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Former Whistler Chamber CEO running for BC Liberal leadership

Val Litwin hopes to bring ‘a new definition of success’ to B.C.
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Former Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin is making his first foray into politics with a bid for the BC Liberal leadership.

It’s been five years since Val Litwin left his role as the CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to take the reins of the BC Chamber, but he’s not forgetting the influence the resort had on him as he prepares for his next challenge: running for the leadership of the BC Liberals.

The three years he spent in Whistler helped shape his career, and even frame how he’s approaching his first foray into politics, Litwin said.

“I am forever grateful for the time I had up in Whistler, and for really appreciating up close how the secret sauce of creating a vibrant local economy is about businesses that are feeling supported, [whose] voices are being elevated in the direction of government so they can employ local people, and create exciting opportunities,” he said.

“It’s main street businesses that support their local charities, that staff local boards, so it’s all connected, and Whistler helped me see that.”

Despite his background in business, the 44-year-old entrepreneur and author isn’t about to pigeonhole his leadership campaign.

“I think for too long the BC Liberal party just hung its hat on the fact that, you know, we’re a pro-business party, and that is not enough to get over the line now in an election,” Litwin said.

“For me, the motivation to get into the race is I think the BC Liberal party and British Columbia itself are long overdue for a new definition of success.” 

Sixty-one per cent of B.C.’s population is now under the age of 40, and “they are demanding new solutions to old challenges,” Litwin said.

“I think most people are fatigued with the hyper-partisan tone of politics now. They want to see people getting to work and solving some of the problems that are impacting communities, whether it’s racial injustice, eroding affordability, an intensifying opioid crisis, climate change—they just want to see elected officials get to work.”

With that in mind, Litwin referred to himself as “the outsider candidate” who wants to bring people in. 

“I want to kick-start that change, so for me, the platform is going to be built around a party that still knows how to create a vibrant, inclusive, strong economy, but we are now going to deliver bigger and better for people—all peoples, communities and the environment—and the platform is going to be built around that idea,” he said.

“So we’re going to bring in really big policy ideas and creative new approaches to some of these old problems.”

One of those “old problems” is the issue of affordable housing, which Litwin sees as a supply issue, hampered by two chokepoints in particular: sluggish permitting processes at the municipal level, and a lack of proper zoning.

“We need land, zoned, for every type of housing that the market is asking for, and that’s affordable market, to rental, to low-income, to community housing, and projects to take care of and lift up our homeless population,” he said.

“So we need a full mix, but we need land to do it, and we have tons of land in British Columbia, but we just now have to get serious about what living in a world-class jurisdiction looks like.

“We’ve got net immigration, we’re growing, so how are we going to keep pace? Are we ready to tackle the problem? And I’m ready to tackle it.”

But the biggest problems facing the province still stem from COVID-19, and how people and businesses recover as cases recede.

“I think the first thing is we have to keep performing at a super high level on the public health side so we can open quickly,” Litwin said. 

“[And] the province needs to stay creative and attentive in terms of the business supports that are going out the door to keep these sectors intact.” 

While tourism was the sector hardest hit by the pandemic (and will likely be the last to recover), Litwin sees Whistler and B.C. as a “market of choice” when the borders reopen.

“So I would say for Whistler, there’s still some tough days ahead, I understand,” he said.

“But get ready, because on the other side of this I think Whistler will do well.”

The search for a new BC Liberal leader began after the resignation of former leader Andrew Wilkinson following last year’s election. The party currently holds 28 seats in the BC Legislature to the NDP’s 57.

The BC Liberal leadership vote is set for Feb. 5, 2022. Other candidates include MLAs Ellis Ross and Michael Lee, former MLA and deputy premier Kevin Falcon, and businessperson Gavin Dew.