Banman takes rare public route in Abbotsford South nomination contest

Most nomination contests take place behind the scenes, but Banman has created a website & promo videos

Coun. Bruce Banman says his unusually public campaign to run for the BC Liberals is a response to Andrew Wilkinson’s call for more grassroots participation in the party.

Banman announced last month that he would seek the party’s nomination in the Abbotsford South riding, which is currently represented by exiled BC Liberal Darryl Plecas. Markus Delves, the former president of the Abbotsford First electoral organization, has also put his name forward.

Banman’s announcement was accompanied by a video explaining his decision, a logo with “Bruce Banman – Abbotsford South,” and a website calling for support and detailing the former mayor’s experience and abilities. The website also seeks to collect contact information from supporters to enable Banman to rally support when a date for voting begins.

Such public pleas for support are almost unheard of during Lower Mainland nomination contests that normally occur beyond the public’s view.

Neither Delves, nor those seeking nominations in the two local federal ridings, are running such public-facing campaigns. And the lead-up to the last provincial and federal campaigns saw minimal efforts by those seeking nominations to reach those people who weren’t already party members. The federal Liberals and BC NDP both turned to out-of-town candidates.

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Banman said the nomination process is often shrouded in mystery, and that he’s trying to involve more people.

“I’m a big fan of involving the very people who are going to end up voting should have a say in how this works and if they want to get involved, great,” Banman said. “Andrew Wilkinson has said he wants to … broaden the tent and involve more people in the party; he wants to revitalize the party and I think that’s one of the ways to do that.”

Banman said he didn’t believe there was a risk for a party to involve a broader segment of the voting public in the process.

“I’m of the opinion that now more than ever they need to listen to the grassroots of the party.”

Banman must also convince party brass that he’s the right person for the job; when he announced his campaign in May, he acknowledged the party leader’s ability to disregard a local nomination vote.

“There’s some excitement within Abbotsford South that we will have a nomination process as opposed to parachuting someone in,” he said. “But again, that’s up to the leadership and the leader of the Liberal Party as to what they want to do at the end of the day.”

Banman has a higher public profile than Delves, having served as Abbotsford’s mayor between 2011 and 2014. Delves, meanwhile, has many local political connections from his time with Abbotsford First and his family have been longtime contributors to the BC Liberals. At the Mayor’s Breakfast last month, Delves sat alongside BC Liberal MLAs Mike de Jong and Simon Gibson. Banman – who has not given to the party in the last decade according to online records – was seated elsewhere.

The last time the BC Liberals chose a new candidate in the Abbotsford South was in 2012. That contest involved a messy intervention by the party’s leadership and the selection of Plecas – who was then a prominent University of the Fraser Valley criminologist, and who is now a pariah among his former BC Liberal colleagues.

That year had seen the riding’s long-time BC Liberal MLA John van Dongen cross the floor to the BC Conservatives. (He would later leave that party and finish his term as an independent.) And with the party looking forward to the following year’s election, Abbotsford Coun. Moe Gill said he wanted nomination. After several months, though, party bigwigs visited Gill and told him they preferred Plecas to run for the party in the riding.

Gill said he had been betrayed and bullied by the BC Liberals, and the Abbotsford South riding association resigned en masse. Stephan Evans, a longtime Gill associate who had been president of the association, said Plecas was “untested” and would not have beat Gill in a “fair nomination process.”

Christy Clark’s campaign manager, meanwhile, told party members that Evans and five others had “stacked the riding AGM” to help get Gill the nomination. Plecas won the 2013 election, but his nomination came back to haunt the BC Liberals in 2017, when he accepted an offer to become Speaker of the legislature – a move that helped ensure the BC NDP would be able to form a stable coalition with the Green Party.

Plecas has continued to make good and bad headlines as a maverick speaker. Gill, meanwhile, lost a bid for mayor last year that began with Evans sending out a press release accusing Mayor Henry Braun of unsubstantiated misdeeds. Evans, meanwhile, re-emerged this spring as the distributor of the press release that announced Banman wanted the BC Liberal nomination.

Banman said Evans was one of many of people who volunteered their assistance, and that he took him up on an offer to send out a press release.

“I don’t think there’d be any hard feelings with that at all,” he said.

Evans, meanwhile, said he was happy to return to the BC Liberal Party.

“As a former disgruntled BC Liberal, I’m happy to be back under the tent helping a candidate I think puts the people first,” he said this week.

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