3 out-of-the-box ideas for a B.C. Liberal comeback

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      No doubt, former premier Christy Clark is working the backrooms of the B.C. Liberal party plotting to remain leader into the next election.

      She'll face long odds, given that only one premier west of Quebec has ever managed to return to power after their party was defeated in a provincial campaign.

      Consider what's happened in three other parties where the leader outlasted his or her welcome:

      * In 2010, 13 B.C. NDP caucus members went public with their objections to Carole James's leadership. She stepped down.

      * In 2001, 13 Canadian Alliance members created an "Independent Alliance Caucus" because they weren't happy with Stockwell Day's leadership. Some returned to caucus, but seven formed their own "Democratic Representative Caucus". The party held a leadership race and Stephen Harper emerged as the winner.

      * Four members of then premier Bill Vander Zalm's Social Credit MLAs left the caucus to express their opposition. Vander Zalm did not lead his party into the next election.

      It would be very easy for a handful of B.C. Liberal caucus members to cook up a reason to sit as independents if Clark doesn't resign. If you're wondering who might be the first to bolt, I recommend keeping an eye on MLAs Sam Sullivan, Marvin Hunt, Jane Thornthwaite, Ralph Sultan, and Jackie Tegart.

      Even if no B.C. Liberal MLAs leave caucus, Clark still has a serious credibility issue with a large swath of the B.C. electorate, particularly in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.

      If the party wants to stage a lasting comeback, it's going to have to address this with some out-of-the-box ideas.

      Here are three to consider:

      Could B.C.'s next premier be Councillor Doug White of the Snuneymuxw First Nation? You read it here first.

      1. Elect a respected Indigenous person as party leader

      Nothing would go further in rebranding the B.C. Liberals than having a progressive Indigenous person heading the party. It would destabilize the NDP and the Greens, who've framed the B.C. Liberals as captives of Canada's oil industry.

      New Skeena B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross will be the first name that might come to mind for members of his caucus. But Ross represents the more rural part of B.C. that is already fairly safe B.C. Liberal territory.

      What the B.C. Liberals really need is an Indigenous leader who will appeal to urban and suburban voters and possibly help the party make a breakthrough on Vancouver Island.

      The obvious choice, in my mind, would be Councillor Doug White of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in the Nanaimo area. White is a brilliant and articulate lawyer, a former director of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada, and a former chief of his First Nation. His Coast Salish name is Kwul’a’sul’tun and his Nuu-chah-nulth name is Tlii’shin.

      Moreoever, White was elected by fellow chiefs to a three-year term on the First Nations Summit.

      As I write this, I can hear readers saying: "What about the Kinder Morgan pipeline? Where does White stand on this?"

      My answer? The pipeline's fate will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

      White could credibly respond to that question by saying that it really doesn't matter what any politician thinks because judges will make the final ruling. It's not really a provincial issue and the NDP and Greens aren't being straight if they think they can overrule the courts of this country.

      "If the court rejects the project, then it will be up to the federal government to decide if it will invoke Section 33 of the Constitution to determine if it will proceed," White might say. "And we all know that Justin Trudeau is very unlikely to invoke this notwithstanding clause of the constitution. That's because his father Pierre wasn't happy about this clause in the first place."

      Then Trudeau could dutifully step forward and confirm what White said was true.

      "Yes indeed, my Liberal government will not invoke the notwithstanding clause should the courts invalidate the pipeline approval," Trudeau might say.

      Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, a hereditary chief from the Ahousaht First Nation, would be a formidable B.C. Liberal candidate should he decide to enter provincial politics.
      Yolande Cole

      If White were to run for leader of the B.C. Liberal party, he would probably be backed by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's political machine. He would also likely enjoy the support of key Indigenous leaders such as former Assembly of First Nations grand chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and the Grant family at Musqueam.

      And if White were to win the B.C. Liberal leadership, former Musqueam councillor Wade Grant (son of Wendy Grant-John) just might step forward as a B.C. Liberal candidate against the NDP's David Eby in Vancouver-Point Grey. Grant is a former member of the Vancouver police board and has a high profile in the constituency.

      Atleo is a former chancellor of Vancouver Island University, which has made reconciliation with First Nations a core aspect of its mission.

