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

Several students in the Nisga’a Elementary Secondary School community have tested positive for COVID-19. (Nisga’s Lisims Government photo)
Students at Nisga’a school test positive for COVID-19

Families with students requested to self-isolate

The Terrace River Kings lost 9-3 to the Quesnel Kangaroos on Mar. 2, 2019 in the final CIHL playoffs. (Lindsay Chung Photo)
Central Interior Hockey League cancels 2020/21 season

League open to playing exhibition games if possible

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine is looking for participants to complete an access to education survey. (Submitted Photo/Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine)
Have something to say about education? The regional district wants to hear from you

RDKS is seeking participants in an access to education survey

Caledonia Secondary School Principal Keith Axelson presents the Governor General’s Academic Medal to Sydney Webb. (Submitted Photo/Robin MacLeod)
Sydney Webb wins 2020 Governor General’s Academic Medal

Webb is studying nursing at the Univeristy of Northern British Columbia

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Most Read