The need to create a new brand and a new strategy dominated the talk at the BC Liberal convention in Vancouver on Saturday.
BC Liberals, only a few seats away from governing the province in the minority legislature, are trying to figure out how to get back to power after last year’s election ended their 16-year run in government. It is a question that loomed over this weekend’s party convention.
The opposition party is focused on supporting the 'no’ side in a referendum on proportional representation for the province, but is still facing the larger question of developing a fresh pitch for support of B.C. voters.
The Liberals have 42 seats in the 87-seat legislature. The 41-member NDP caucus is governing with support from three members of the provincial Green party. There is one independent.
NDP premier John Horgan, who came to power last year, has spoken of governing for at least four years, and an NDP representative on the convention ruled out a tactical election call.
‘We’re not going to play these games of ‘now is the time to call an election,’" said NDP observer Ravi Kahlon, parliamentary secretary for sport and multiculturalism. “We have a lot of work to do. People elected us to do that work.”
Speaking to about 1,000 delegates, Jess Ketchum, a member of the BC Liberal campaign readiness committee, said it’s clear that, in the 2017 election, the party lost ground with working-class British Columbians he dubbed “strivers” because they are trying to make a better life for themselves.
“What they’re looking for in a government is a government that makes it easier, not harder, to live in British Columbia; a government that creates, not barriers, to success, but opportunities that are available for all British Columbians.”
That reality, tested by the party in focus groups, led to a rebranding of the the party, announced Saturday, from Today’s BC Liberals to BC Liberals - Opportunity for all of BC.
Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson said work is underway on a platform. “That’s coming together very nicely,” he told reporters after a keynote speech.
Asked about what went wrong for the Liberals in the last election, Mr. Wilkinson said that the party was talking in the last election from 30,000 feet about debt ratings and credit rations rather than people’s core values.
“The NDP were in their living rooms in suburban Vancouver,” said Mr. Wilkinson, who succeeded former premier Christy Clark as party leader eight months ago.
“There’s something to be learned from that. Politics is very local. You have got to talk to people in their own terms about their own concerns and make sure they feel they are being heard,” said Mr. Wilkinson.
He said the process of bringing about a thousand people together to debate resolutions was an opportunity to listen to the grassroots that will help in the development of an election platform
Still, Mr. Wilkinson talked about some early ideas, including the elimination of 18 taxes he said the NDP has enacted since it came to power last year.
Mr. WIlkinson, whose party when in power had been pilloried for its management of ICBC -- the provincial crown corporation vehicle-insurance company, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia -- said it may be time for a rethink of the “pretty tired” operation after its 45 years of operation,.
“We have also got to talk about the things that we could have done that could have been done better. We have got to be prepared to review and reassess things that have come up in the past."
The tight party standings in the B.C. legislature could get narrower in coming months. One of the NDP members last month won the mayoralty of Nanaimo, setting the stage for his exit from provincial politics.
If the BC Liberals win an eventual byelection in the riding, they would be in a tie with the NDP-Green party governing alliance. The independent member of the legislature is former Liberal Darryl Plecas, now the speaker.