      The reality is that NDP premier John Horgan took Nanaimo for granted when he refused to appoint either one of his two Nanaimo MLAs, Leonard Krog and Doug Routley, to cabinet.

      Were both of them not to seek reelection and the B.C. Liberals were to run Atleo and White in these two seats, the NDP might be in for a rude awakening. And if progressives around the province saw the B.C. Liberals led by an articulate Indigenous leader like White, it could generate a wave of support, particularly among those who put reconciliation near or at the top of their concerns. 

      Imagine the headlines if former Musqueam councillor Wade Grant took on Attorney General David Eby in Vancouver-Point Grey.

      Of course, there are many Indigenous leaders who support the NDP, including Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. But if the leadership of the First Nations Summit were to throw its support behind the B.C. Liberals, this has the potential to redraw the map of B.C. politics.

      It could be the NDP's worst nightmare if White, Atleo, Grant, and perhaps Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Stó:lō Tribal Council were to run in the next election on a platform of promoting economic development for Indigenous people.

      Once the NDP and Greens introduce campaign-finance reform, the B.C. Liberals will no longer be as beholden to billionaire grocery barons and developers, car dealers, and the fossil-fuel executives who've filled their party coffers.

      That will clear the way for the B.C. Liberals to evolve in unexpected ways. And that poses a longer term threat to B.C. NDP rule, particularly if the public feels that Horgan is overly beholden to organized labour. 

      2. Oppose the False Creek Flats hospital

      This is a no-brainer. Providence Health Care was pushing this for years. It couldn't get approved by former premier Gordon Campbell and former health minister Kevin Falcon.

      For many years, the hospital was also opposed by Sam Sullivan, who preferred retaining industrial-zoned land while upgrading the existing St. Paul's Hospital on Burrard Street.

      Clark and former finance minister Mike de Jong eventually capitulated to Providence. There was too much money to be made in real estate along Burrard and besides, the politicians could justify this by saying St. Paul's is an old building not suited for the needs of the 21st century.

      The public in Vancouver also likes the idea of a shiny new hospital.

      But here's the problem for the B.C. Liberals: hardly anyone in Vancouver supports their party. If they're going to win the next election, they're going to need to make a big bang in Maple Ridge and Surrey.

      The population is growing far more rapidly there than in Vancouver. And Surrey has only one acute-care hospital.

      It's easy to see how Surrey residents might be troubled to see Vancouver getting another major hospital on top of a massively expensive upgrade to B.C. Place Stadium, a shiny new convention centre, and five times as many SkyTrain stations as their city.

      A new B.C. Liberal leader might want to suggest that in the interest of fairness, it's more important to study the wisdom of developing a new and smaller acute-care facility that will serve the growing areas of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, and Surrey. 

      They could say that in the meantime, St. Paul's Hospital on Burrard will be upgraded, just as former health minister Falcon recommended.

      It would cost the B.C. Liberals some votes in Vancouver, but that would be more than offset by gains elsewhere in the region.

      3. Promise affordable housing on False Creek Flats

      The proposed hospital at False Creek Flats is going to gentrify the area that's home to many low-income residents. They'll be displaced.

      That will lead to protests and a barrage of negative media coverage. But if the hospital isn't built, the B.C. Liberals could promise lots of subsidized housing instead. They would look like they were serious about addressing Vancouver's housing crisis.

      For years, industrial land has been preserved as job space. But increasingly, urban residents are working from their homes. A case could be made for converting some of the industrial land at False Creek Flats for more housing, particularly if it were for rental units at affordable rates.

      It wouldn't please the property owners along Burrard Street, who will reap a windfall in asset appreciation once the hospital is gone. But if the NDP government introduces campaign finance reform, the B.C. Liberals won't have as much use for them in the future, anyway.

      The party is going to need populist policies that speak to the concern of millennial voters. In that regard, nothing tops housing.

      The only barrier is Metro Vancouver's regional growth strategy, which has strict rules about converting industrial land to other uses. But let's get real: the provincial government has a very big stick and at the end of the day, it can override a regional growth strategy with a legislative change.

      It happened several years ago when Metro Vancouver opposed the pace of development on UBC's Point Grey Campus. The province overruled the region, and barely anyone noticed.