It’s been more than 10 months since Blair Wilson resigned from the Liberal Party to sit as an independent, but on the eve of a possible snap election the Liberal riding association for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country finally has a replacement.
Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, who announced his plans to run for the Liberals in the next federal election back in June, became the lone entry in the candidate race this past weekend. Of the three would-be candidates for the nomination, two were approved by the Liberal Party’s green light committee. Bal Brar, owner of the Harbour Hotel in West Vancouver, was the other approved candidate but she dropped out to support Sutherland.
The official nominating meeting is this Saturday in West Vancouver, and with the deadline for candidates passed and Sutherland having Brar’s support, it appears Sutherland will be the candidate.
Ken Halliday, president of the Liberal riding association, is confident that Sutherland can win.
“I think it was really helpful that the other candidate, Bal Brar, decided to withdraw in support of Ian,” said Halliday. “We’re looking forward to the campaign, it should be a vigorous contest, and we’re confident that Ian will do an incredible job for our party and we’re confident that he can win.”
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper preparing to drop an election writ in the new few weeks, Halliday believes that Sutherland will have ample opportunity to introduce himself to voters in West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast before election day.
“I just spoke to Ian this morning, and I know that he’s planning on knocking on doors in West Vancouver and everywhere in the riding, and of course he’ll be there for the all candidates meetings and other events.”
Halliday also said the party is entering this election in a better financial position than past elections. “Compared to the past two elections we’re starting out with money in the bank, which we didn’t have in the past,” he said.
For his part, Sutherland is ready to hit the campaign trail if an early election is called.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I had to go through a long thought process to make sure this was the right thing to do at this time, and it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to take part in a campaign as a Liberal candidate. I believe it’s a very important election for Canada, there are many important things to talk about.
“They call snap elections to catch people off guard, and I have to overcome that and work hard to get elected.”
Once he’s acclaimed as the candidate, Sutherland plans to tour the riding to introduce himself to the various communities, and to find out what issues are important to people. His first job if elected, he says, will always be to represent the people in his riding.
As for the issues that motivated him to run, he says the list is long.
“The environment will be front and centre to people in the community, I’ve already talked about the issues with many people,” he said.
“The fiscal situation is a huge issue, where government has increased spending 12 per cent the last two years and undid the great job Liberals did in balancing the books and building surpluses that are being whittled away day by day.
“Arts funding and support for the arts community has been a disappointment. There are infrastructure concerns — Prime Minister (Paul) Martin started a process rolling to give a share of gas taxes back to local governments to maintain transit, and we need to build on that. The Kyoto Accord was a well-thought out process that was torn apart without a plan for what to do next.”
Sutherland has seven years of political experience. He is serving his second term as mayor. He also has one term as a councillor in Squamish.
After discussing options with council members, Sutherland will stay on as mayor while campaigning, appoint councillors as acting mayors from time to time, and recuse himself from discussing or voting on any federal issues.
Sutherland will also find himself running against MP Blair Wilson, who resigned from the Liberal Party in October 2007 and joined the Green Party last weekend. When asked if he thought Wilson’s participation in the next election could split the progressive vote, Sutherland says it is something he is keeping in mind.
“Hopefully during the campaign people will have a chance to understand what’s going on, that I’m running for the Liberal Party, Wilson is running for the Green Party, and that it puts us in a different place. Blair (Wilson) is the MP and has name recognition, but at the end of the day my job is to get people to vote for the Liberal Party which has an opportunity to implement important ideas, rather than a party that won’t have a chance to form government.”