By Dan Walton
Special to the Chronicle
MLA Todd Stone made a visit to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards recently as part of his campaign to become the next leader of the BC Liberal Party.
“After three months of the NDP being in power – their brick-by-brick dismantling of the strong economic foundation we built for this province – I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch so I’ve thrown my name into this race,” he said.
Stone was joined by local MLA Linda Larson and a handful of local supporters.
He spoke highly of his leadership opponents, so he says the BC Liberals will be in good hands no matter who wins the leadership race. But as one of the party’s youngest MLAs at the age of 45, he believes he’s in the best position to rejuvenate the party brand.
“We have to invite more people than ever before into the party.”
Stone said the Liberals didn’t lose much support in the last election from voters who are old, white and male. So to regain a majority government, he plans to target voters of the younger, ethnically diverse and female demographics.
“The NDP has eight MLAs under 40. We have zero,” he said. “We have one South Asian MLA, the NDP have seven. They have five Chinese MLAs, we have two.”
Between this year’s election and the previous in 2013, Stone said the Liberals had around 62,000 fewer votes, and after combing through the numbers, it was discovered that 85 per cent of the support lost was from women.
“We need to acknowledge that we didn’t do everything right in the last election.”
Nevertheless, British Columbians can still appreciate the Liberals’ ability to create jobs and manage the economy, he said.
“But everybody needs to feel like they’re benefiting from a strong economy … a strong economy and jobs message might resonate in the Interior, but it didn’t resonate in Metro Vancouver.”
Unemployment rates are very low in the Lower Mainland, and “When you already have a job, you turn your attention to the next most important thing which is the quality of life,” Stone said.
If he becomes party leader, Stone wants to reach out to swing voters by making quality child care more accessible and offering subsidies for caregivers who look after loved ones. He also wants classrooms modernized with the “education and tools” that students will need.
“I have three little girls, 13, 11 and 8 years old. And I want the only limits of my daughters to be the limits of their own imaginations.”
Stone also has a plan for seniors’ care to allow everybody to age with dignity in their own homes for as long as they can, and he also hopes to implement a new, detailed mental health strategy.
He said 97 per cent of the province already has access to high speed Internet, “But we’re not where we need to be. There’s so much opportunity we can embrace by supporting tech companies, and that starts by making sure there’s high speed Internet. I’ve proposed a significant investment to ensure that all British Columbians have access to Internet and affordability.”
On the matter of the ongoing opioid crisis, Stone said the BC Liberals were nationally recognized for taking a lead role in dealing with the problem.
“But the fact of the matter is that it’s continuing to get worse. Far too many people are losing their lives over what is really a health emergency that requires an integrated approach to addressing it.”
A close friend of Stone’s – a young professional male – was just killed of a drug overdose seven weeks ago.
“They’re using alone in their homes or private places because of the stigma associated with drug use. We need to encourage people to talk about it and users not to use alone. No easy fix to this crisis but it’s affecting our loved ones. We have to continue to throw everything we have at it.”
When asked about police funding formulas for communities – which can be a heavy strain on small communities like Oliver and Osoyoos – Stone said a review is long overdue.
“There are all kinds of reasons why we need to step back, look at the funding formula and challenge ourselves as to whether or not there’s a more equitable way to do it.
For communities that are just below an artificial line in the sand compared to if your costs are just above – there needs to be some accommodation for that.”
The next leader of the BC Liberals will be decided by party members who will be casting ranked ballots. The election will be on Feb. 3, and only members who sign up by Dec. 29 will be eligible to vote.