Liberal leadership hopeful Wilkinson touts education, experience on Penticton stop

Joe Fries / Penticton Herald

With a newcomer to provincial politics seemingly well ahead in the race to become the next BC Liberal leader, one of the other contenders is reminding party members that experience matters.


BC Liberal leadership candidate Andrew Wilkinson with supporters during a weekend visit to Penticton. Contributed photo

With a newcomer to provincial politics seemingly well ahead in the race to become the next BC Liberal leader, one of the other contenders is reminding party members that experience matters.

“It’s important to approach the issue of leadership in the provincial government from the view that you’ve got to know what you’re doing,” Andrew Wilkinson said Monday, following a weekend visit to Penticton.

“It’s a big, complicated machine with a $52-billion budget, and some of us have experience in it and some of us do not.”

Having served as the MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena since 2013 and helmed three different ministries during that period, Wilkinson clearly has the experience.

The person who he believes does not is former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who stepped down from her last job as a federal Conservative MP in her bid to take charge of the BC Liberals.

A poll commissioned by Watts’s camp and released last weekend pegged her as the candidate of choice for 29 per cent of party members surveyed.

The results put Mike de Jong and Todd Stone in a two-way tie for second place at 11 per cent, followed by Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan and Rich Coleman in a three-way race for third place at six per cent.

Wilkinson is easily the best educated of the bunch, having studied as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, before returning to his home province to work as a doctor and lawyer.

“I’ve lived and worked in Dease Lake and Lillooet and Campbell River, and I grew up in Kamloops, so I have a pretty solid understanding of what makes this province tick and what it needs to get ahead,” he said.

The father of three and former president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association heard from the roughly 30 people he met in Penticton that their kids need jobs in order for them to get ahead.

“Penticton’s now a fairly mature city and it’s got the local services like schools and the Okanagan College campus and the hospital, but we’ve got to continue looking to the future and say: What does Penticton need for employment?” Wilkinson said.

“I think everybody in Penticton knows young people tend to leave for Kelowna or bigger cities, so we’ve got to make sure there’s the prospect of good, strong employment there for new graduates so they can stay in Penticton.”

Again, though, he believes it will take a veteran leader to make that happen.

“I bring to this task the necessary experience to get things done, and I default to action, so that we can actually move our agenda ahead,” Wilkinson said.

“This is not a job for a newcomer. There are no training wheels, there is no orientation program.”