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Rob Shaw: Can young blood revive BC United?

Gordon Campbell offers endorsement as United unveils new candidates
Former premier Gordon Campbell is throwing his weight behind one particular candidate for the BC United party, which is struggling to gain traction in the polls after rebranding.

It takes a lot for Gordon Campbell to come out of retirement and wade into B.C. politics, but a new candidate from BC United — the latest in a series of impressive new recruitments — appears to have done the trick. 

The former premier has publicly endorsed Caroline Elliott as BC United’s new candidate in West Vancouver-Capilano, to replace retiring MLA Karin Kirkpatrick.

“Very few people I know are as savvy, as thoughtful and as focused as she is, so to have her even thinking of running as a young parent is exceptional,” Campbell said in an interview, adding he’s known Elliott since she worked as a staffer in his government in 2004.

“As I look at public life today, we need to have lots of people in their 30s and 40s running for office and winning. We need new ideas and new energy, new thoughts. It’s a brand new world. It’s a completely different world when I was the premier. 

“The world has changed dramatically and we need smart young people like her to do it.”

Elliott is currently vice-president of BC United, a political pundit and a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University in democratic theory and Canadian government.

She said she’s tired of watching the provincial government increase taxes, rack up debt, grow the civil service and still be unable to improve the state of health care, public safety or housing.

“I do believe that people know better than the government how to use their money,” said Elliott, 39.

“I’m a huge fan of choice, and the ability to exercise agency. So the best decisions that people can make, they make themselves.”

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon had said he’s unworried about current low polling numbers, because he intends to announce star candidates that can pull up public support in key ridings.

Falcon also announced Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss, a Surrey obstetrician and gynecologist who has publicly sounded alarm bells about declining care at Surrey Memorial Hospital, as the party’s candidate for Surrey-Cloverdale. 

“This summer I was reflecting on what I’ve achieved in my life and what I’m doing and realized the advocacy and leadership part of my work is what drives me,” Storness-Bliss said in an interview.

“At the same time I was getting really disappointed in the government’s response. And so I thought, I’ll just do it myself. So I called Kevin and asked him: ‘Could you use someone like me?’ And he said yes.”

United hopes Storness-Bliss can win back a riding the BC Liberals used to hold prior to the 2020 election, and help build momentum in the key battleground community of Surrey.

Storness-Bliss admits she’s a rookie to politics and not thrilled about putting herself in the public eye. The job, if she gets it, would mean a significant pay cut, and also leave her patients with a locum in her absence. But she said the NDP government has failed to listen to doctors and front-line health providers on how to fix the system.

“Not everybody is going to love me and that’s OK, I’m not doing this for popularity, and I don’t like the spotlight,” she said.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to get to a place I can make real changes in the health-care system.”

Both Elliott and Storness-Bliss admit they hesitated at the thought of entering politics as women with young families, at a time of increased toxicity. The NDP, United and Greens have all expressed worry that personal attacks and social media threats are discouraging a new generation of candidates, especially women.

“I have massive reservations about it,” said Elliott, who has two kids, aged four and six. “I’ve resisted for a long time, because my family’s young and I still have those reservations.”

The attacks will likely be more personal for Elliott because she’s related to Falcon. Her sister married him in the late 2000s.

“I worked for Kevin long before he was my brother-in-law,” she said. “And I stayed involved with the party long after he left politics in 2013.”

Storness-Bliss’s children are 10, 16 and 18, with her oldest, a powerlifter, offering to accompany his mom to public events as a bodyguard.

“It does get ugly, and it’s something that needs consideration,” she said. “Am I afraid of it? Not really. I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind. And it’s important to do it with integrity.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said his government is making progress improving health-care services in Surrey, which happens to be a key battleground in the election and the home community of several NDP cabinet ministers. 

But Storness-Bliss, 42, who has also been a department head and a university instructor, said: “If you go and ask anybody on the front lines, nothing has changed. It’s worse.” 

Elliott also said she’s not afraid to stand up and push government on the right policies, even if there’s an easier, more politically popular solution. It’s a trait Campbell said he admires.

“You don’t get as much done if all you worry about is being popular,” said Campbell.

“You have to look in the mirror and say this is what I’m elected to do. She’s got that quality and drive.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, you have to know what you are willing to lose for, as well as willing to live for.

“If you are elected and all you want to do is be elected, you will have 1,000 voices telling you what to do after you are elected and it all just goes flat. If you know what you want to do, there’s an opportunity to accomplish things.”

Both new candidates are hoping to do just that. First though, they’ll have to win their seats on Oct. 19.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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