Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson calls for party unity as he is declared the new B.C. Liberal leader. (Ashley Wadwhani/Black Press)

New B.C. Liberal leader’s connection to Sun Wave and Watson Island

Andrew Wilkinson was once the legal representative for Ni Ritao

B.C. Liberal members chose Andrew Wilkinson as their new leader.

“Think about fiscal responsibility, that we are the party that does not spend our children’s money,” Wilkinson told the crowd at the Wall Centre hotel. “All of us have to come together now.”

On Feb. 3, with six candidates to choose from, it was the Vancouver-Quilcherna MLA who won with 4,621 points. The race was close in the North Coast district with Wilkinson taking 39.5 per cent (119 votes) and Dianne Watts with 35 per cent (106 votes).

“I think he’s a great choice and I think he’ll do well for leading us into the province. He’s a highly educated man. He served one term and he has the experience necessary and I think he’ll do well against Horgan in the debates. I look forward to a new start,” said Judy Fraser, B.C. Liberal Party member in Prince Rupert.

READ MORE: BC Liberal leader hopeful Wilkinson shares vision with Rupertites

Since winning the leadership a few articles have surfaced reminding the public of Wilkinson’s past connection to Prince Rupert. The former lawyer once represented Ni Ritao and Sun Wave Forest Products in court against the City of Prince Rupert until March 27, 2012.

Sun Wave had purchased the Skeena-Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island promising to re-start the mill and employ hundreds of residents. In 2006, the city had given the Chinese government-backed company a multi-million-dollar tax break to help bring the pulp mill back to life.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert’s island of dreams and nightmares

However, it never happened and by 2009 the city seized the property and billed Sun Wave. Reclaiming Watson Island cost the city approximately $90,000 a month. Meanwhile, Ni Ritao was investigated by Chinese authorities for an alleged bank-loan fraud involving the pulp mill.

Sun Wave tried to sue the City of Prince Rupert for seizing the site, which cost the city $250,000 per year in legal fees.

In 2017, the city turned to a new chapter on Watson Island, finalizing the decommissioning of the pulp mill site and announcing Pembina’s intention to build a propane terminal on the site.

READ MORE: Pembina’s Watson Island plans unveiled at open house

Jack Mussallem, who was mayor from 2009-2014, and heavily involved in trying to get the site cleaned up said, “It’s water under the bridge. Through the Liberal government they did help the City of Prince Rupert dispose of some the chemicals that were there, things like green liquor, black liquor, caustic as well as some other substances. They helped out, I think, to the tune of about $12 million if my memory is correct.

“But like I said, it was a while ago.”

With files from Quinn Bender and Tom Fletcher

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