The future of BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is in the spotlight after an election performance that saw his party lose up to a dozen seats — some in long-time party strongholds
Andrew Wilkinson offered little in the way of clues as to what his own plans are in speech Saturday night, conceding only that the NDP were “clearly ahead” and appeared likely to have the chance to form government.
“We don’t know what the final seat count will be, and we owe it to every voter, every voter, no matter how they expressed their intention, to await the final results,” he said.
Wilkinson did not address whether he planned to stay on as leader.
That may not be up to him. Some BC Liberals, like Richmond South Centre candidate Alexa Loo, a former Olympic snowboarder, were already breaking ranks on Saturday night.
“You go to games, you lose the race — you’re getting a new team leader,” she said.
“So now, who will the new team leader be? Will it be someone who is new and dynamic and can push the team across the finish line all the way?”
Wilkinson has already faced questions about his leadership during the campaign.
He took criticism for a several-day delay in responding to sexist comments from a North Vancouver candidate, and for standing by Laurie Throness despite his controversial views on LGBTQ2 issues, until the Chilliwack-Kent’s comments on birth control and eugenics were a bridge too far.
Caroline Elliott, a BC Liberal and former party adviser, acknowledged that any time a party loses, there will be questions of leadership, but argued the party was always facing an uphill battle in this coronavirus pandemic election.
She said that the question was a broader one of renewal for the entire party.
“The BC Liberals have lost over a dozen seats, so if that’s not a message from the voters, I don’t know what is,” she told Global News.
Elliott said when the Liberals won the most votes but lost power in 2017, they may not have taken the need for renewal seriously enough.
Read more: By the numbers: B.C.’s 2020 election
“It wasn’t the same impetus for a refresh that I think we see now,” she said.
Defeated Richmond-Queensborough BC Liberal incumbent Jas Johal, floated by some as a possible leadership contender himself, told Global News Wilkinsons’ future was up to the leader to decide.
He, too, said the party had failed to renew itself enough in the past three years, arguing it had ceded environmental, housing affordability, health-care and education issues to the other parties.
For the Liberals to be successful again, Johal said, they’ll need to show voters that they’re a modern, diverse party.
“The BC NDP has done a better job renewing in the past three weeks than the BC Liberals have done in the past three years,” he said.
“B.C. voters took us to the back of the woodshed and gave us a thumping. That’s reality.”
While conversations about Wilkinson’s future may be percolating in the background, UBC political scientist Max Cameron said the party shouldn’t necessarily get the knives out.
“I think parties make a mistake when they toss away a leader just because the leader has lost one election, as if the leader is a dirty shirt and an embarrassment,” he said.
Cameron said the NDP — in its generally prudent fiscal management and willingness to approve megaprojects like LNG and the Site C dam — has captured the political centre in B.C.
The Liberals will need to find a way back into that space to be successful again, he argued, including modernizing itself on hot button issues like gender and sexuality.
“They need to do a better job of showing that they get it,” Cameron said.
Whether that “fundamental rethinking” of the party will involve a new leader will be up to them, he said.