Today on Facebook, outgoing B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson made it official: despite his ill-advised initial plan to stay on in his job until his permanent successor is selected, he has now acceded to the demands for him to step aside forthwith, to make way for an interim leader.
That interim leader will be selected by the 28-member Liberal caucus on Monday morning (November 23), with six-term MLA Shirley Bond (Prince George–Valemount) and two-term MLA Peter Milobar (Kamloops–North Thompson) being the odds-on favourites to serve in that capacity.
Both of those individuals will have no shortage of social media critics, especially Bond, for her nearly 20 years of service—all but the last three-and-a-half years in opposition were cabinet.
Many teachers will be particularly unimpressed, given her tenure as education minister, responsible for early learning and literacy, during part of Gordon Campbell’s second term, some 15 years ago.
In that capacity, she had the impossible task of defending the indefensible in Campbell’s ongoing war with the B.C. Teachers' Federation in its epic successful battle to have his first administration’s contract-shredding finally deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Yet the Shirley Bond I know from my decade working closely with her is one of the most truly decent, razor-sharp, honestly compassionate, demonstrably capable, and deservedly beloved politicians whom I ever had the honour to know and serve in my unelected capacity.
Don’t take my word for it, read this flattering editorial from the Prince George Citizen.
It speaks volumes about why she is so widely respected and ever-popular in her own community and constituency, re-elected with 55.6 percent support, as her party suffered its worst loss in many decades.
For what it’s worth, I think the world of Bond and believe she would make a superb interim leader, for all that job entails.
Most obviously, because of her vast and unmatched cabinet experience, including as Campbell’s deputy premier, and as minister also in several other portfolios: advanced education; health services; transportation and infrastructure—all under Campbell.
And then under Clark, as minister of public safety and solicitor general; and lastly, as minister of jobs, tourism and skills training and minister responsible for labour.
For years, she impressed the hell out of me, especially in her capacity as vice-chair of treasury board, and through her leadership as chair of the cabinet committee to advance a new relationship with Indigenous peoples, and as a member of cabinet’s climate action committee.
Yet, her exhaustive cabinet experience and concomitant policy knowledge are only part of her considerable skill set.
In my experience, no one was a better, more respected and supportive “team player” in caucus than Bond. She never feared to say what needed to be said and she never failed to stick up for those who needed a boost, women MLAs especially.
No one could ask for a better friend, kind to a fault. When the chips were down, they could always count on Shirley to have their back.
Plus, from the word go, she proved herself to be a formidable debater in the legislature and a first-rate communicator. She was always clever, clear, humorous, and deeply on top of the issues in her portfolios.
And though I left government almost a decade ago, she hung in there, learning and growing all the while, including through one of the most turbulent periods in B.C. Liberal party history.
Think of it. Gordon Campbell led the party for 18 years from 1993 to 2011. Yet by the time the Liberals choose their next permanent leader, likely a year or two hence, they will have had five leaders in the space of as many years.
Whomever the Liberals choose as their interim leader, she or he will have their work cut out for them, to say the least.
First among them will be healing the bitter rifts and wounds within the party, a challenge that clearly demands someone of Bond’s esteemed stature and capability.
No doubt, many will scoff that what the Liberals really need most is a new face representing fresh blood and progressive ideals that are the opposite of Wilkinson’s failed leadership.
I say, don’t confuse the job of interim leader with that of a permanent leader, who, I agree, should certainly not come from the past or present caucus members who held senior portfolios in the Campbell and Clark governments.
Bond is exactly the type of person and personality who can successfully lead the B.C. Liberals through their existential crisis in the run-up to the leadership contest.
She also knows what it takes to serve as opposition leader and to begin the party’s rebranding with humility, respect, and courage.
Good luck, Shirley, should you agree to put your name forward for that largely thankless, emotionally taxing, and negatively fraught task.
In my books, you’ll always be a class act and a true credit to your constituents’ good sense and best angels.
Though none of that should be taken to absolve you from fair criticism in the months and years to come, should you become the Liberals’ interim leader. Still, if your colleagues are smart, they will give you their nod and trust on Monday.