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‘Tension is going to build up’: Andrew Wilkinson says he’ll highlight NDP-Green fissures

Andrew Wilkinson’s victory speech after winning BC Liberal leadership
Andrew Wilkinson addresses the crowd after being named the new leader of the BC Liberals.

After a tense five rounds of vote counting, the BC Liberals have selected a new leader, and Andrew Wilkinson is wasting no time in introducing himself to British Columbians.

Wilkinson is an accredited doctor, lawyer and former cabinet minister, and currently sits as the MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena.

READ MORE: Andrew Wilkinson named new leader of BC Liberals

On Sunday, he joined CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show to lay out what’s next as he takes on the role of Leader of the Opposition.

LISTEN: Introducing new BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson

Wilkinson took the BC Liberal leadership after defeating two outsiders, Dianne Watts and Michael Lee, in a race that some have characterized as being a choice between a new face and the old guard.

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Wilkinson, however, doesn’t see it that way — arguing he too will bring a new energy to the party that held power for 16 years.

READ MORE: New poll has BC NDP widening lead over BC Liberals

“Every leader sets a new direction, and I think that will be the case once I’ve settled in and talked to the caucus,” he said.

“So the policy direction will be new and different, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of continuity as of basic Liberal values.”

Those values, according to Wilkinson, centre on promoting free enterprise, fiscal responsibility and eschewing deficit spending.

WATCH” Andrew Wilkinson wins the BC Liberal leadership race.

BC Liberal leadership vote winner
BC Liberal leadership vote winner

Challenging the government

Wilkinson said he’s prepared to hit the ground running once the legislature returns on Feb. 13, with priority number one being “holding [the NDP] to account.”

“For the last six months they’ve been basically trying to study everything to death because they’re afraid to make decisions,” he said.

Part of that strategy may involve trying to drive a wedge between the NDP and the Green Party, whose support it relies on to remain in power.

“They have different views on some things but the Greens haven’t shown the stomach to actually vote against the party on anything,” he said.

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“So what we have is a Green Party that makes a lot of noise but actually just votes with the NDP, and so that tension is going to build up between the two of them, and we’ll be there to point that out.”

READ MORE: BC Liberal candidates square off in final leadership debate

Wilkinson said that tension is apparent when it comes to the issue of LNG. The NDP has said in recent weeks it plans to champion the industry, while Green Leader Andrew Weaver has threatened to topple the government over the issue.

However, when it comes to whether the Liberals would vote to support the NDP on an LNG bill should the Greens oppose it, Wilkinson wouldn’t say.

“We’ll see what actually comes up, and we as the opposition will be ready to hold the NDP and the Greens to account. They’re backing themselves into a corner.”

WATCH: ‘I’ve been in the trenches for a long time doing this work’: Wilkinson

‘I’ve been in the trenches for a long time doing this work’: Wilkinson
‘I’ve been in the trenches for a long time doing this work’: Wilkinson

Electoral reform

Wilkinson also pointed to defeating the upcoming referendum on electoral reform as a top Liberal priority — an issue he characterized as a back room deal between the NDP and Greens.

He argued the NDP is stacking the deck when it comes to the process around the vote, which he said “completely changes the structure of our democracy.”

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He said the mail-in vote is likely to produce a lower turnout, the 50 per cent-plus one needed for approval will allow Metro Vancouver to outvote rural areas, and accused the NDP of drafting the referendum question in secret.

Wilkinson argued proportional representation (PR) would fragment B.C. into multiple minor parties who would need to cut backroom deals, and also suggested that a PR system would mean voters would no longer have a regionally-specific MLA to represent them.

That last point is not necessarily true. The Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system, which is used in Germany, allows voters to cast a ballot both for a specific representative and for a party. Other less strictly “proportional” models, like a STV — which BC voted on in 2005 and 2009 — or a ranked ballot, could allow voters within a riding to list their preferred candidates in order.

The Liberals themselves used a ranked ballot to select Wilkinson as leader. Asked why he supports that model within the party but not province-wide, Wilkinson argued the cases aren’t comparable.

“We’re a family and we’ve got to come to a consensus conclusion,” he said.

LISTEN: A new chapter in B.C. Liberal politics

#MeToo

The #MeToo movement that has swept North America has recently arrived in Canadian political circles.

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High profile politicians including former Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and federal Liberal MP Kent Hehr both resigned in recent weeks after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Asked whether he could assure British Columbians there were no such skeletons in the closet that could emerge within his own caucus, Wilkinson pointed to the Ensuring Safety and True Equality for All Women policy in his platform.

“It starts off by saying no person should ever have to endure harassment or assault, we should be unquestionably safe in our workplaces, our schools and our community – that’s the core of my belief on this issue.”

B.C. MLAs will return to Victoria for the Speech from the Throne on Feb. 13, and will see the NDP’s first full budget on Feb. 20.