The Fifth Element - The Orca

The Fifth Element

Katy Merrifield

With an energetic convention, and their leader going toe-to-toe with John Horgan, the BC Liberals have finally passed through the final stage of grief

Last week, British Columbians tuned into a debate between the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. Almost unheard of outside of an election period, it was a unique opportunity to see the two major party leaders go head to head on a single issue – electoral reform.

With 30 minutes, no notes and fairly complex subject matter, the two made their best attempt at winning the hearts and minds of those who hadn’t yet cast their ballot. (At the time, only 2.5% had, so that’s a significant number).

Andrew Wilkinson focused his attacks on the lack of details provided by the NDP government over the three proposed new electoral systems.

He forced Horgan to admit he didn’t know how many MLAs BC would have, or how votes would be allocated – things an impartial observer would admit are kind of important.

Horgan attempted a “hope and change” narrative, pandering to millennial voters and basically exemplifying Ronald Reagan’s nine most terrifying words – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

(Also, can we all agree that watching Theresa May compete on World of Dance would be more bearable than a 60-something white male politician tell us to be woke, much less lit?)

If you tuned in to hear each person speak in complete sentences without being interrupted, the format of the debate wasn’t ideal. But general consensus is Wilkinson effectively sowed enough seeds of doubt to edge out a win. His performance marked a victory for the BC Liberals – the latest in a string of wins over the past few weeks, after a year and a half of rebuilding.

Let’s be clear: those were badly-needed wins, because losing sucks.

Losing the party’s leader, the opportunity to direct government policy – and most importantly, the faith of the people of British Columbia – sucks really, really badly.

That’s why, over the past year and a bit we’ve seen an amorphous BC Liberal Party struggle through the five stages of grief while taking on the tough, thankless, and unenviable task of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

From initial denial, to anger, bargaining and depression, party members, MLAs and staff grappled with the age-old existential questions of “why am I here,” and “who am I, really.”

Thankfully, that question was answered at the BC Liberal convention. The fifth stage of grief – acceptance – was made clear in Wilkinson’s barnburner of a keynote speech: grace, compassion, and a commitment to do some things better.

The party is done with wishful and wistful thinking; that with just a couple hundred more votes, or another two seats (or even just one!) the BC Liberals could, and even would, form government again.

Wilkinson made it clear: the party needs to get on with rolling up its sleeves and doing some deep self-reflection plus a lot of listening and learning. It’s about innovative ideas. No entitlement to govern, but an authentic, inclusive party with fresh goals and ideas.

The new party slogan “Opportunity for all of BC” is an extension of the slogan from his successful leadership race, carefully chosen as a genuine reflection of his personal values. Without exception, Wilkinson has been adamant that he believes government is an assist, not a hinderance, and should focus on creating equality of opportunity. You can expect to hear that message from his party loud and clear.

The strivers are coming back – but I will end on this. As a very wise former cabinet minister once said to me, “Don’t forget, you can go from the penthouse to the outhouse with one wrong decision. Stay focused.” Bang on.


Katy Merrifield was B.C.’s youngest and first female director of a successful major party leadership campaign. She also served as Director of Communications under Premier Christy Clark, Strategic Advisor to Andrew Wilkinson and Executive Director of the BC Liberal Party.