British Columbia

'There's a lot of work to be done': Andrew Wilkinson prepares for a possible election year

The B.C. Liberal leader doesn't know if there will be a provincial election in 2020 — that will be up to premier John Horgan, and to a lesser extent whomever replaces Andrew Weaver as head of the B.C. Greens.

While party renewal takes place in the background, there's a focus on ICBC, forestry and affordability

B.C. Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks to CBC's Mike Killeen for a 2019 year-end interview. (CBC News)

British Columbia's leader of the Opposition knows it's tough being the leader of the Opposition.

"There are five million people in B.C. and I suspect I'm recognizable to about 200,000 of them," said B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, acknowledging that it can be difficult for the public to care about opposition politicians outside of election time. 

"There's a lot of work to be done, but we have to remember most people are worried about getting to and from work, getting their kids to soccer or paying their bills. And that's where the issues really start to focus in during an election."

The B.C. Liberal leader doesn't know if there will be a provincial election in 2020 — that will be up to Premier John Horgan and, to a lesser extent, whoever replaces Andrew Weaver as head of the B.C. Greens

But he believes he has a winning strategy, if and when the time comes.

"The obvious question is: are people any better off than they were when the NDP came into office?" he asks.

Focus on ICBC and forestry

In the first half of 2019 Wilkinson struggled at times to make a dent against the NDP — particularly after he referred to being a renter as a 'wacky time of life' — but the party has benefited from a slightly different political climate in recent months.

Continuing troubles at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), escalating mill shutdowns across the province and the resignation of Jinny Sims from cabinet following the appointment of a special prosecutor have all given Wilkinson more opportunities to go on the attack.

"They actually showed a good moral compass on that issue," said Wilkinson, in regards to Sims's resignation. 

But on ICBC and the forest industry, he isn't so charitable. 

"They could fix the cost of logging in this province if they wanted to and they won't do anything about it," he said.

"And the issue about ICBC is something we have [been] very focused on, because everybody cares about their insurance premiums, and we've said ... you're entitled to have some kind of option, rather than being forced to pay whatever [Attorney General] David Eby decides should be your premiums."

Wilkinson and the Liberals supported a convoy of logging trucks that drove from Prince George to downtown Vancouver to bring attention to the forestry crisis. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Election readiness

Still, there are hurdles for Wilkinson to work through over the next year. 

The B.C. Liberals have embarked on a candidate search for the next election that emphasizes renewal and reaching out to younger and more diverse demographics. At the same time, while some longtime MLAs have already announced they're stepping aside, internal debates remain on the future of Rich Coleman, Mike De Jong and Shirley Bond.

And while Wilkinson has criticized the NDP on taxes and declining surpluses, the overall strength of B.C.'s finances relative to the rest of Canada means Wilkinson can only say, "It's a very mixed record," when it comes to the economy. 

For now, Wilkinson extols the solidarity of his caucus and hones his pitch for voters on the same affordability questions that the NDP ran its last campaign on. 

"Housing is too expensive, insurance is too expensive, food is too expensive," he said.

"It's hard to get ahead in British Columbia now, especially for younger people. We've got to fix that."

With files from Mike Killeen

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