New B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is being praised as a man with the skills and abilities to lead the party back to power by Kelowna’s two sitting MLAs and the Liberal candidate running in the Kelowna West byelection.
Steve Thomson and Ben Stewart predicted Wilkinson will do a good job as leader, especially getting out and talking to rural British Columbians about their needs.
“He had strong regional support (in the leadership race) and he’s a very smart, engaging guy,” said Thomson, who sat in cabinet with Wilkinson when both men were ministers in the former B.C. Liberal government.
While Thomson did not support Wilkinson in the leadership race—he supported Todd Stone—he said he considers the new Liberal leader a good friend who works well with others and can pull the party together after its ouster from power last summer in a vote of non-confidence by the NDP and B.C Greens.
That fall from political grace after 16 years came following May’s vote that saw the Liberals won by a razor thin margin, losing what had been a healthy majority of seats. Left in a minority position in the B.C. legislature, it could not fend off the NDP/Green challenge.
Candidate Ben Stewart, a former Kelowna West MLA, did not serve in government with Wilkinson but said he first met him in 1999 when Wilkinson was policy chair for the party and also worked with him more recently when Stewart was B.C.’s special trade representative in Asia and Wilkinson was advanced education minister.
“He’s a very bright guy, with lots of ideas,” said Stewart, who did not endorse any candidate for the party leadership. “He’s a very clear and precise thinker.”
Wilkinson is a medical doctor and a lawyer, in addition to being a politician.
Kelowna’s other MLA, Norm Letnick of Kelowna-Lake Country, supported Wilkinson in the leadership race.
When he announced he was supporting Wilkinson, Letnick said he chose the Vancouver-area MLA because of his extensive knowledge and grasp of issues, his ability to build consensus and his ideas for the future of the party and B.C. Letnick is currently travelling out of the country.
Both Thomson and Stewart said Wilkinson has a vision of where he wants to see the party go and predicted the B.C. Liberal Party will be different under him than it was under both former leaders Christy Clark and Gordon Campbell.
“All leaders are different, they bring different things to the table,” said Thomson.
Wilkinson will visit the Kelowna West riding this week, said Stewart, to help him campaign in the final stretch of the byelection race. The byelection will go Feb. 14.