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Michael Lee looks to broaden BC Liberal appeal, tackle polarized economic debate

He’s new to the legislature but he’s not new to politics. That was Michael Lee’s message to BC Liberal members in Fort St. John last week as part of a stop during his campaign to lead the party heading into the next session of parliament.
BC Liberal leadership candidate Michael Lee was in Fort St. John on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, meeting with party members ahead of their leadership convention in February.

He’s new to the legislature but he’s not new to politics. That was Michael Lee’s message to BC Liberal members in Fort St. John last week as part of a stop during his campaign to lead the party heading into the next session of parliament.

“I felt I had a different skill set to bring to government, because I believe we need to look at things differently,” said Lee, a first-time MLA for Vancouver-Langara, in an interview Jan. 12 about his leadership run. 

Lee, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, has a lengthy academic resume to his name, earning a political science degree from the University of British Columbia, where he focused on environmental regulations, and a law degree from the University of Victoria before becoming a business lawyer and working for companies in the mining, forestry, hydroelectric, and oil and gas sectors.

He first joined the PC Party during his “formative years” in 1980s and early 1990s where he worked under Kim Campbell, and joined the BC Liberals in 2002, where he has largely been working behind the scenes until now. 

Political pundits in the province have been noticing Lee’s increasing profile in the campaign, calling him a “genuine threat” and noting Lee has signed up the most new members ahead of the party’s leadership convention at the start of February.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in public service and government policy,” Lee said, noting he decided not to run for office until his three children were finished high school.

For the Liberals to be successful, Lee says it has to “win back urban B.C.” by broadening its appeal to youth and ethnic voters, and addressing what he calls a “stark polarization” between the economy and the environment in the province.

“I don't believe it’s a choice between either or. I think we can build a strong economy, continue to do that, but also continue to steward our environment and do our part in dealing with climate change and what's happening on our planet,” Lee said.

B.C. is an Asia-Pacific facing province, Lee said, which is important in continuing to attract trade and investment here and support the province's ports, highways, and pipeline systems.

“I want to continue to find the right level of collaboration and partnership to attract more trade and investment here. We have the infrastructure,” he said.

At the same time, Lee said regional economic plans are needed throughout the province to build out populations and economies in rural B.C. that extract and help deliver provincial resources to market. 

“We're connected in this,” he said. “As a provincial government, as a political party, we need to work with municipal partners, regional districts, federal partners for stronger planning to get on same page.”

The BC Liberals will vote on a new leader Feb. 1 to 13, ahead of the next legislative session set to start Feb. 13. Also in the running are MLAs Todd Stone, Michael de Jong, Andrew Wilkinson, and Sam Sullivan, as is former Conservative MP and Surrey mayor Dianne Watts. 

Peace River North and South Liberal MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier have endorsed de Jong, the former finance minister.

On Site C

“I'm in favour of Site C. I believe that Site C is more than just about jobs. Those are important, and the 2,200 jobs that were at stake, that was important. But it's also about clean, renewable power for generations to come. We need to continue to support that. In terms of resource extraction in this province, we have an advantage in this province and that is the hydroelectric system. We need to further that as we continue to look at ways to lower our carbon footprint."

On natural gas

"We're strong here, in terms of the Horn River and Montney reserves. The opportunities we have in the province we need to continue as a province to support that build out."

On forestry

"Forestry has been through some interesting cycles here, challenges with the pine beetle, forest fires, the current status with NAFTA, softwood lumber negotiations. We need to continue to support that industry though in ways that bring more value added products to our wood as it’s getting shipped out of Prince Rupert or otherwise. I think there are opportunities there. I see those opportunities within the Asia Pacific as well."

On agriculture

"We need to raise our agriculture spending to meet the national average. British Columbia is below the national average even in terms of how much as a provincial government we spend on agriculture. We need to promote more marketing, the innovation, in terms of new breeds of tree fruits, for example, and modern management. I believe as a province we should be spending more money on agriculture to support that industry, and iv'e said in my platform it's going to be about $100 million over five years to do that."

On technology

"I think technology is in the resource industry, in terms of new ways of doing things. There's a real strength there. I used to be the chair of the UBC alumni board and I recognize the importance of having UBCO in Kelowna, and obviously we have UNBC, we have a network of colleges and universities all over this province. We should be supporting the innovation and research and technology advancement and entrepreneurship through that network. Working with local companies, young people who want to stay in their region, that's another way of getting critical mass, whether its healthcare professionals or young people wanting to build a business."