Political commentator Aaron Gunn began his leadership bid Saturday for the BC Liberals under accusations of 'extremist' rhetoric -- a claim he vehemently rejected. Gunn insisted his bid for office reflects advocacy of "common-sense policies that do right by taxpayers," but that didn't stop his opponents from trying to put the kibosh on his campaign launch.
The reigning BC NDP government accused Gunn, 31, of propagating "transphobic, racist and sexist rhetoric" on social media, citing his support for BC social conservatives. "I don't think social conservatives should be thrown under the bus in the party. They're an important part of British Columbia and its history," he said. "I think that we got trapped into games being played by the media and got put on the defensive."
Per an NDP release, they denounced his criticism of UBC, who he said "indoctrinated" students with gender diversity. The party also pushed back against his rejection of systemic racism. "Governments are using taxpayer dollars to fund universities like UBC to indoctrinate the next generation with garbage like this," tweeted Gunn.
The independent journalist and taxpayer advocate previously said he would make space for sexual minorities while defending social conservatives if elected leader of the BC Liberals. However, that wasn't good enough for the BC government, which took it upon itself to scapegoat "socially conservative Christian voters."
NDP MLA Kelli Paddon called Gunn's views "dangerous and unacceptable," adding: "This is about human rights, and with his rhetoric and beliefs being out there, the Liberal Party needs to condemn this and to show us what kind of leaders they are."
Another NDP MLA, Grace Lore, chimed in as well, stating, "The BC Liberals have made room for candidates with harmful and discriminatory views for too long. Welcoming Aaron Gunn into their party shows they haven't changed. It's time for every leadership candidate to say that candidates like Aaron Gunn, Margaret Kunst, or Laurie Throness will not be allowed to run under their leadership."
Despite his critics, Gunn considers himself a small 'c' conservative. "My political philosophy is lower taxes, less waste, [and] smaller government," he said Saturday during his launch. "I am tired of standing on the sidelines. I'm tired of watching this province. This country, might I add, continues to head in the wrong direction. The policies that are being enacted are the antithesis to common sense."
The NDP release claimed his leadership bid reflected "a fundamental tension" between the BC Liberal Party and most other centre-right parties in Canada. "There is a belief, correct or otherwise, that alienating socially conservative Christian voters will make it impossible to assemble a winning coalition," it reads. The BC NDP pointed out his disapproval of the caucus ejection of former MP Derek Sloan.
But supporters at Gunn's launch said the critics have it all wrong. "With social media, with small interest groups, they stereotype certain people. But Aaron doesn't seem to be afraid to speak common sense. I like his plain talk," said Mark Ponting, who drove to Victoria from Comox to show his support.
Surrey resident Harman Bhangu also defended Gunn. "I am of the Sikh faith myself, and I talk with Aaron all the time. I've never heard or seen him do anything racist. It's a complete myth," he said. "It's a label a lot of people try to throw at him, and it is not fair that he is labelled that way when there is no evidence about it. People should get to know him. He is always willing to reach out."
During the announcement, Gunn pledged to make university funding dependent on its support for freedom of expression. He also promised to privatize ICBC, scrap the provincial carbon tax, and develop LNG to combat climate change and reduce dependency on Asiatic coal.
Gunn also voiced his displeasure with BC's proof of vaccination system. "I want to be clear about this, I am vaccinated, I support vaccination, and I encourage others to get vaccinated as well," he said. "But the idea that in a country like Canada, we would coerce our citizens into injecting something into their bodies against their will, especially in situations like travel, where equally effective alternatives like rapid testing exist are available, is grossly unconstitutional."
Though the leadership candidate admits his "tell it like it is" style may concern some, he clarified those concerns are overblown. "I am very outspoken, but when you drill down to it, some of these rumours that come out have no basis. Some people have accused me of these things, but they can't really point to something specific because it's not really there," said Gunn.
In a comment to True North, he added: "You see some of these other establishment people in the race, the NDP knows all about them, they want one of them to win, and they're scared of having an outsider come into the race and realign the political system. That's what we're here to do, [and] I'm not afraid of the NDP."
So far, the BC Liberals approved six candidates in the race, excluding Gunn. Party members will vote for a new leader in February 2022, after a dismal showing in the last election. The Liberals lost 13 seats in the legislature, down from 41.