B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson responds to the B.C. NDP government’s $1.5 billion COVID-19 economic recovery plan in Burnaby, B.C. on Thursday, September 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Wilkinson aims to be B.C. premier after cabinet role, working as doctor and lawyer

B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as party leader, following predecessor Christy Clark

Former cabinet colleague Bill Bennett warns anyone verbally sparring with B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson to be prepared.

“It’s easy to fall into a trap when you’re arguing with Andrew,” Bennett said in an interview. “Without knowing it you end up in a dead-end canyon, wondering how the heck you’re going to get out of it. He’s a very logical person and he won’t say anything more than he has to say.”

The B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as party leader, and part of his challenge is that his predecessor was Christy Clark, whose magnetic personality was a draw, Bennett said.

“He’s an unusual person to be in politics and he’s probably an unusual person to be running for premier of the province,” said Bennett, who co-chaired Wilkinson’s leadership campaign after Clark resigned in 2017 following the Liberals’ defeat after 16 years in power.

But Bennett said there’s substance to Wilkinson, 63, who attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and worked as a doctor in three small B.C. communities for about three years in the 1980s before becoming a lawyer.

“He’s not charismatic. He’s not Christy, he’s not Ralph Klein,” Bennett said, referring to a former premier of Alberta.

“He’s not colourful, but he’s very smart. And he’s got a good heart. He cares about people, I can tell you that.”

Bennett, who represented the riding of Kootenay East for 16 years and left politics in 2017, said Wilkinson got into politics “for the right reasons,” not for a “popularity contest.”

Where flair sometimes fails him, fairness and a solid argument are among Wilkinson’s best qualities, Bennett said, adding the avid birder who grew up hunting with his father has learned to “measure his words.”

That’s after some of Wilkinson’s words have fallen flat.

In one instance this year he apologized for his choice of words after characterizing an NDP throne speech proposal to give five paid work days to people leaving domestic violence as pay for people in a “tough marriage” during a radio interview.

In a tweet shortly afterwards, Wilkinson said he used the “wrong choice of words and I got it wrong. Victims of domestic violence need their voices heard and our unwavering support, and I want everyone to know they have that with me.”

Wilkinson, who represents the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena on the city’s west side, was criticized by the housing minister as being “out of touch” for saying in a budget speech last year that being a renter can be “a wacky time of life, but it can be really enjoyable.”

He later clarified his remarks, saying on Twitter that as a renter for 15 years and working a low-paying job he knows what “it feels like to worry about making ends meet each month. I know what it feels like to dream of a better situation, more choice and freedom in life.”

He said in an interview that his main interest in becoming leader was to improve the lives of people through policies that spur the economy, including the creation of more daycare spaces and services for those who are addicted to illicit substances in a province where over 5,800 people have fatally overdosed since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

“We’ve said for two years now that we need to have a pathway to get people off drugs,” Wilkinson said. “As someone who trained in medicine, I have some ideas about that and I’ll be rolling them out in the next week or so.”

Wilkinson, who was born in Brisbane, Australia, said he had “very humble beginnings” in Kamloops, where his family immigrated in 1962 after his father accepted a job with the federal Agriculture Department as a scientist working on cattle parasites.

“I grew up delivering newspapers as a kid and pumping gas in high school. And I paid my entire way through university with my own funds so I’ve worked hard to get where I did and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a successful life. And I hope to bring those set of skills to this job.”

Wilkinson was elected in 2013 and became technology minister and then minister of advanced education two years later before serving for a short time as attorney general prior to the 2017 election.

He cycles or runs daily and kayaks in the summer while cross-country and downhill skiing in the winter. He has been married since 1993 to Barbara Grantham and the couple has three grown children in their 20s.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

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

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

(File image)
Vehicle collides with propane line causing explosion in Thornhill

Driver sustained severe burns, was taken to Lower Mainland in air ambulance

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read