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Gordon Wilson rejoins Liberal camp, backing Clark

A February, 2000, file photo of former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Gordon Wilson, who led the B.C. Liberals to a 1991 breakthrough that saw them go from zero to 17 seats, is coming home to the party he left over an affair with a fellow MLA and is now endorsing Christy Clark.

Mr. Wilson, a consultant in Powell River, says he called a senior Liberal last week to see if endorsing Ms. Clark would be helpful. He then spoke to Ms. Clark herself. "She was very positive."

He will be in Vancouver this week to sign his membership card, officially becoming a Liberal for the first time since he was ousted in 1993 over an affair with fellow Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji.

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They eventually married. "If nothing else, that was probably the best thing that came out of my going into politics," Mr. Wilson said during an interview on Sunday.

It's a striking political turnaround for Mr. Wilson, who was recruited into the NDP by former premier Glen Clark and went on to become an NDP finance and education minister and even sought its leadership before the party's defeat in the 2001 election.

But, in effect, Mr. Wilson has made a choice between two of his former parties.

In a YouTube video posted Sunday night as a prelude to helping the Liberals, he launched an all-out bid to help his former party ahead of the May 14 provincial election in which the polling gap between the NDP and Liberals is narrowing.

"After 20 years, I believe that all of us who were so excited at the B.C. Liberal breakthrough in 1991, but who left the party in 1993 and those of us who don't feel comfortable at the prospect of an (NDP Leader) Adrian Dix government come home. This is not a decision that I have taken lightly but it's one I feel compelled to make.' Mr. Wilson said Sunday, echoing the views in the video, that "the straw broke" over Mr. Dix's position to oppose a proposed $5-billion Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion from Alberta to the Lower Mainland after saying he would await the company's proposal. Also, he says he is exasperated by the NDP's proposal to run deficits for at least three years, in part, to cover the costs of their programs in such areas as skills training and dealing with poverty.

Mr. Wilson, himself, mentioned the "Flip Wilson" label slapped on him in past for changing parties three times in six years. He was also leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance. He is mindful of the past, but dismissive of it as a burden.

"My philosophy has remained consistent. Where parties have shifted, I have tried to stay directed towards the philosophies I have believed in. I am coming home to a party that is very much like what we were trying to build in '91 as an alternative to the New Democrats."

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Mr. Wilson, 64, is sanguine over missed opportunities, given that Gordon Campbell, who succeeded him as leader, became a three-term premier. "It would have been a more pleasant experience in politics had we not run into the difficulties we did, but that's a lot of water down the river at this point."

Political scientist Norman Ruff said Sunday that Mr. Wilson is notable as the founder of the modern B.C. Liberal Party. Ms. Clark worked for him in his 1991 campaign. Mr. Ruff, a professor emeritus with the University of Victoria, said he expected a mixed response to Mr. Wilson's return – confusion to many British Columbians who may have forgotten or never known him, anger among New Democrats, and cautious enthusiasm among Liberals.

But given the narrowing polls, he said every little such development may help the Liberals. "He's the stray sheep that has returned to the fold. They're always welcome. It's always taken as a good omen."

Ms. Clark saw it as such Sunday. "As a moderate voice, as someone who has been really passionately, over the last 20 years, speaking on behalf of the underdog and lots of those social issues that matter to people, I think he does have a real presence and a pull."


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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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