Any political brand that fails to place people at the heart of what they do is no longer electable. Yet administrations that don’t understand how economies flourish aren’t built to last.
My own career path has taught me to embrace both people and balance sheets.
After graduating from the University of Victoria in 2001, my friends and I created a social enterprise dedicated to building social capital in communities across Canada.
The twin towers had just fallen, and we were young idealists who rejected the call to immediately get “real jobs” and decided instead to pay it forward. In 2002 we travelled in a motorhome from Victoria, B.C., to St John’s Newfoundland – visiting 27 towns in between.
We called it the Extreme Kindness tour. Our goal was to ignite community volunteerism and pull in a younger generation. We held kindness protests, roofed homes, read Shakespeare to seniors and spoke at schools on random acts of kindness. Yes, we were the “Free Hugs” guys – not a COVID-friendly activity now, of course. Post-tour, we wrote a Canadian best-seller on corporate social responsibility.
The tour shaped me profoundly and crystalized my desire to dedicate myself to community-building. But I wanted deeper business experience and to develop as a leader.
Jumping into the corporate world, I ran communications at a Vancouver-based, global conflict management company. Following that, I started my journey as an entrepreneur, co-founding the first-to-market franchise concept Blo Blow Dry Bar, with an inspiring mother-daughter duo. We were bought by a private equity partner within three years and it now has 95 locations globally. Then, as vice-president of operations for home health care provider Nurse Next Door, our team delivered world-class care for seniors and doubled our footprint in Canada and the US in just three years.
These experiences taught me as much about compassion as they did free-market competition because all of these companies were purpose-built to care for people – and they were wildly successful at what they did.
In 2013 I jumped into the not-for-profit advocacy world and since then have been CEO of both the Whistler and BC Chamber of Commerce. These traditionally pro-business organizations, I realized, were ready for an evolution. Today they are still pro-business, but my chamber colleagues, team and I pushed them into more future-focussed, community organizations, with local chambers caring as much about low business taxes and investment as they do childcare, inclusive societies, Indigenous reconciliation and clean technology.
This brings me to why I have decided to run for the BC Liberal leadership.
The BC Liberal party has the opportunity to seize this moment and become something new – something modern. No party can better hardwire a hot economy, but if we don’t deliver more deeply, for more people, too many won’t benefit. We are seeing it all around us.
From the ongoing, horrific impacts of residential schools on Indigenous communities and anti-Asian hate crimes to the opioid crisis, eroding affordability and a patriarchal system that still keeps women behind men for equal – or better – work. This can - and must - change.
The people I speak with in British Columbia care about their communities, their most vulnerable and marginalized – and, yes, they want a rock-solid economy. But where do they park their vote?
This moderate, thoughtful person is not a unicorn – they are the average British Columbian looking for new solutions to old problems.
I believe under the right leadership, the BC Liberal party can be their solution. But we have to be bold and we have to embrace real change.
My single focus between now and February 2022 will be to do just that. Inject big ideas and engage fresh perspectives that still honour the wisdom and experience of the party – and drive new membership. I’m an urban leader – who knows and respects the power of rural B.C. – with deep compassion and understanding for the people of this province.
And let’s not kid ourselves: We need a new value set before a name change. What we stand for now is more vital than a slick colour palate. Sixty-one per cent of B.C.’s population is under the age of 39. Millennials and Gen Zs are brand-savvy and looking for real solutions from their elected officials. Substance, not surfaces. We need to nail the walk before the talk.
All world-class brands do two things exceptionally well: they succession plan and understand the power of self-awareness.
B.C. needs a modern government that wants to do more than just stay on its feet against the current headwinds: We need a government that knows how to make headway. B.C. is hungry for an electrifying economic vision that places people in the centre and respects the natural world.
Let’s elevate people and B.C.'s opportunity – and let’s redefine how we do both.
Val Litwin is the former CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce and will be running for the BC Liberal leadership.