If I had to pick a winner (and, oh yes I do) of Saturday’s Liberal leaders’ debate, I would give the win to Mike de Jong.
He was very relaxed and at ease and he has the benefit of being in government for the past 16 years. Much like Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, de Jong has held pretty much every major portfolio there is, so you expect that he can speak knowledgeably about government at many different levels.
That experience and knowledge showed through. While that was de Jong’s strength during the leaders’ debate, it is also be his weakness – he was not only a part of both the Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark governments, but a big part.
If the party, and subsequently the electorate, wants to distance itself from that era, then de Jong carries an indelible scarlet letter.
It’s certainly an issue that sets Dianne Watts apart, and she certainly tried to capitalize on it, making sure everyone knew that she had nothing to do with the previous Liberal administration while all five of the other contenders did.
It’s a good strategy because in a battle of six like-minded individuals, everyone has to look for something to set them apart. And the others responded, attacking Watts more than any of the other contenders.
Watts, however, seemed nervous at times and misjudged the northern B.C. audience for whom “being mayor of a city with 520,000 people,” only reiterates the fact she’s another big city person who doesn’t really understand the 250. Yes, she can probably deliver seats in Surrey, but up here we want provincial politics to be more than transit and tolls.
Andrew Wilkinson, who I would say finished a close second in the debate, had his best ‘fatherly physician’ face on, coming across as steady and measured. He did have the most interesting comment of the debate. When Watts asked him about the infamous ‘clone speech,’ that Clark unveiled after it was clear the Liberals were about to lose their grip on power, Wilkinson said the cabinet was as dumbfounded as the public over the Liberals’ sudden embracing of NDP policies.
“We shouldn’t have gone down that road,” he said, however it should be noted he said nothing of the sort at the time.
Todd Stone was steady and being the only contender from outside the Lower Mainland, should have been a crowd favourite. He held his own, but didn’t really shine.
Michael Lee and Sam Sullivan were obvious also-rans in the debate.
The other obvious thing at the debate – five of the six candidates are from the Lower Mainland and it showed. With the last election splitting the province almost completely along the Interior/Lower Mainland divide, whoever the Liberals pick as leader, their support is in the Interior of the province and they had best understand that and, consequently, learn to understand the Interior of B.C.