February 4, 2018 – On Saturday night, Andrew Wilkinson, two-term Vancouver-Quilchena MLA, was elected leader of the BC Liberal Party, only their fourth leader since 1991.
Here’s what it means for BC.
For the first time since taking power in July, the NDP government faces an opposition Liberal Party that is not preoccupied with internal matters. Instead of shooting at each other, the Liberals will now begin concentrating their firepower on the NDP, who already have their hands full with the ongoing transition to government, plus keeping the three Green Party MLAs happy enough to support the government in coming confidence votes.
While this certainly increases pressure on the NDP, it’s unlikely to topple the government in the near future. Despite his recent threats to withdraw support over the NDP’s work to encourage LNG investment in BC, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and his two colleagues appear likely to support the NDP’s Throne Speech (Feb. 13) and first full budget (to be tabled Feb. 20).
Wilkinson, a veteran player in the BC Liberal world, faces a number of challenges:
- This was a particularly bruising leadership race, with words seldom minced and allegations of cheating tartly delivered. Respected BC politics observer Vaughn Palmer likened it to “a reality TV show, scripted by the staff in the NDP communications office.” It will take some time and effort for Wilkinson to smooth over lingering resentments, especially as he was often the most aggressive in attacking his colleagues.
- All parties have internal factions, but the fault lines between those in the BC Liberal Party run particularly deeply. The sometimes-uneasy coalition between federal Liberal and federal Conservative supporters will be made more fragile by Wilkinson’s close finish against Dianne Watts, a federal Conservative. With 53% of the vote, nearly half of BC Liberal voters were looking to take the party in a different direction.
- Recent headlines have not been kind to the BC Liberal Party brand. After major stories about the senior staff convicted for their role in the 2013 “quick wins” scandal, and revelations that the former government ignored warnings about the “dumpster fire” of ICBC’s fiscal crisis, Wilkinson needs to move past the BC Liberal record and redefine the party. However, as a long-time BC Liberal cabinet minister who has campaigned in defense of their 16-year record, Wilkinson is not well positioned to signal renewal.
- After holding power for more than a decade and a half, the BC Liberals still appear disoriented by the challenges of serving in opposition, where resources and stakeholder support are harder to obtain.
- The NDP’s ban on big money donations will prove especially difficult for the BC Liberal Party, which traditionally received only a small portion of their support from individual donations.
Wilkinson can expect an early victory in the February 14 by-election, where Ben Stewart is expected to win the race to replace former leader Christy Clark in the BC Liberal stronghold of Kelowna West. But he’ll face tougher challenges in trying to heal a divided party and convince the voting public that he can connect with their concerns despite his sometimes cerebral and aloof style. Expect things to heat up accordingly.
Counsel is available to discuss any further implications for your organization.