British Columbia·Profile

Andrew Wilkinson: the man with the resumé hopes to become the man of the hour

A profile of Andrew Wilkinson, one of six candidates running to become leader of the B.C. Liberal Party

In today's political climate, can a patrician figure from Vancouver's west side take the leadership?

Andrew Wilkinson speaks to CBC news on Jan. 22, 2018. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Andrew Wilkinson is upfront that his experience makes him a good choice to become the new leader of the opposition.

"I learned how government works. I know how it operates inside and out. And there's many things that need to be addressed, that in the back of my head I'd like to see improved in B.C., and that's the opportunity of leadership."

A former doctor, lawyer, Rhodes Scholar, B.C. Liberal Party president, deputy minister and cabinet minister, Wilkinson has the endorsement of 13 MLAs.

It's an extensive track record. But with a party looking for renewal, in a political climate that isn't exactly receptive to elites, can a patrician figure that represents Vancouver's west side take the leadership?

"I've lived and worked in Campbell River, Dease Lake, Lillooet, and I've ended up living in Vancouver. The fact I've got a very solid grounding around B.C. gives me the chance to ask questions about their communities with a pretty solid knowledge base," he said. 

"People tend to focus on the issues. There's none of that kind of nonsense if you're from the city and they're not. It's more a matter of ... how can we work as British Columbians to make things better. That's the core of what this leadership has to be about. 

A campaign stand for Andrew Wilkinson at a B.C. Liberal leadership debate. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Focus on electoral reform

Wilkinson's platform includes modernizing regulations, increasing the supply of housing to help with affordability and lowering taxes on small businesses.

But if there's a singular issue that animates his campaign, it's his opposition to the referendum on electoral reform scheduled for this fall. 

It's on the front page of his website and the first section of his platform, despite it being, by his own admission "a low-profile" issue to date. 

"There's a bit of a stealth campaign by the Greens and NDP to push this past the public with simple slogans about what it will be. It is fundamental to our society, and people in the north and Interior totally understand that. In the Lower Mainland, people haven't really woken up to the issue yet," he says.

Wilkinson also rejects the idea his opposition and that of other Liberal candidates to electoral reform is hypocritical, given they'll be choosing a leader on a preferential ballot with a weighted vote system. 

"It was the B.C. Liberals that put in a citizens assembly ... to examine all the different ways of reforming our electoral system," said Wilkinson, referencing the years-long consultation process that resulted in two failed referendums for a single-transferrable ballot (STV) voting system. 

"I don't make any apologies for the B.C. Liberals doing something like a preferential ballot. That's hardly going to massive ridings with seven members and a total lack of accountability for MLAs. That's a huge leap of faith, that us having a preferential ballot is us having acceptance of proportional representation. That's really nonsense."

The Liberal brand

The oldest candidate and one with the most MLA endorsements, Wilkinson is considered one of the frontrunners in this campaign.

However, like fellow cabinet ministers Todd Stone and Mike de Jong, his fate will partly be tied to how much voters in this election want a fresh start for the B.C. Liberals, and how much they want to endorse their 16 years in office. 

"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," said Wilkinson, who does admit that freezing welfare and disability rates for a decade was unpopular. 

"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."

No doubt most of the 60,000 or so party members choosing a leader will welcome that message.

Whether they want Wilkinson to be that messenger will be revealed on Saturday night. 

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