Starting Gunn: Seventh candidate joins Liberal leadership race

By Shannon Waters October 13, 2021

After months of coy maneuvering and plenty of speculation, Aaron Gunn officially announced his bid to become the next BC Liberal leader on Saturday.

Gunn is running on a promise to scrap the provincial carbon tax — a policy implemented by a Liberal government in 2008 — and axe ICBC.

His campaign slogan? “Bring back common sense.”

“I am tired of standing on the sidelines, and I am tired of watching this province — and this country, I might add — continue to head in the wrong direction,” Gunn said at his campaign launch. Supporters held signs featuring slogans including “Keep our cities safe” and “Defend free speech.”

Gunn also said that while he is vaccinated and supportive of vaccination, vaccine requirements are “grossly unconstitutional, unnecessary [and] counterproductive.”

As for the party he hopes to lead, the BC Liberals have “a lot of accomplishments from their time in power that they can be proud of, especially on fiscal issues,” according to Gunn, but little to take pride in over the past few years.

“Since 2017, they have been rudderless, adrift in the political wilderness, not knowing what they stand for or how to articulate their positions on many of today’s pressing issues,” he told supporters on Saturday. “I think it’s time for a change.”

The NDP wasted no time taking a shot at Gunn, suggesting he “would make space for anti-2SLGBTQ+ views in the party if elected leader.”

Gunn could have ‘galvanizing’ effect on leadership race, expert says
After a fairly quiet first half to the leadership race, Gunn could have a “galvanizing” effect on his competition, according to Simon Fraser University political scientist Stewart Prest.

“Right now it seems like the dynamic of the race is the question of whether [Kevin] Falcon has the support to carry through the presumed frontrunner status he appears to have, or whether one of the other candidates will emerge to top him,” Prest told BC Today. “With Gunn in the race, that might create a new sense of urgency for the other candidates but also for other watchers within the party.”

That urgency might shift support from “an anybody-but-Falcon candidate to an anybody-but-Gunn candidate,” Prest said, a shift that could benefit Falcon. On Sunday, Liberal MLA Mike Bernier became the fifth Liberal MLA to throw his support behind the frontrunner.

The newest would-be Liberal leader brings “a strain of thought that we do see on the right of the political spectrum that really isn’t represented at all in this race,” per Prest.

“He seems quite comfortable advocating for a variety of right populist positions and to engage in the meme-ification of politics,” he said.

Gunn could be an attractive choice for “the kinds of voters who may have been looking at the [People’s Party of Canada] in the last federal election,” said Prest, adding, “he would perhaps represent a possible champion that they don’t have so far.”

As for whether Gunn — who has yet to be vetted and approved as a candidate by the BC Liberal Party — could run afoul of a clause in the leadership rules that bars candidates “whose approval … would likely bring the party into disrepute,” Prest said party officials face “a bit of a difficult question.”

“He is the kind of candidate who may then talk about the possibility of being suppressed or particular views not being welcome within the party,” Prest said. “It could create the very situation they’re trying to avoid … The question is do you allow the views to be expressed within the leadership campaign, even if it potentially creates problems for the party down the line?”

On learning about the clause in March, Gunn said he would not “go quietly into the good night.”

With his penchant for right-wing populism, Gunn is a product of the current political moment, Prest told BC Today.

“This is the latest example in a larger conversation which encompasses things like the PPC [and] the place of Rebel News within the Canadian media landscape,” he said. “It does raise this question of what to do about voices that tend to have views that are outside the mainstream that are demanding to have representation or to have their voices heard, particularly within a relatively big tent party.”