The BC Liberal candidate who left the party Thursday after comparing the NDP's free contraception proposal to eugenics issued his first statement on the controversy Friday, as his biggest opponent slammed his controversial remarks.
In a Facebook post, Chilliwack-Kent Liberal candidate Laurie Throness said he used "an incorrect word" to explain his concerns about the NDP proposal.
The statement stopped short of apologizing for the word choice, however. Instead, Throness wrote that he wanted "to apologize to all concerned for the damage done to my MLA colleagues and the leader."
The remarks Throness made at a virtual all-candidates meeting on Wednesday drew criticism from political opponents, birth control advocates and BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, who said they were "not in keeping with the values of the BC Liberal Party or my own values."
"It contains a whiff of the old eugenics thing where, you know, poor people shouldn't have babies," Throness said during the meeting. "And so we can't force them to have contraception, so we'll give it to them for free."
In his statement Friday, Throness endorsed Wilkinson's leadership, despite their apparent differences of opinion on the issue.
"Andrew Wilkinson is a good man who has dealt kindly with me on a personal basis throughout the summer and even yesterday," Throness wrote. "He should be our premier."
As for his campaign and his political future, the man who has been a Chilliwack-area MLA since 2013 promised to continue competing for re-election.
"I will continue," he wrote. "I am still on the ballot as a BC Liberal. I will inform voters that if they vote for me, I will sit as an independent in the House and continue to speak from my heart and my conscience. I'm in it to win it."
The candidate observers believe had a good chance of beating the Throness – even before he resigned from the Liberal party -- is disappointed at the kind of attention the two-term MLA is drawing to the riding.
“I don’t believe it’s a true representation of the majority of people living out here in Chilliwack-Kent,” said independent candidate Jason Lum. “When you’re an MLA, you’re representing everyone out here, not just more traditional views. You’re representing everyone.”
The three-term Chilliwack city councillor and small businessman received the most votes of any member of the council in the last municipal election. When CTV News was interviewing him outside the Sardis library Friday, four different people called to him by name and stopped for a chat.
“He’s very well-known, he kind of established that emotional connection with voters who might be disappointed with the Liberal candidate, who might not be ready to vote for the Conservatives and don’t want to vote for the NDP and won’t be voting for the Green Party, because the Green Party candidate essentially has endorsed him," said Research Co. president and political analyst Mario Canseco. “There’s definitely a good chance he could be the one who emerges victorious.”
When asked why he was leaving municipal politics and trying to win provincial office as an independent, which is a rare and difficult thing to accomplish in B.C., Lum said Fraser Valley residents needed a stronger advocate for infrastructure funds and a bigger piece of the COVID-19-rebuilding pie.
"People want a change,” he said. “They want a little bit different from the status quo. The hallmark of my political career has been the ability to work across party lines. I spend an awful lot of time in Victoria and when I’m there I’m generally visiting friends in all three of the parties and talking with them about some of the policy they’re working on.”
Canseco cautions that Throness still has a good chance of winning – and may find himself back within a party if he's victorious.
“There could be some sort of act of contrition and (acceptance of him) back into the Liberal caucus — whether this is something that happens with Andrew Wilkinson or whoever is the leader of the Liberal party in the future," he said. "The other possibility is for him to become a voice for Conservatives, and we know if he wins the election he remains particularly popular in that area and that might be something the BC Conservatives look for in order to have a voice in the legislature and ultimately allow them to be part of the discussion.”
Throness was re-elected with more than 50 per cent of the votes in the riding in 2017, a comfortable 20 percentage points ahead of the NDP candidate, who placed second.
Both NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau have described the controversy surrounding Throness as a failure of leadership on Wilkinson's part.