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

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Overlooking Ucluelet’s Main Street shopping district, Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce executive director Laurie Filgiano cozies up with ‘Snowy’, the beloved decorating contest trophy. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet’s Midnight Madness shopping spree gets a stiff shot of madness this weekend

“As a community, I think we will come out of this stronger.”

Josie Osborne was sworn into the Legislature virtually on Nov. 24. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne named minister of municipal affairs

The position was previously held by Selina Robinson, who is the province’s new finance minister

A sign at the entrance to Ty-Histanis asks visitors to stay out of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Westerly file photo)
Leaders from Tofino-Ucluelet region urge tourists to stay away for two weeks

The West Coast is pausing its winter tourist season temporarily due to rising COVID-19 numbers

This large Spruce was one of several trees that came crashing down around CARE’s animal shelter during Nov. 17’s windstorm. (CARE Network photo)
Funding and fosters needed after storm destroys fencing at Tofino-Ucluelet animal shelter

The damage forced an evacuation of the facility, which was sheltering five animals at the time.

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Freighter anchored off Kin Beach in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
MP to host expert panel for virtual town hall on freighter anchorages issue

Residents can participate through MacGregor’s website or Facebook page Dec. 3

Most Read