BC Liberals have elected former advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson as their new leader, betting the Vancouver MLA can lead them back to power.
Mr. Wilkinson, who beat out five rivals to take 53 per cent of the vote on the fifth and final ballot, succeeds former premier Christy Clark as leader of the party, an informal coalition of federal Liberals and federal Tories who have no official connections to either national party.
On the final ballot, the former deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs in the office of ex premier Gordon Campbell, beat out high-profile rival Dianne Watts, a former mayor of Surrey and Tory MP, who quit her South Surrey-White Rock seat last year to seek to lead the Liberals — a party she just joined last year.
On the final ballot, Ms. Watts came second with 47 per cent of the vote. Ms. Watts has said she will run for a legislature seat.
An estimated 60,000 party members were eligible to vote online and via the phone in a preferential ballot that allowed candidates to be ranked. Each of the province's 87 ridings was allotted 100 points, divied among the candidates based on support.
By this process, results were announced by round and the candidate that finished last was eliminated from the race. Ms. Watts led through the first four ballots but was ultimately defeated by Mr. Wilkinson in the fifth and final round.
Mr. Wilkinson is a former Rhodes scholar. He served in various cabinet position including minister of technology. He was attorney-general for a month last summer after the last election in a brief period that the Liberals governed before being toppled by the NDP and Greens.
With the Liberals now in opposition after 16 years in power, Mr. Wilkinson, who trained and practiced as both a lawyer and a doctor before entering elected politics by winning the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena in 2013, wasted no time in making official his leadership campaign pitch that the party needs to broaden its base to get back to government.
The BC Liberal shift to opposition came after an election in which the party won the most seats, but fell short of the majorities it won in elections since 2001. They were toppled by the BC NDP, who are now governing with the support of three BC Green MLAs.
In a scrum, Mr. Wilkinson credited rivals Michael Lee and Todd Stone, both MLAs, for highlighting the environment, and said the party needs a broader message that highlights BC Liberal advances on the issue. He promised an " attractive" program on wildlife management.
Mr. Wilkinson, 60, also promised the BC Libeals will push the NDP on affordability.
"We're going to reach out to the women in this province and make a better attempt to engage them in politics. Of course, we are going to be reaching out to the diverse communities all around British Columbia to make sure that no matter where you're born, you feel like a fully engaged British Columbian who is fully part of our society just like I did as an immigrant to B.C.," said Mr. Wilkinson, who was born in Australia and moved to B.C., with his family, as a child.
In a recent debate, Mr. Wilkinson was more pointed on the issue, saying the left and social media had painted the BC Liberals as a "callous, indifferent, downtown nasty party, that doesn't care about our most vulnerable citizens."
"We can reverse that. But we have to stick together as a team and get out messages about the more positive nature of the party."
Mr. Lee, who made it to the fourth ballot before falling off, said his strong showing vindicated the balanced approach that Mr. Wilkinson noted.
"We need to have a more balanced message to talk about, not just jobs and the economy, balanced budgets and triple-A credit ratings" Mr. Lee said, acknowledging these issues are important, but there has to be more talk about the future of the province and finding the right balance between the environment and the economy.
In winning Saturday, Mr. Wilkinson beat out five other rivals — four of them fellow MLAs. The other candidates were former cabinet ministers Todd Stone, Mike de Jong — a former finance minister, who placed fourth in the last leadership race that Ms. Clark won in 2011 — and Sam Sullivan. Mr. Lee, a rookie MLA, also ran for the leadership as did Ms. Watts, who was not a member of caucus.
Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. de Jong struck an agreement, during the campaign, and urged each other's supporters to make the two candidates their second choices in the preferential ballot in the race.
Mr. Wilkinson said he expects the caucus will unite now that the leadership race is over, comparing the rhetorical jostling to rugby. "It's a sport. At the end of the game, we go back home and have drink together."
In the last days of the race, Mr. Stone's campaign acknowledged that nearly 1,400 new memberships it signed up were disqualified by the party after it discovered missing e-mail addresses. The campaign confirmed that the memberships were connected to the consultancy AggregateIQ.
Britain's Information Commissioner is looking into AggregateIQ's role in the Brexit campaign after the country's Electoral Commission revealed that the Leave side paid the equivalent of $4.6-million to the Canadian company for political work. No specific allegations of wrongdoing have been made, but commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said that she is particularly concerned with how personal information was analyzed to target voters.
B.C.'s Privacy Commissioner confirmed it is working with the British probe while also investigating whether AggregateIQ is compliant with privacy legislation in its home province. A representative from that office declined to comment on Friday on either investigation. AggregateIQ did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment on Friday. One of the company's founders has previously said the firm was co-operating with the British investigation.
In a scrum after the vote, Mr. Stone, a former transportation minister, downplayed the impact of the membership situation.
He said his team did what they thought was right within the rules. "I certainly would never, ever would sanction doing anything that contravenes the rules of a leadership race," he said.
Mr. Stone said his team ended up, after the first ballot, where they thought they would be, but didn't get the growth potential thereafter that they expected.
He said Mr. Wilkinson will be a great leader, and that he looks forward to working with him, rolling his teams efforts into Mr. Wilkinson's mission. "We're going to lock arms with Andrew now, and make sure we're contributing as he sees fit," said Mr. Stone.
NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon congratulated Mr. Wilkinson on behalf of his party.
"We offer our congratulations to Andrew Wilkinson on winning the leadership of the BC Liberals and look forward to seeing him in his new position in the Legislature," he said in a statement released Saturday night. "We look forward to working with you on legislation that works for all the people of this great province."
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver also issued a statement of congratulations.
"I extend my sincere congratulations to Andrew on his election as leader of the B.C. Liberal Party," said Mr. Weaver.
"One of our caucus' key priorities in choosing a confidence and supply agreement over a coalition government was to ensure we could work with both parties to advance our shared priorities in the legislature. I look forward to meeting with Andrew to discuss his priorities for the next legislative session and how we can collaborate on areas of common ground."