The Contenders: The Builder - The Orca
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The Contenders: The Builder

Katy Merrifield
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Katy Merrifield interviews the BC Liberal leadership candidates. Next up, Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield

When Renee Merrifield (no, we are not related) was first starting her career, she was a consultant barely making enough money to cover childcare costs. Frustrated but ambitious, with only one asset to her name, she decided to find a way to make it on her own.

Merrifield walked into a money lender owning a Toyota Tercel and walked out with a cheque and no vehicle but the start of a new life. That initial investment in herself resulted in a 25-year entrepreneurial career spanning 31 companies in 11 different industries.

“I’m a leader. I don’t believe that I have all the answers, but I believe the answers are found when we listen and when we build consensus. I am someone who knows how to do that.”

Merrifield is in her first term as MLA for Kelowna-Mission but she’s not new to politics or the BC Liberal Party. Over the last two decades she has been a regular participant on panel discussions, task forces, economic development commissions, plus she served as a board member for Interior Health and the Premier’s Women’s Economic Council.

A member of the BC Liberal Party since the 1990s, I asked her what inspired her support. “The NDP’s horrific decade in government,” she responded drily.

Merrifield sees the current NDP as a similar iteration of the 1990s. “I think their moderation is a mask. It was a gift from the Green coalition and the pandemic. Now they’re going further left, and not in a good way.”

Citing a failed housing strategy, loss of jobs in health care and $250 million spent on fewer than 12,000 surgeries, Merrifield is blunt in her assessment:

“They are spending without outcomes, without directives. It’s spending for spending’s sake, and it’s out of control.”

“Taxpayers are revenue generators for the government and eventually they get tired of seeing waste. They want their surgeries done on time, they want treatment when they’re diagnosed with cancer. They want childcare, they want affordable housing, they want great jobs. Right now, we’re not on a trajectory for that.”

But to take on the NDP, Merrifield first has to win the leadership race. She plans to do that with a combination of pragmatism and ideas, along with a commitment to do politics differently.

“You’re not going to see dirty politics or a negative campaign from me in any way, shape or form. We need to do politics differently in order to attract diversity. It’s about doing what’s in the best interest of British Columbians rather than the interests of an individual politician.”

Merrifield’s central campaign message is “Building Better Belonging.” What does that mean?

“Building refers to values and principles; Better is about always moving forward and Belonging is a focus on unity and ensuring all people feel valued.”

One thing I admire about Renee is her commitment to the grassroots. When she talks about building consensus, empowering people and moving together as a team, I believe her. Frankly, you can’t build over 30 companies without knowing a thing or two about teamwork.

Speaking of teamwork, Merrifield plans to put forward a number of policies from healthcare to the environment and was recently asked if she was ever worried the NDP would take her ideas.

“No. We have unlimited ideas but British Columbians don’t have unlimited time. If [Health Minister Adrian] Dix or any other politician wants to use my idea, bravo. I could not care less. If we (BC Liberals) are good, we’re going to have even better ideas going forward.”

Idealistic? Yes. Refreshingly optimistic? Also yes. Now we’ll see if that optimism carries her campaign all the way to a February victory.

Katy Merrifield is the Vice-President for BC at Wellington Advocacy, who has served as Communications Director to Premiers of both Alberta and British Columbia, and was the youngest woman to run a winning leadership campaign in BC. 

SWIM ON:

  • Katy Merrifield last interviewed political neophyte – and nice guy – Val Litwin.
  • After an ugly incident suffered by one major figure in the race, #BCPOLI Hotstove looked at yet another stark example why we have to stamp out misogyny in politics.
  • The next BC Liberal program needs to be truly ambitious, argued Sebastian Zein.
SWIM ON