BC Liberal leadership hopeful brings his vision of the future to Kelowna Tuesday

Who is Val Litwin?

The name Val Litwin may not be familiar to many British Columbians.

But the contender for the leadership of the BC Liberal party hopes enough party members will get to know him and his message when it comes time to select Andrew Wilkinson's successor on Feb. 5.

Litwin is one of six contenders for the leadership many pundits believe is former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon's to lose.

He has never held political office, but in an interview with Castanet News ahead of a meet-and-greet at Copper Brewing in Kelowna Tuesday evening, Litwin says in many ways, he has been working the "political space" for about 10 years, just never in a partisan way.

"As CEO of the BC Chamber which is obviously B.C.'s biggest and broadest business network, I've been walking the main streets of small towns and big cities all across B.C. for years talking to the main street business owners, the entrepreneurs, the community leaders and understanding the policy files and taking what's on the minds of our members straight to Victoria and Ottawa," said Litwin.

And, while he says he is a firm believer in fiscal responsibility — a Liberal party staple — he feels the party has lost sight of its social consciousness.

"We're going to need serious solutions on mental health, climate change, housing affordability. I think there is space for us in B.C. to be that party, because while the governing party has done some smart things, my experience is they don't truly understand the economic piece.

"B.C. has the need of a party that understands what drives everything else which is a thriving, vibrant, inclusive, diverse economy, but now we pair that with a social awareness. That's the moment we're in, that's what the electorate wants."

Litwin says the world has changed, and in order to resonate with voters, politics must change as well. That, he says, is more than just a strong economy.

According to Litwin, if that's all you're focused on, you miss the rest, which is where he says the Liberals have fallen short.

"This is not about the BC Liberal party not having a heart or not having what it takes to create a compassionate and inclusive society, this is actually about showing up as a modern political party and having answers on a part of the spectrum we haven't always paid attention to, but I know we can.

"The irony of this is you can't have the long-lasting investments in great social infrastructure if you don't know how to create a great economy."

Litwin says that's what separates the Liberals from the ruling NDP, understanding how to grow an economy which, in turn, pay for that social consciousness.

"You pair that with an awareness around how the world has changed when it comes to the opioid crisis, when it comes to homelessness, when it comes to eroding affordability, this party will be quite unbeatable because we have the economic chops to actually figure out some of those more complicated social issues."

To be successful, Litwin says the challenge facing the BC Liberals will be convincing people it can change, that it does have a social consciousness.

He says the question party members will answer when picking a new leader on Feb. 5 is, "are we ready to renew the party."

Electing someone new, and not someone from the old guard, will be a clear and immediate signal to British Columbians that change is happening.

"But it will take a new leader, a new mindset, a new playbook, to make progress on issues this party maybe hasn't been known for tackling," Litwin says.

"I think if people are serious about renewal and attracting new members to the party, they are going to have to make a new choice."

Part of that change could include a new party name, but Litwin says the time for that discussion is after a new leader is elected, and the direction of the party determined.

"If we just slap on a new coat of paint and change the logo without changing what's inside, I think we're toast," said Litwin.

"Yes, let's change the name, but if we're not super clear on how we are evolving what's under the hood, a name change doesn't matter. Before we pin down a new name, we have to clarify where we stand and what we value."

Litwin will meet party members at Copper Brewing on Kirschner Road between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

Five other hopefuls have also entered the race including Falcon, MLA's Ellis Ross, Renee Merrifield, Michael Lee and political strategist Gavin Dew.

Castanet will feature each of those running if and when they make a campaign stop in the Okanagan.

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