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Enter the outsider

Rob Shaw 2
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Rob Shaw: Former BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin has officially entered the BC Liberal leadership race – and created a fascinating dynamic.

The sudden launch of former BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin’s leadership campaign has created an interesting dynamic in the early days of the BC Liberal leadership race.

His entrance added a splash of spice to the campaign, starting with a unique and dynamic launch video that’s earned quiet kudos from competitors, and followed by a series of media interviews in which he’s carved out space as the race’s early “outsider” candidate.

There are major advantages to this approach – Litwin, 41, has no baggage, expectations or historical complications within the party as he pursues his campaign to reform the BC Liberals.

“I think the opportunity for the BC Liberal Party is to shake off the old rust of the brand which is that we’re all pro-business only party,” he said in an interview.

“And that I think is how people viewed us. But now we get to be a party that understands how to create a competitive jurisdiction, which is probably one of the most gifted in the world, but to wrap that narrative around people and supporting all peoples and communities and also the environment in BC. And that’s a major opportunity.”

But that outsider status also means he also has no existing base of support within the party’s membership, either built up through time served as an MLA (like Ellis Ross, Michael Lee, or Kevin Falcon), or garnered as a former candidate (Gavin Dew).

Litwin is a blank slate, with the pros and cons that entails during an eight-month leadership race ultimately decided by signing up new party members.

“I think the BC Liberal Party has some brand perception challenges out there,” said Litwin.

“And it could be harder for some candidates who are working from within the party to own the renewal message.

“My belief is that I have the opportunity to call new people into the party, maybe those lapsed (BC) Liberal that are sitting out there that are waiting for a true change candidate but who has a grounding in the public policy stuff and understand the problems, the energy projects, the economies, that make this province so diverse and strong.”

Much of running a leadership campaign is the behind-the-scenes machinations required to mass enroll as many new supporters as possible, while also trying to tip a small group of existing party members in each of the 87 ridings to your favour. It’s part ruthless aggression, part delicate diplomacy.

Some candidates will try to springboard off MLA endorsements to capture ridings, but Litwin said his years heading the BC Chamber of Commerce gave him connections across the province that he’ll draw upon in the race.

“My experience, especially in the last 10 years, has really been if you just look at the transactional pieces of it very akin to being an elected official,” he said.

“I would spend every week at the BC Chamber flying around the province, meeting with mainstream businesses and hearing about what’s keeping them up at night, turning it into sharp policy recommendations that then get delivered to Victoria and Ottawa with zero distortion.

“And you build those communities at the local level – my caucus if I can use that analogy. When I ran the BC Chamber, I had 125 regional chamber CEOs all with very different agendas, economic priorities, social concerns, and so I’ve been in that position where I’m the honest broker between opinions and feelings of communities and people around BC but ultimately finding a way forward that works, that works for everyone.”

Litwin said the first phase of his campaign was “to establish our campaign as a legitimate contender.”

Consider that job done. He’s raised eyebrows and piqued curiosity across the board.

What happens next is hard to predict in a race where at least two more candidates are expected to declare and with 31 weeks to go before February’s vote.

rob@robshawnews.com

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