With Wilkinson, B.C. Liberals opt for tried and true over a change in culture – British Columbia

When a political party loses power, its members have to decide: change, or more of the same? 

In choosing Andrew Wilkinson, they’ve opted decisively for the latter. 

A doctor, lawyer, former cabinet minister, former party president and MLA for some of the richest neighbourhoods in B.C. on Vancouver’s West Side, Wilkinson was both the oldest candidate in the race and the one with the most endorsements from his fellow MLAs.

Renewal, it isn’t. 

But as several speakers on the convention stage reminded members, the B.C. Liberals have gotten the most votes in six straight elections. And Wilkinson receiving the majority of secondary support from Mike de Jong and Todd Stone supporters is a sign that the party is more than happy to defend their 16 years in power.

“The B.C. Liberal Party has been tarred and feathered by social media and the left as being heartless. I think that’s just plain wrong,” Wilkinson said a week before the vote. 

“My idea is to get out there and show we are a much more thoughtful and caring party than we have been in the past.”

He’ll now have that opportunity.

Focus on electoral reform referendum

Wilkinson’s top pledge during the campaign was to fight the upcoming referendum on electoral reform, where British Columbians will be asked whether they want to move to some form of proportional representation.   

“We have a lot of work to do. We have to fight back the NDP’s idea of a payoff to the Green Party, which is proportional representation,” he said, in his first statement to the media after his victory.

The wonky issue of electoral reform may seem like an odd choice for a main priority — Wilkinson himself admits “so far it’s been a low-profile issue” — but the B.C. Liberals have always been a coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives, making party unity harder to guarantee. 

“We are the party that must stay together. We cover the broad spectrum,” said Wilkinson to members after his victory. 

He was talking about the need for the caucus to unite. But it was also a reminder that, if electoral reform passes, that broad spectrum could split into separate political parties. 

“So let’s get ourselves organized, because we have work to do this summer,” he said. “We have a challenge in front of us.”

Fireworks in question period

In the short term, the legislature resumes sitting on Feb. 13, and Wilkinson looks to provide a stronger opposition than provided under the caretaker regime of interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman.

“My task is to make sure that we hold the NDP to account with smart, incisive questions that will make their skin crawl,” he said.

“And I’m hoping that we make question period so newsworthy that you guys won’t have to carry any other stories.”

The next month, however, will have plenty of newsworthy moments outside of question period. A first NDP budget. The party’s promise to bring in policies on housing affordability. Big decisions on the proposed Millennium Line and Surrey LRT extensions. Legislation on how marijuana will be regulated. 

Wilkinson will find, like so many opposition leaders before him — including John Horgan — that keeping the public’s attention while in opposition can be challenging.  

But that’s for another day. For now, Wilkinson can enjoy his victory and figure out, long-term, the best way to convince British Columbians what party members concluded: that ultimately, the B.C. Liberal Party needs no major change in philosophy. 

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