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Q&A with BC Liberal leadership candidate Michael Lee

Michael Lee, 56, is facing Gavin Dew, Kevin Falcon, Val Litwin, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield. Lee visited Kamloops and Sun Peaks on Oct.13 and joins Ross and Falcon as candidates to have visited Kamloops
Michael Lee
BC Liberal leadership candidate Michael Lee in downtown Kamloops on Oct. 13, 2021, outside of He Brews Ahava Coffee on Victoria Street, where he spoke with KTW

Michael Lee is one of six candidates vying for the BC Liberal leadership. Lee is MLA for Vancouver-Langara and ran for the party leadership in 2018, a race that led to Andrew Wilkinson claiming the crown.

Lee, 56, is facing Gavin Dew, Kevin Falcon, Val Litwin, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield. Lee visited Kamloops and Sun Peaks on Oct.13 and joins Ross and Falcon as candidates to have visited Kamloops.

BC Liberal party members will select their next leader on Feb. 5, 2022.

KTW’s Jessica Wallace sat down with Lee to discuss his leadership bid and other issues facing the Opposition party.

Q: Who are you and what do you tell people, when you meet them, about yourself?

A: I’m born and raised in Vancouver. My parents came from Hong Kong in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I grew up working in the community as a youth volunteer, working with youth at risk and youth leadership and working at social service organizations, children and family organizations. I have three young adult children now in their 20s and I had a career in the legal practice, practising business law with mining and forestry and energy companies and technology companies all over this province, including New Gold, which opened the New Afton mine [10 kilometres west of Kamloops]. I’ve certainly been involved with other mining operations as they open up mines, Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, shipping product through Prince Rupert and through Ridley Terminals. I’ve spent five of my 20 years working with BC Hydro in the energy space and know the energy backbone of our province well. … I came forward from 20 years in the private sector [Lee was elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in 2017] to really help elevate the excellence we expect from our elected representatives at any level of government or any political party. So I’m a big believer in restoring trust in government and our local party because I think, in order to win back the confidence of voters in this province, we need to do that.

Q: How do you do that?

A: By setting a new standard for our party. I have a code of conduct that I’ve implemented for our campaign team. I have a leadership accountability pledge in terms of how political campaigns ought to be run. I have a strong history in community in terms of working with community partners to expand our reach and making and ensuring our party is a welcoming place for all British Columbians, including those that have much of the diversity of our community, regardless of their age, their gender, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or their religion. I believe that our party needs to modernize because a lot has changed since 2017.

Q: A lot of people go into politics saying they will make change or do things differently. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted “sunny ways” in 2015, but his most recent election campaign looked a lot different. If you were to become leader, how would you maintain your optimism in the system? Over time, people get a little more jaded. How would you be different from other people who have tried to be the better person?

A: I think it’s how you rebuild a party. You need to win back the confidence and the trust of party members to win the leadership and then you broaden the appeal of the party, in terms of hopefully people recognizing what you stand for. I have put out, and it’s on my website — I guess now two-and-a-half weeks ago — I spoke at the launch about the values that we need to rebuild our party around. I put out five core values: accountability, compassion, community, integrity and inclusivity. And I believe those are five core values that our party needs to speak to. Certainly, those are the values that I would adhere to, so when people know my approach to leadership, as you say, they will have a better sense as to what I’m anchored on. I think that values based leadership is what we need — not just to lead our party, but to help navigate the challenges that we have in front of us.

Q: The last value you mentioned is “inclusivity.” I’m wondering what you think about recent news that social conservative political commentator Aaron Gunn is also vying for the BC Liberal leadership? What do you think about him?

A: There’s a couple things here. One is, he’s not a candidate. He hasn’t been approved by the party. The party needs to go through its process.

Q: Will it approve it?

A: That’s for the party to say.

Q: Should it?

A: That’s for the party to say. I think that I’ve been very clear with the values that I stand for. That includes inclusivity, as you point out. There is no place for intolerance, bigotry, any views or values that are counter to that. We need to be a place that is welcoming, regardless of, again, your age, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, your ethnicity — this is a place where you are welcome in our party. So, to the extent that anyone has espouses views that are intolerant, that person shouldn’t be a leader of our party, certainly. I think we need to find places of respect, places of discussion. But we do have values that I think this party needs to be rebuilt around, so I think we need to be really clear on that. That’s the reason I have that code of conduct that’s in place for my team. It makes it very clear because that’s all I can control here. I’m only a candidate in this race. The party needs to do its job. It needs to ensure they adhere to our constitution and I certainly am espousing views in terms of where I think the party should go. I’m very clear on that and for those who want to consider that, they can see how other candidates match with that. Hopefully, they’ll follow my lead and anyone that aspires to join our team should recognize that, as well.

Q: Do you think the party is ready for your style of politics if people like Aaron Gunn are looking to be leader?

A: That’s up for the party to determine. Firstly, you have the party organization to determine who is a candidate that has been approved to be a candidate on the stage. He has not been approved yet. I think that it’s up to the members to determine what party they want. I’m clear on what party I believe this party should be and that comes back to those values, the code of conduct, my party renewal policy talks about how we need to be a more welcoming and diverse party. I think clearly we need to do much more with young people, people with different backgrounds, women, others to include them in the future build of our party. We haven’t done that enough. We can do more, always. But in order to build truly an organization that’s connected to community and people’s issues and concerns, we need to rebuild and modernize this party.

Q: What are you doing in Kamloops and what do you see as issues in this community? What would you do to address them?

