Todd Stone is taking lessons learned from the 2017 provincial election results and applying them to his leadership campaign for the BC Liberal Party.
Stone, one of six candidates vying for party leadership following the resignation of former premier Christy Clark, said there was a disconnect between voters and the party following the general election — an oft-cited observation by Liberal MLAs and political pundits.
“There are two pieces that I’m asking people to focus on,” said Stone, in an interview with the Cranbrook Townsman. “One is the message side of the equation, the other is the messenger side of the equation.
“I believe that all of those that are running for the leadership are going to talk about the importance of a strong economy, keeping taxes down, balancing budgets, creating the conditions in which business can do what it does best, which is create jobs. Those are core values to us as BC Liberals.
But I believe leading up to, and through the last election, we missed the mark on a number of issues on the social side of the equation.”
He punctuates his point by pointing to his sister, a special education teacher who works in Burnaby. Stone said the two sat down together and she explained to him why some of her friends voted for the party in 2013 but not in the last election.
“For one of them, it was lack of access to childcare,” said Stone. “Another one was struggling to look after her mother, who has Alzheimers and the supports aren’t just what they need to be in the health care system. And on and on the list goes.
“The point being is that a strong economy is not the end in and of itself. It’s a means to the end; you need that strong economy to have the resources to invest in the services that people need.”
Stone emphasizes the importance of connecting with families in his campaign platform, which includes a vision for the largest-ever investment in creating up to 75,000 new childcare spaces. Other policy initiatives include tackling affordable housing issues and harnessing the power of technology for education and rural economic development.
He came through Cranbrook on Tuesday to address supporters at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort.
— Todd Stone (@toddstonebc) November 14, 2017
First elected in the riding of Kamloops-South Thompson in 2013, Stone was immediately tapped by Clark to head up the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“I took that bull by the horns and made it my own and I’m really proud of our 10-year transportation plan, I’m proud of…no minister of transportation has invested more in rural side roads and secondary highways than I did in the four and a half years, no minister has done more to replace aging bridges around rural British Columbia than I did.”
Stone also touted his ability to bring in matching federal dollars for infrastructure projects as well as implementing a provincial airport infrastructure program.
While he was first elected into the legislature in 2013, Stone had previous political experience, serving as the executive assistant to former BC Liberal leaders Gordon Campbell and Gordon Wilson in the 1990s.
After the Liberals lost the 1996 election, he decided to leave politics and ‘get a real job’.
He found work with a software company based out of Ontario that grew too fast and was closing offices in BC. He decided to purchase some of the company assets and start his own business.
Thus, iCompass was born, which marketed software solutions for local governments looking to modernize how services are provided to citizens.
“It certainly wasn’t by design, I sort of fell into being an entrepreneur and a small business guy and really enjoyed it,” Stone said. “I’m not actually a technical person, but I know how to surround myself with really, really smart, technical people.
“That’s part of building great teams.”
He lives in Kamloops with his wife, Chantelle, and three young daughters, however, he has also called Victoria and Vancouver home in the past.
Stone says his experiences as a small business owner, cabinet minister and living inside and outside of the Metro Vancouver bubble helps him bridge the divide between urban and rural priorities.
“The fact that I represent a riding that is a city of 100,000 people that has a lot of the same kind of urban issues as experienced in Coquitlam or Burnaby or Surrey — housing affordability, transit issues, the opioid crisis and so forth — but is set within a rural setting where the resource economy is still king, affords me the unique perspective of being able to straddle both worlds.”
At 45 years of age, he’s also the youngest candidate in the race.
“I believe that out of the six people running for the leadership of the BC Liberal party, I’m the most relatable candidate, whether you talk about folks who live in northern BC or the southern part of the province, you talk about baby boomers or millennials, the urban-rural aspect of this.”
Stone played up his rural credentials, touting his support of the Site C dam in the Peace River region, a project that has become a political football since the NDP, in concert with the Green Party, toppled the former Liberal government through a non-confidence vote in June.
The NDP vowed to review the project during the election campaign, which they have done through the BC Utilities Commission since forming government.
A preliminary report from that review found that Site C is currently on time for completion in November 2024 but had inconclusive data to determine whether it would remain within its $8.335 billion budget, citing concerns over work delays and identified scenarios that could push the final cost up by 50 per cent.
Premier John Horgan has committed to making a final decision on the future of the dam by the end of the year.
“It will be nothing short of an absolute travesty if this government kills it,” said Stone, citing the potential for 100 years of clean hydro-electricity. “Most countries in the world would give their eyeteeth to having hydroelectric potential like we do in this province.”
Stone also insists there is a future for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) despite a recent decision by Petronas to cancel the Pacific Northwest project on the BC coast. Other LNG projects in Squamish (Woodfibre) and Vancouver Island (Steelhead) are moving ahead.
However, Alaska just landed a $43 billion LNG project that includes Chinese investors who were involved with Petronas in the Pacific Northwest proposal.
“We’re led to believe this isn’t a viable industry?” said Stone, noting that there has already been $20 billion spent developing the industry along with benefit-sharing agreements with First Nations and the creation of new environmental regulatory and tax regimes.
“What we need is a government that is going to fight for it, that’s not going to give up, that’s going to make it a priority,” he continued. “We had that under our former government. We don’t have that today.”
If there’s any one policy that’s united all of the BC Liberal leadership candidates, it would be opposition to NDP plans for a referendum on proportional representation.
Stone calls the proposed changes a ‘massive attack’ on the democratic process.
“I believe we have to mobilize a grassroots campaign like no other grassroots campaign in the history of this province,” he said, “to rise up and push back and say ‘No, this is not acceptable’.”
The NDP tabled a bill outlining plans for a referendum on electoral reform by the end of Nov. 2018. That referendum would require a 50 per cent plus one threshold to pass, but details are scarce on the format of proportional representation, which could include either a single transferable vote or a mixed member system.
“I like our current system with all it’s warts,” Stone said. “It does provide for majority governments most of the time. It does allow for governments, when they have majorities, to actually plan and think long-term and make big, bold decisions and big investments.”
Running alongside Stone for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party are Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan, Michael Lee, Dianne Watts, and Mike De Jong. All have served in the provincial legislature except for Watts, who is a former mayor of Surrey and a federal Conservative cabinet minister.
The leadership vote is set for Feb. 1-3, 2018.