Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier announces his candidacy for the B.C. Liberal leadership in Vancouver, Sept. 25, 2017. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

Bernier joins race for B.C. Liberal leadership

Former education minister promises ‘empathy’

Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier says he can bridge the gap between urban and rural B.C. as leader of the B.C. Liberal party.

Bernier announced his candidacy in Vancouver Monday, hours after Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson launched his bid to replace B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark. He was introduced by Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, who referred to other MLAs and municipal leaders.

Bernier said he is “distancing myself” from the post-election throne speech presented by Clark, because it looked too much like a political move. The B.C. Liberals should have had more to offer on child care to counter the NDP’s $10-a-day proposal, he said.

In an interview with Black Press, Bernier said he was born and raised in North Vancouver before moving to Dawson Creek and becoming mayor and then MLA.

“I moved to rural B.C. in the 1990s, when jobs slowed down,” Bernier said. “A lot of my friends went to Alberta. I went north and spent the remainder of my work life before politics up there.

“I’m the candidate to bridge that rural-urban – the way I’m referencing it is the rural-urban misunderstanding. It’s not a divide. It’s the fact that there are unique differences and unique challenges in rural B.C. and urban B.C. that you can’t use a cookie cutter approach to fix.”

Asked if his move to fire the Vancouver school board for refusing to submit a balanced budget was going to hurt him in the Lower Mainland, Bernier replied:

“Most people I’ve talked to have actually said that was a plus for me, a positive, because I actually showed in a difficult situation where people were saying ‘don’t do it because it could be politically sensitive,’ I stood up and said I’m doing it anyway because it’s the right thing to do for the situation, to try to bring stability to Vancouver.”

Bernier began his pitch to party members by describing the “harsh” message he got after losing the government to an NDP-B.C. Green alliance after the May election.

“One of the reasons why I’m running is the fact that we worked really hard to have jobs, strong economy, triple-A credit rating, all the stuff you’ve heard from the B.C. Liberals, but what we failed to do is close the circle,” Bernier said. “We forgot that’s all a tool to make sure we have the economic means to support people in the province for the social programs that they need and they deserve.

“I will be the candidate that people will see that has not only the leadership and the decision-making ability but the empathy that a leader needs right now.”

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