As the BC Liberal Party officially announced its year-long leadership race, Aaron Gunn is poised to be a disruptive candidate to take the party’s reins.
Formerly the Director of Special Projects for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Gunn is an independent journalist and taxpayer advocate with sixty-seven thousand followers on Facebook — half of which he estimates to be from British Columbia. In comparison, B.C. Premier John Horgan has forty-five thousand followers on Facebook.
His potential candidacy immediately outraged several BC Liberal organizers and supporters. Most aggressively, Mark Marissen — who worked on Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee’s failed 2018 BC Liberal leadership campaign — denounced Gunn as “alt-right” in three separate Tweets.
Loosely organized, the alt-right movement is characterized by white nationalism. The seriousness of this label makes it libellous if unsubstantiated.
“I don’t know who [Mark Marissen] is. Everyone I’ve asked about him has only had bad things to say,” says Gunn on Episode #115 of This is VANCOLOUR podcast. “I’ve had no positive feedback about this individual at all. I don’t think he matters.”
Gunn unreservedly rejects any association with white identity politics.
“I’m not alt-right. I’m for common-sense public policy that makes sense for taxpayers.”
In fairness, his ideas are consistent with mainstream conservatism in Canada: lowering taxes, supporting the natural resource sector, bolstering law enforcement.
Arguably, conservative policy prescriptions, like those proposed by Gunn, perpetuate systemic racism by ignoring the inequity of outcomes, particularly for Indigenous and Black populations. But that’s a far cry from the alt-right.
Gunn also has a longstanding affiliation with the BC Liberal Party, including past membership from when Gordon Campbell was B.C.’s Premier.
In fact, Gunn claims he was asked by the BC Liberals to run as a candidate in 2020. In that same year, he volunteered on BC Liberal MLA Dan Davies’ campaign against BC Conservative party leader Trevor Bolin in the Peace River North riding.
It’s unclear then why Gunn’s rumoured candidacy has generated such vocal opposition within the party.
He does position himself as a different kind of potential candidate than the other names rumoured to contest the BC Liberal leadership, specifically Kevin Falcon.
“I’m not part of the establishment,” says Gunn. “I represent change. But I also think that what the party needs right now is change and what the membership wants right now is change.”
“The solution… isn’t for a bunch of political operatives to team up with a group of archaeologists to go dig up a candidate that nobody’s seen for ten years.”
Given Falcon’s own conservative roots, it’s unclear how his candidacy will be much different from Gunn, an observation made by B.C. Minister of Economic Recovery, Ravi Kahlon.
Although his platform is still being developed, since he is not officially declared, two policy points seem to differentiate Gunn from mainstream BC Liberals.
First, Gunn proposes to scrap the B.C. Carbon Tax, going so far as to say that B.C. should join other provinces “in fighting the federal imposition of another”.
Second, he wants the BC Liberals to take a stronger stance on money laundering in the province. “I think the [BC Liberals] are a little embarrassed by it.”
Aaron Gunn may symbolize the kind of anti-establishment disruption that could inject grassroots excitement into a party that remains deflated after an embarrassingly abysmal election campaign in October.
But whether or not he chooses to take the plunge and whether or not the party will embrace him remains to be seen.
Mo Amir is the host of This is VANCOLOUR, a politics and culture podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and www.thisisvancolour.com