors have been openly hostile in their dealings with Victoria. But any future leader of the B.C. Liberal Party will have to look past the parochialism of some municipalities, and put collaboration with local governments as a top priority.

The B.C. Liberals must enable cities to become more enterprising through tax reforms, regional economic planning, or by establishing a non-partisan transportation secretariat to help plan and capitalize new systems to move people and goods over the long term.

3. Prepare for massive change brought on by technology

Disruptive innovation is rapidly changing how we work, shop, travel, communicate and connect as a society. Some analysts predict that artificial intelligence and robotics could replace up to 50 per cent of all jobs within a decade.

No government likes to consider the likelihood of hyper-unemployment and human jobs displaced by machines, but our leaders should be talking about the economy of five, 10, or 25 years in the future.

While critics decried Clark’s emphasis on LNG as a way to grow the economy, the next leader of the B.C. Liberal Party must be equally single-minded when it comes to embracing disruptive innovation.

4. Govern with less partisanship and more openness

While politicians should always be prepared to defend their principles, being overly partisan has become passé. Partisanship repels good people away from public service, and undermines faith in our democratic institutions. Look to the U.S. to see what politics riven by partisanship has become.

Abiding to principles of openness and transparency is another important quality of leadership. Openness will help, not hinder the party’s agenda by building public trust, and by stamping out corrosive misinformation circulated via social media.

5. Challenge past B.C. Liberal policies

We should assume that any B.C. Liberal policies will be subject to review or outright rejection by the governing B.C. NDP.

A new party leader should similarly have no policy sacred cows. They must be prepared to bring about new regulations, taxation regimes and institutions that support British Columbians’ long-term prosperity.

These are my five. Others will have theirs. I look forward to seeing how all the candidates plan to lead the party and the province.


Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper.