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B.C. election 2020: Liberal leader says he felt ’embarrassed’ during incumbent’s sexist roast

Click to play video 'BC Liberal leader releases election platform as polls show party trailing' BC Liberal leader releases election platform as polls show party trailing
BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson has released his party's election platform, as he trails in the polls and is dogged by controversy. Richard Zussman reports – Oct 13, 2020

The leader of the BC Liberal Party says he was “embarrassed” by an incumbent MLA’s comments during an online retirement party three weeks ago that targeted a New Democrat politician, but stopped short of taking responsibility for laughing at the sexist jokes.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the now-viral video was released Saturday, Andrew Wilkinson acknowledged that he didn’t speak to Jane Thornthwaite about her comments until last weekend. In the clip, which shows colleagues roasting retiring MLA Ralph Sultan, Thornthwaite jokes about BC NDP incumbent Bowinn Ma using her looks to get close to Sultan.

Read more: B.C. election 2020 promise tracker: What the major parties are pledging

“Jane’s performance that night was so clearly inappropriate and embarrassing that the tenor of the call was that she had done something completely wrong. I did not enforce it because she knew that,” Wilkinson told reporters at a campaign event on Tuesday.

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“It didn’t need to be reinforced because it was so clear what she did was wrong.”

Click to play video 'BC NDP candidate Bowinn Ma demands answers from Andrew Wilkinson' BC NDP candidate Bowinn Ma demands answers from Andrew Wilkinson
BC NDP candidate Bowinn Ma demands answers from Andrew Wilkinson – Oct 12, 2020

But when asked why he’d been laughing in the video and hadn’t spoken out at the time, Wilkinson said he did not want to embarrass Sultan, who represented West Vancouver-Capilano, by bringing attention to the remarks.

“We have all been in those scenarios of someone saying something inappropriate … [and] this one was for a 87-year-old man who lives alone and there was a sense of not wanting to ruin his evening,” he said.

“Many of us were embarrassed to the point of being appalled. It is hard to stop the train in a social event when you don’t know what will be said next. I wish I had found a way to intervene without embarrassing Ralph. ”

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Click to play video 'BC Liberals under fire over leaked Zoom video mocking NDP’s Bowinn Ma' BC Liberals under fire over leaked Zoom video mocking NDP’s Bowinn Ma
BC Liberals under fire over leaked Zoom video mocking NDP’s Bowinn Ma – Oct 11, 2020

Wilkinson had apologized to Ma on social media on Sunday, and added on Tuesday that he would be happy to apologize again to her over the phone.

Ma, who is running for re-election in North Vancouver-Lonsdale, told reporters on Monday that Wilkinson had a lot to answer for.

“I question if a man who is unable to set a tone of his political party in terms of respect for women is able to set a tone for British Columbians,” Ma had said.

Read more: ‘I am sorry’: BC Liberal incumbent responds after making sexist joke about BC NDP’s Bowinn Ma

Thornthwaite, the incumbent in North Vancouver-Seymour, has apologized numerous times and said she left Ma a voicemail apologizing as well.

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Voters go to the polls in the provincial election on Oct. 24.