Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, B.C., on October 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, B.C., on October 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. Liberal Leader maintains confidence as campaign tests party identity

Liberal campaign has been disrupted by controversy

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says he’s feeling confident and optimistic as British Columbia’s provincial election campaign enters its final days.

It’s not the feeling that might be expected from a leader who has spent much of the campaign on the defensive, but Wilkinson said he pays no heed to the pundits.

“We’re feeling very good because the reception we get at the doorstep from the community is exceptionally strong,” he said in an interview this week.

“The only poll that counts is the one that’s counted on election night and two weeks after,” he said, referring to the later count of the mail-in ballots.

But for some political scientists, the course of the Liberal campaign has revealed an identity crisis that the party will need to grapple with no matter the outcome of the vote.

From the outset of the snap election, both the Liberals and Greens have been challenged with trying to gain seats in the unusual context of a global pandemic.

Still, Wilkinson said he believes the party’s biggest promises have landed well. A pledge to cancel PST for a year then reduce it to three per cent, as well as the cancellation of a two per cent small business income tax are resonating with voters, he said.

“The other is the affordable daycare plan, which a lot of people took as a surprise coming from the B.C. Liberals but to which we’re completely committed to get our economy moving again.”

However, as the party announced some of those policies its campaign was often distracted by controversies.

The day Wilkinson unveiled the party’s platform, media attention was focused on a video circulating of a Liberal candidate making sexist remarks about an NDP candidate while Wilkinson and other Liberals laughed along. Soon after, Liberal candidate Laurie Throness likened free birth control to eugenics before resigning from the party.

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals continue campaign after ex-candidate compared free birth control to eugenics

The Liberal party’s own membership chair, Nicole Paul, criticized its leadership on Twitter for not acting more quickly against Throness, who remained in the caucus earlier this year after defending conversion therapy.

“The BCLP doesn’t have a Laurie Throness problem. We have a problem in the leadership of the party and their lack of willingness to stand up for diversity, inclusion and the values of BC Liberal members — not just the interests of a small group of constituents,” tweeted Paul, who could not be reached for comment.

Stewart Prest, who teaches political science at Simon Fraser University and Douglas College, said the party was often defending itself when it should have been asserting its plans to govern.

“I think they’ve had a number of challenges, I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat that. They’re not necessarily related to the platform but the way in which the party has been continually pulled off message through controversies surrounding candidates,” Prest said.

Hamish Telford, who teaches political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the controversies have highlighted a rift in the party, which has typically brought together both federal Liberals and Conservatives.

“They’ve had a pact that they will focus on economic issues — low taxes, low regulation — and they will put aside social issues particularly divisive issues on key policies around gender identity, abortion, things like that,” he said.

With those issues at the fore, socially conservative B.C. Liberals are vocalizing their thoughts and the more liberal members are showing very little tolerance for that.

“There’s been a real breach, I think, in the B.C. Liberal party coalition,” he said.

Campaigning during a pandemic when there’s widespread support for government intervention puts the party, which has typically held together under a free-market umbrella, in an awkward position, he said.

Prest said the coalition was also kept intact by the promise of regular trips to power over the 16 years the Liberals were in government.

“The party has to spend some time thinking about what kind of party it wants to be,” Prest said.

Both Prest and Telford agreed that the Liberals have successfully highlighted weaknesses in the NDP record and what it criticized as a relatively tepid $1.5-billion economic recovery plan. The Liberal party has fallen short, they said, in articulating a clear vision for a better option.

Wilkinson disagrees.

“We think the ballot question is who actually has got a proper plan to get us out from this COVID recession and we’ve seen basically nothing from the NDP,” he said.

“We’re presenting a cogent program to get people back to work and get recovery in industries like tourism and hospitality.”

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals pledge $750M to build or buy more social housing

Wilkinson also dismissed the controversies over his candidates as “gotcha issues” that happen in any political campaign, adding that every party has dissenting voices.

As a big tent party, the B.C. Liberals’ goal is to provide the strongest possible alternative to the NDP by casting a wide policy net, from $10-a-day daycare for low income families to opening the public auto insurer to competition. It has a strong identity centred on building an entrepreneurial society that will generate the growth necessary for economic recovery from the pandemic, he said.

“We feel that the people who support us know exactly what they want and we provide the vehicle to do that.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC LiberalsBC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

Image courtesy CDC
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kitamaat Village

Haisla Nation Council said there are two confirmed cases they are aware of at this time

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty ventilators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster kids

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Most Read