Andrew Wilkinson has resigned as leader of the BC Liberals after a disastrous weekend election result that saw his party largely kept out of the urban centres where it was once strong.
Mr. Wilkinson said at a news conference Monday he would remain as interim leader until the party chooses his successor. He did not take questions after delivering remarks that lasted a little less than two minutes.
“Leading the BC Liberals has been a great honour, but now it’s time for me to make room for somebody else to take over this role,” said Mr. Wilkinson, adding he looks forward to meeting the new caucus as a group once all votes are counted in mid-November.
The results from Saturday’s provincial election saw the New Democratic Party, led by John Horgan, win a majority government. The Liberals dropped a dozen seats, leaving it with only two of 11 seats in Vancouver and two of nine seats in Surrey.
The BC Liberals had been in government for 16 years. In the 2017 election, no party won a majority. The Liberals had the most seats but lost power after the Green Party agreed to support a minority NDP government.
Mr. Wilkinson, who has been both a practising doctor and a lawyer, was elected as the BC Liberals’ leader in 2018, succeeding Christy Clark with a promise of engaging with voters.
But his first election as leader ended with the Liberals only winning 29 seats to the NDP’s 55. The Greens got three.
Veteran Liberal MLA Mike de Jong, re-elected in his Abbotsford-area seat, said Monday there will be an internal debate about the timing of the next leadership race.
“I suspect that [Mr. Wilkinson] would prefer to see this happen as quickly as possible; there may be others within the party who believe we should take some time before rushing into an exercise to appoint a new leader. So arguments both ways; there will be conversations within the party.”
Mr. de Jong would not say whether Mr. Wilkinson would remain party leader in the event there is a long lead-up to the next leadership race.
“Everyone is digesting what has happened in fairly short order after the election,” he said. “What he has done today is offer to stay on until a new leader is selected, and the process by which that will happen and the timing around which that will happen will now be discussed within the party.”
Mr. de Jong said Mr. Wilkinson contacted the Liberal caucus in a conference call immediately after his public announcement.
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, defeated in his Vancouver-False Creek riding after seven years as a Liberal MLA, said he respected Mr. Wilkinson for his hard work but added “obviously he didn’t connect with the voters in the way we hoped he might."
Monday’s announcement capped a series of incremental statements from Mr. Wilkinson after Saturday’s election results. That night, he declined to concede, saying hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots needed to be counted. On Sunday, however, he sent out a tweet, saying, “The people of B.C. have spoken,” and that he had called Mr. Horgan to congratulate him.
Former B.C. finance minister Kevin Falcon said the party needs a new fiscally conservative leader who understands affordability issues for families and how to increase the size of the economic pie, as opposed to the New Democrats “who just want to distribute from a shrinking pie.”
He also said the next leader needs to be socially liberal with an understanding that the BC Liberals make up a big-tent party, with the broadest possible range of voices within it.
Mr. Falcon came second to Ms. Clark in the 2011 BC Liberals' leadership race and, since then, he has been seen by some as a leader in waiting. However, he said he would not be interested in returning to public life.
“Every election that rolls around, I get bombarded with phone calls and e-mails, asking me to return to public life, but the truth is I am very happy where I am right now,” he said in an interview. “I think there are other ways I can make contributions.”
Mr. Falcon suggested the party launch a “root to branch” rebuild that should include a new look at whether the BC Liberals should find a more independent name.
On policy, he said the party should look at getting back to a leadership role in climate change, especially in light of its bringing in the carbon tax and winning an election in 2009 in which the NDP opposed it.
During this campaign, the party faced questions over its support of the LGBTQ community – one candidate, as a town councillor, had voted against a rainbow sidewalk. Mr. Wilkinson responded by citing the presence of gay and lesbian people in his family, as well as his party’s anti-discrimination policies.
Mr. Falcon said there should be no issue around the party’s support of the LGBTQ community. “This should be a party as open and welcoming as absolutely possible. That’s got to be a fundamental requirement for anybody that wants to be part of this party."
More specifically, he said the party’s position has to be: “Everybody has the right to an opinion. Nobody has the right to intolerance. That is the distinction."
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
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