BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson pauses and offers an assessment of his biggest weakness: impatience, he says, acknowledging he sometimes doesn’t wait long enough to bring people along with him on decisions big and small.
Past political associates say his impatience has also inhibited the public’s ability to get to know him. The snap election call by the NDP’s John Horgan has left Mr. Wilkinson with a difficult dilemma: The impatient man has almost run out of time to introduce himself.
Mr. Wilkinson, 63, has both a medical and a law degree and has served as a deputy minister under former premier Gordon Campbell and then a minister under Mr. Campbell’s successor Christy Clark. During a physically distant interview at a downtown hotel ballroom, Mr. Wilkinson said he’s had an insatiable appetite for learning since his 20s. “I still have it and political life is very good for people who want to continue learning for their entire life.”
But he acknowledged: “I am quite impatient to get moving on things so it’s something I have to manage because other people don’t move at the same speed I do.”
Former MLA Bill Bennett, co-chair in Mr. Wilkinson’s successful 2018 leadership bid, said the party leader can support his opinions with evidence “like nobody else I have ever worked with in politics.”
“Andrew’s challenge is certainly not some inability to understand the issues and come up with solutions,” Mr. Bennett said. “His challenge is to be patient with everybody around him and to allow the public to get a glimpse into who he really is as a person.”
Ralph Sultan, a retired BC Liberal member of the legislature with three degrees from Harvard, said Mr. Wilkinson has an edge on his predecessors, Mr. Campbell and Ms. Clark, given his “native intelligence” and a professional record.
“The downside, as you might surmise, is that being the brightest guy in the room doesn’t necessarily make you the most popular guy in the room,” Mr. Sultan said in an interview. “I can attest to that. You have to be a bit cautious about displaying your own insights.”
Last week, Mr. Wilkinson’s ability to display those insights was under intense scrutiny after a pair of challenging incidents.
Mr. Wilkinson cut ties with Fraser Valley incumbent Laurie Throness over remarks Mr. Throness made during an all-candidates meeting comparing an NDP policy on free contraception to eugenics.
Also, there was a storm of controversy over remarks, seen as sexist and belittling, that a female Liberal MLA made about a female NDP MLA at Mr. Sultan’s retirement roast, broadcast on Zoom.
Mr. Wilkinson, on camera during the comments, denounced them. “I think, under the circumstances, Andrew handled it as well as anybody could," Mr. Sultan said. “That’s my opinion as one of the victims of this fiasco.”
Mr. Wilkinson was born in Brisbane, Australia. His father was an insect scientist and the family moved to Canada because the elder Mr. Wilkinson specialized in a type of tick prevalent in Kamloops, B.C., linked to the paralysis of cattle. Mr. Wilkinson’s mother worked as a librarian.
A high-school interest in biology and science led Mr. Wilkinson to pursue medical studies. He became a doctor practising in three rural B.C. communities.
Reflecting on his medical experience, Mr. Wilkinson said there was nothing like being on the spot at 2 a.m. with no backup, lab facilities or blood supply.
“It’s you and some medications,” he said. “You quickly figure out whether that’s a way of life for you because some people would find it daunting and other people thrive on it. I found I was very capable at it but that isolated rural medicine was not a long-term proposition for me.”
He was also a Rhodes Scholar and lawyer, eventually practising in two Vancouver firms. On the side, he was a president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, president of the BC Liberal Party, and president of the B.C. Mountaineering Club. (He now gets his exercise from daily half-hour bicycle rides or runs.)
Mr. Sultan said most British Columbians would probably prefer to have a beer with Mr. Horgan, the NDP Leader, over Mr. Wilkinson.
“Horgan wins in that contest because he uses all this sports slogan, ‘Bro’ [talk]. It’s not natural to Andrew’s style and background. He’s very aware of that."
Mr. Wilkinson agrees.
“I’m a pretty reserved person and pride myself on humility, and sometimes in politics you need to be a bit more out there, and assertive and that’s something I approach very carefully because I have always thought it better to win on the merits rather than on salesmanship,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
Mr. Wilkinson entered politics in 2013, winning a Vancouver seat. Under Ms. Clark, he served as advanced education minister, technology minister and attorney-general. After the Liberals were ousted in 2017, by the NDP working with the BC Greens, Mr. Wilkinson ran for leader.
The married father of three said his family keeps a “polite distance” from his political work. “They see the downsides of being dragged into the social-media world and accused of things that have no basis."
In a 2018 interview with a publication of the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars, he said: “The profile of politics means loss of privacy, endless scrutiny, unfair treatment on social media, and a complete lack of empathy from much of the public. But I still enjoy it very much, and strongly recommend it to others – a bit like the Navy, there’s no life like it.”
Asked last week if he stood by the comments, he asked that they be read again. “It’s still valid," he said.
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