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B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C. on Oct. 10, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson spent the long weekend closeted with his strategists preparing for a coming televised leaders debate, as pressure mounted from his rivals to explain why he failed to call out sexist remarks made by a member of his caucus during a party fundraiser.

Mr. Wilkinson was one of the prominent Liberals who listened and laughed as candidate Jane Thornthwaite offered up a sexualized and belittling story about a female political rival, New Democrat Bowinn Ma, during a roast for a retiring MLA. By Monday, a video of the event had been viewed on social media hundreds of thousands of times, making it likely the issue will be a talking point in Tuesday’s debate.

The Liberal Leader will face off against NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau, who have both condemned Mr. Wilkinson for tacitly condoning Ms. Thornthwaite’s conduct at the virtual roast held on Sept. 17.

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Mr. Wilkinson issued an apology to Ms. Ma via Twitter on Sunday.

“I think Andrew Wilkinson has a lot to answer for in terms of what he feels is acceptable within his caucus, and I question whether a man who is unable to set the tone of his political party in terms of respect for women is able to set a tone for British Columbia,” Ms. Ma said at a news conference on Monday.

Mr. Horgan would not reveal if he plans to raise the issue during the 90-minute debate, but he said he was heartened by the public support that Ms. Ma has received.

“This video, this blatant sexism that was allowed to pass, is a teachable moment for all of us,” he told reporters at an unrelated campaign event on Monday. “I know that there are women across Canada that are cheering British Columbians for standing up and saying this is not okay.”

Most Liberal candidates remained silent and many – including those who participated in the event – declined interview requests.

Mary Polak, a candidate who did attend the virtual roast, said she did not object at the time because she took it as a jest at the expense of the retiring Ralph Sultan. “Having seen it again, certainty I see the problem with it,” she said in an interview. She said the B.C. Legislature has long harboured a “frat boy” atmosphere, but maintained Mr. Wilkinson has set a respectful tone for women in the Liberal caucus.

But Diane Watts, the former Surrey mayor who narrowly lost the 2017 Liberal leadership race to Mr. Wilkinson, ignored the partisan divide and joined New Democrats in condemning the event. “The comments were absolutely unacceptable – sexist and not the least bit funny. As women, we have to do better and certainly set a better example for young women,” she told The Globe and Mail.

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Ms. Thornthwaite attempted to reach Ms. Ma on the weekend to apologize for what she described as inappropriate comments. She had referred to Ms. Ma, who is a professional engineer with a master in business management, as a “pretty lady” who used her appearance to disarm Mr. Sultan as her political critic: “Bowinn would be right up, next to him, cuddling, cuddling, cuddling, a little bit of cleavage there. And Ralph would be enthralled with her.”

All three served as MLAs on Metro Vancouver’s North Shore in the past legislature. Linda Buchanan, mayor of the city of North Vancouver, said it wasn’t just the remarks that bothered her. In a tweet, she wrote: “Infuriating to the core to watch 8 candidates, including the leader of the @bcliberals, belittle and objectify a fellow politician. Shows their true colours and how internalized misogyny rips women down.”

The leaked video of the roast was shared on social media on Saturday evening by This is Vancolour podcast host Mo Amir. As of Monday afternoon, it had been viewed almost 300,000 times.

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