The B.C. Liberal Party isn’t sure it got its message across on Vancouver Island in the last election, and hopes to atone.
The party held a leadership debate at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Sunday. It was the third of six debates around British Columbia – the first two were in Surrey and Prince George, respectively – as the party looks to engage different parts of the province in its leadership race.
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Nanaimo was an interesting choice as a debate location, as Vancouver Island isn’t a home base for the Liberals. Michelle Stilwell, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, is the party’s only Vancouver Island representative in the legislature.
Several candidates spoke frankly about the B.C. Liberals’ shortcomings on Vancouver Island in the last election. In a vote that was so closely split, any riding that swung one way or another could be considered a difference maker, so the Island proved as critical as any region. A couple of candidates criticized the party’s Vancouver Island platform, released during last spring’s campaign, as underwhelming. Stilwell told the News Bulletin after Sunday’s debate that Vancouver Island sometimes seems to get forgotten by government and her party.
While the Liberals were strong throughout rural B.C., candidates acknowledged a poor showing in urban ridings and on the Island and suggested that the party must broaden its appeal to turn around election outcomes.
Elections almost always come down to voters’ views of the economy, and B.C.’s was chugging along nicely going into the last election. But voters will always have a micro view, not a macro view, and need to believe that the economy is working for them and their communities.
Leadership candidates talked a lot about reconnecting with people, and a grassroots movement. Whoever is the next leader of the B.C. Liberal Party will need to do those things on the Island and everywhere else.
Elections have a way of underlining how British Columbians are divided. And while we do have a lot in common, parties will need to recognize the ways that Vancouver Island is the same as other places, and yet different.