BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is hoping to win over British Columbians with something new and fresh. After 16 years of Liberal rule, Wilkinson was elected as leader nearly a year ago to guide his party out of opposition with the goal of winning the next provincial election.
But the Liberal leader will have a hard time convincing British Columbians his party deserves back in power if many of the long time Liberal stalwarts continue to stand beside him.
This point became especially clear this week with the release of Darryl Plecas’ report, which raises some flags about how closely the BC Liberals were connected to clerk Craig James.
One of the strongest links to the party and the scandal are the numerous visits that James made to former Liberals. The clerk’s position is a non-partisan one and the visits by James to former premier Christy Clark, former Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant and former Liberal speaker Bill Barisoff were concerning to many.
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He also met with current Liberal MLAs Mike de Jong and Steve Thomson.
“I have been born and raised in Victoria, passionate about this institution, passionate about public service, a member of this place for 14 years, had the honour to be a house leader for the opposition, a leader of the opposition, and now premier,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said. “And in that time, 14 years, Mr. James never visited me. Not in my office, not in my home. He didn’t expense visits to me. He did to Christy Clark when she wasn’t a member of this place.”
“But to see the report from Mr. Plecas that Mr. James expensed visits to see a former premier after she left this place, or a former Speaker after he left this place, and allegations of truckloads of alcohol being delivered to a former member of this legislature, is absolutely appalling for the people of B.C.”
WATCH: Wilkinson on ‘smear campaign’ against Speaker Darryl Plecas
The report also make allegations towards Liberal MLA Linda Reid. Her former assistant Connor Gibson says she filed inappropriate expenses. Plecas’ special advisor Alan Mullen has also raised concerns there may be issues with the severance packages handed over to Liberal staff following the change in leadership.
Reid denies doing anything wrong and welcomes a full audit. But even if Reid, the former legislature Speaker, is cleared of wrongdoing, the allegations themselves will linger long enough to cast doubt over the Liberals.
“I put in as Speaker lots of increased diligence when it comes to spending,” Reid said. “But there is always work to do.”
LISTEN: Should Darryl Plecas be recalled?
The BC Liberals are the party that recently lived through B.C. Rail, triple deleting emails, quick wins, exclusive high-priced fundraisers and were in charge when money laundering became commonplace in B.C. casinos and the housing market.
It may not be fair, but longtime MLAs who have created strong legacies in British Columbia are still perceived by the public as being intrinsically linked to the party’s past.
Wilkinson has a challenge on his hands over how he goes about helping the party move on.
WATCH: Morality of the BC Liberals and how Wilkinson will ‘clear the air’ and ‘clean house’
He could ask longtime MLAs like Reid, de Jong, Rich Coleman, Shirley Bond, John Yap and others to move on now, resign their seats and hope the ranks are filled with fresh faces before the next election. But that could be problematic because those same politicians bring a rare level of experience and expertise.
Reid’s name was linked to the Plecas Report. Yap is connected to the quick wins scandal and was forced to resign as a minister. Coleman is deeply connected to the money laundering issue. Bond and de Jong are seen as two of former premier Clark’s most senior ministers and will never be able to shed that image.
The other option is to keep the team on with a promise they don’t run again in the next election, which is currently set for 2021. But the issue with keeping them on is by the time the election is underway it may be too late to change people’s minds the BC Liberals actually offer change.
“Anyone who works in this building, no matter what party they are with, needs to be committed to public service and if they are not they should find another line of work,” Wilkinson said when asked whether he needed to make changes within his own caucus.
One of the concerns Wilkinson may have to live with is if he can’t convince the public his party is scandal-free, he may need to find a new line of work as well.