The BC Liberal Party is shuffling its internal leadership candidates out of their critic roles ahead of the start to the fall session of the Legislature — including Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield, the now-former health critic.
Interim party leader Shirley Bond will take on Merrifield’s health portfolio. Peter Milobar takes on the environment critic role and Jordan Sturdy inherits the transportation critic role, previously held by leadership candidates Ellis Ross and Michael Lee respectively.
Bond said the change will allow candidates the time to connect with British Columbians before next February’s leadership contest — but others involved in B.C. politics aren’t so sure. The move came shortly after Merrifield’s Twitter spat with journalists and pundits ended with some calling for her to be removed from the health critic position.
It started with a question from Global News’s Keith Baldry, who asked Merrifield whether she supported the province’s mandate that health-care workers get vaccinated. She dodged the question several times, accusing Baldry of obsessing over the “position of the opposition party on an issue that’s already been decided by government.”
Eventually, Merrifield said her party supports provincial health orders, but still did not state specifically whether she personally supported the vaccination mandate for health-care workers.
After the tiff, former BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal, who now hosts a show on Vancouver radio station CKNW, called for her removal from the health critic role.
Following the party’s announcement, Johal said the decision to remove all leadership candidates from their portfolios “provides Ms. Merrifield a face-saving exit, instead of what would have been a high profile demotion.”
This is the right course of action, and provides Ms. Merrifield a face-saving exit, instead of what would have been a high profile demotion. In the end, her comments and actions are still there for the record. I doubt she will ever be back as health critic. #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/wNuIau9eXy— Jas Johal (@JasJohalBC) September 16, 2021
This is the latest in a string of controversies Merrifield, who was elected for the first time in October 2020, has created as health critic.
She was previously called out for tabling a petition from an anti-mask organization calling for the end of mask mandates in schools and suggested to a Kelowna media outlet that taking Vitamin D was an effective COVID-prevention measure.
The BC Liberal Party’s leadership convention takes place in February 2021. The other three candidates running for leadership are Kevin Falcon, Val Litwin and Gavin Dew, but they do not currently hold a seat in the legislature.
Merrifield was not immediately available for comment.