A: Kamloops is a place that I have come to with my family over the last 15 or 20 years to go skiing at Sun Peaks, as well as cross-country skiing at Silver Star in Vernon. [Has not tried Stake Lake]. Then the golfing, in terms of The Dunes and Sun Rivers.

Q: Do you have a handicap?

A: No. I’m not that good. I’m lucky if I break 100. So, I have some really close friends who have retired here. They’re like second sets of grandparents to my children. It’s my high school friend’s parents. He’s a retired forester here. They’ve lived up in Sun Rivers. They’re now living in an apartment behind the Costco, there’s a development there. But I know that coming up to Kamloops and seeing the change in the community, the importance of the economic growth, both through mine operations like New Afton. I know they’ve had some other considerations around the Ajax facility and all of that project. Obviously, Rocky Mountaineer has been tremendous growth for this community in terms of the tourism sector and I know that, obviously, now we’re suffering a bit of that in the pandemic. Thompson Rivers University certainly is an important example of how we need to continue to ensure we have strong educational facilities and the kind of work they do to train and retrain others in our communities, including in the Cariboo. I know they’ve got other initiatives there. And the law school, of course. I’ve had a former CA, constituency assistant, go to that law school. I know it’s a strong school. I know there are members on my campaign team now who are students at TRU. I think the challenge of growth, like any community, is ensuring that we have enough child-care spaces and I know that there is with the YMCA, they have some partnerships within the local community. I used to be on the foundation board of the YMCA. It’s the largest provider of child care in the province. It’s another example where we need to ensure this partnership with not-for-profit societies, I understand there’s a new Gateway facility that’s being opened up with more spaces. We understand the importance of continuing to recruit and train and pay well early-childhood educators. That’s a challenge as well. And then, of course, in terms of the downtown core and other parts of Kamloops, people are homeless and people are struggling on the streets. We need to continue to ensure there is more spaces, in terms of shelters. I know there has been an impact, in terms of the hockey arena here. It’s an example of where it’s not sustainable and it obviously has an impact on the local community. Also in terms, from a safety point of view, we need to ensure we find the right balance. Not just about housing and harm reduction, but it’s also is about recovery, as well. We need to continue to look at ways the community can support others to give them pathways to recovery and we need to give them those options. In terms of health care, and I probably should have started there first, as I travel the province, health care probably is the No. 1 issue for so many. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the continued challenge of even finding general practitioners. And I know that with the closing down of some of the medical clinics, including on Summit, which is where my friend’s family was living before, it’s a huge impact when you can’t get access to family physicians and the wait list for specialists.

Q: Kamloops residents drive to Chase and Sun Peaks to see doctors. How would you fix that?

A: I’m going to Sun Peaks this afternoon (Oct. 13). I’ll visit that community. That’s a community I have spent some time in. I think that, obviously, before coming back to that, I think that the nursing situation as well — we’ve seen the impact, the burnout, but also the moral burden that we place on our frontline health workers and nurses. We owe a lot to them in terms of the burden we put on them, through the pandemic, the wildfires, the heat wave. And I know there’s been a number of departures, including at Royal Inland Hospital. There’s a lot of strain on the system. I think the health-care system, as we come through the pandemic, obviously what we have to do is support each other to get through this. So vaccinations are vitally important.

Q: You’re vaccinated?

A: I am double vaccinated, yes, and I believe in vaccination in terms of it is the best way and it is the way we can get through this pandemic. So, I understand that people are hesitant and there’s others who are not in favour, but we’ve got to do everything we can do to help people understand and get the right level of information and support them in their choice because we need people to be vaccinated, including children to come. But I think in terms of the nursing situation, that’s been a real challenge that we need to continue to ensure that we obviously recruit and train more nurses and doctors. That’s part of the challenge, to make more people and medical personnel and health-care professionals available in our regions. I think that we need to have more integration in terms of local planning. We need to do that with all three levels of government, but we also need to ensure that Kamloops — in terms for its decision-making, as to what’s good for its health care — that we’re doing more partnership here and that we are having a better clear understanding of what its needs are. We talk about this in terms of even the cancer agency and what is available here and having to go to Kelowna versus here. That’s a personal issue for me because I do have friends in the Kamloops area who have had to struggle with that. I think we need more access here. I know that Todd Stone and Peter Milobar, two local MLAs, have been fighting hard for that and [Premier]John Horgan has not met those promises, despite even promising those in the 2020 election. I think that as we come forward, there are more ways that we can ensure that we work well with the local Kamloops community. It is clearly an important hub for the region here and it’s a growing one. These things are all interconnected in terms of the ability to grow more jobs in the community. We need more child care, we need better health care. We also need people to feel safe in their community and support each other.

Q: On Horgan’s full cancer care promise. A lot of people in Kamloops were disappointed to hear it walked back. The initial promise was within this mandate. Now it appears to be pushed back to within a 10-year period. If you became leader, then became premier, would you get it done faster than the NDP?

A: Yes. And I believe the whole team would, the whole BC Liberal team would. Todd Stone, Peter Milobar are on record as champions on that, holding the government to account. The whole BC Liberal team would. I believe myself and any candidate for our team would definitely commit to that, as I would.

Q: How many new members have you signed up to the party?

A: That’s a work in progress. I don’t have access to that, in terms of monitoring that. That’s something we’ll continue to build. The membership cutoff is mid-December.

More information on the BC Liberal leadership race can be found here, while Lee's leadership bid website can be found here.