Penticton MLA Dan Ashton is keeping his cards close to his chest as the B.C. Liberal Party gears up for a party convention to pick a new leader.
The voting starts Thursday and is expected to run through to Saturday on a ranked ballot system, in which party members rank the six candidates from highest preference to lowest.
Numerous high profile players in the party, as well as some backbenchers, have offered their endorsements — former Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff for Mike De Jong, Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson for Andrew Wilkinson — but Ashton said he’s taking a hands-off approach.
“It’s a democratic process. There are six very talented people, and I really think the party members need to make their own decision without any sway coming from quote-unquote an MLA,” he said, adding he will work well with anybody.
“What’s really important to me, as we all know elections are a little bit testy sometimes, but it’s incredibly important that we solidify around the new leader and bring forward a good platform that is very inclusive of the vast majority of British Columbians.”
Ashton acknowledged some concerns about divisions in the party, but said he is hopeful the party will be able to come together after a leader is selected.
Though he wasn’t willing to put forward his own endorsement, he withheld criticism of those who have, including interim leader Rich Coleman who endorsed De Jong, Ashton’s former boss in his tenure in the finance department.
He also declined to say whom he thought would be doing well in the race, but he did have a few main points, however, for what the party should be looking for.
“You want somebody with good recognition and persona that’s very well respected. You wanted somebody that’s going to take in not only the ideals of the party, but also be very inclusive of representing the entire province,” Ashton said, adding while big issues like housing and transportation are important, he suggested the next leader not forget the economy.
As for the debates, Ashton did express some regrets for the personal level of the rhetoric on stage in the final debate in Vancouver last week, with Wilkinson notably taking a particularly aggressive tack in the debate.
“I don’t like it when the dialogue gets personal. I’m not that type of individual,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should judge that — outburst isn’t the right word, but judge that section of the debate.”
Appointed to the interim shadow cabinet under Coleman, as Indigenous relations critic, Ashton said he felt he could prove his record to make the upper echelons of the party again, when the new leader picks its lineup of critics.
For the next leader, to be announced at the convention in Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver on Saturday, Ashton’s advice was to hit the ground running, with a budget expected to be tabled in the coming weeks.