Tom Shypitka says the BC Liberal Party is in good hands as leadership race kicks off.

Tom Shypitka says the BC Liberal Party is in good hands as leadership race kicks off.

Liberal leadership in good hands: Shyptika

The BC Liberal Party officially opened their leadership race on Tuesday, setting three days over a weekend in February for a membership vote to select a new leader.

While no one has officially put their name forward, speculation is running high on which party MLAs will throw their hat into the ring and there are a number of potential high profile candidates.

While Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka says he doesn’t want to steal anyone’s thunder, he notes that there are at least four prominent names who are mulling a run.

“All I can say is we’re in good hands,” Shypitka said. “We’ve got a lot of depth in our party. There’s four that come to my mind right now who are nothing short of spectacular, so we’ve got some really good candidates and we’re not going to lose with any one of them.”

According to a BC Liberal Party press release, each candidate will be required to participate in party-sponsored debates or forums in Vancouver, Surrey, Prince George, Nanaimo and the Thompson-Okanagan region, while yet another will be organized by the BC Liberal Indigenous Network.

Shypitka added that he will also work with the party to try and bring a debate closer to the East Kootenay region.

“It’s an exciting time,” Shypitka said. “There’s a lot of optimism in our party. Obviously, the last 100 days have been a mixed bag of ups and downs; a lot of them downs and this is actually the first time I’ve seen the party really get energized. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our party right now, in our future and how we’re going to address the leadership race.”

The next leader will have some challenges given what the party learned following the election results. Shypitka said the party needs to do a better job of finding a balance between fiscal and social responsibilities.

“We’re going to have to stick strong to our fundamental beliefs such as fiscal responsibility,” Shypitka said, “but I think our next leader is really going to have to resonate with some who were maybe disenfranchised over the last four years on our social values — on showing a little bit more empathy and showing that we do care even though it may not have been brought out as such in the last election.”

Only party members can vote for a new leader, which will take place by telephone on Feb. 1-3. A deadline of Dec. 29 has been set for any candidates who wish to enter the race.

Candidates who wish to run for the leadership must pay up to $50,000 in various instalments and are prohibited from spending more than $600,000 on their campaign.