The Contenders: The Nice Guy - The Orca

The Contenders: The Nice Guy

Katy Merrifield

Katy Merrifield interviews the BC Liberal leadership candidates. Next up, political newcomer Val Litwin.

Summer is over, the federal election is done. Time to turn our eyes to the BC Liberal leadership race, fresh off its first debate last week.

I’ve interviewed most of the candidates so far (two more to go!) but my decision desk is ready to declare the best quote thus far to Val Litwin, the change-agent outsider who bluntly stated within minutes of our discussion:

“The first people that we need to convince we’re awesome is the party itself. This party is lying on the floor in the fetal position. We are the right party, but we have to convince ourselves first.”

As a lover of honesty even when it hurts, this spoke to me deeply.

To get the party off the ground and on its feet again, Litwin says first up is redefining success for the BC Liberals and kick-starting that change. “What I’m talking about is 61% of the population of BC is now under 40. And they’re demanding new solutions to old problems. What got us here? Fabulous, great. But it’s actually not going to get us to the next level.”

For Litwin, the world has substantially and irrevocably changed. Problems ranging from racism, the opioid crisis, climate change and Indigenous relations have only intensified. A fresh vision from a new leader that puts people back into the equation is the only solution.

So why is he the guy?

“I have the perspective of someone who has worked really deep in the trenches on public policy. In a way my last ten years has been very much a political path rather than a partisan one.”

Litwin served as the CEO of BC’s Chamber of Commerce for four years, co-founded the wildly popular Blo-Dry bar and served as Vice-President at Nurse Next Door.

“I’ve got business experience and I’ve spent a big chunk of my life giving back to the community through corporate social enterprise. I’m bringing the outsider perspective, but the experience of someone who knows people and who knows balance sheets. That’s the future of this party.”

Giving back is core to Litwin’s foundation and has been a life-long passion. In late 2001, deeply impacted by 9/11, he and a few friends hatched an “audacious plan” to travel across Canada committing random acts of kindness.

Based on a paper that encouraged building up social capital in communities to fight civic apathy, loneliness, and fear, Litwin and his friends resolved to take a year from their lives and build as much social capital as they could.

Raising almost $200,000 from corporate Canada they embarked on an “Extreme Kindness tour” spanning 110 days on the road and 29 hamlets, towns and cities. From roofing homes to cooking BBQ for the homeless, free hugs to skits at retirement homes, their mission was clear: Commit a kind act for someone and encourage them to pay it forward.

(If you’re wondering if Val is too good for the gutter-dwelling, hyper-partisan hellhole that is politics…same).

On the true opponent of the BC Liberals – the NDP – Litwin is thoughtful.

“They’ve created an incredible brand for themselves, and [John] Horgan is very relatable. Let’s remember they walked into a massive surplus though, and the environment they’re creating for business is stifling growth and competition. Young people can’t afford to stay in BC. They aren’t executing in a way that will change lives.”

Clearly, Litwin’s theme of graciousness and kindness has stayed with him throughout his life in both personal and professional capacities. It’s his chief mindset and message for his campaign.

“We have some thorny issues in front and ahead of us, but when I consider what BC needs now – what we will need if we want to play successful long game – I come to the same conclusion. We need more compassion.”

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.