Langley’s Liberal MLAs are singing the praises of their party’s new leader, following Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson’s win over the weekend.
Wilkinson edged out former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts for the top spot, earning enough points from second and third placements to win the B.C. Liberal leadership with 4,621 points.
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Following Christy Clark’s Aug. 4 departure, veteran Langley East MLA Rich Coleman held the interim-leader post until a new leader was elected.
Coleman called Wilkinson “a really solid guy.”
“He was the president of the party in 1998 and he actually hosted the B.C. Liberal convention here, so we go way back,” Coleman said.
“He’s always been a real class act. He’s a very capable guy. He’ll do a good job.”
Mary Polak was happy with the result. The longtime Langley MLA said that two of the reasons she worked on Wilkinson’s team for leadership were his authenticity and integrity.
“He’s one of those rare people in politics who is exactly what he seems,” Polak said. “There’s no hidden agenda. He’s a very straightforward person, and I very much appreciate that.”
Polak said Wilkinson is grounded in “what has been the traditional identity of our coalition party, around free enterprise.”
She said in B.C., there are rural and urban sensibilities that need to be brought together.
“You can’t do things that exacerbate the divide,” Polak said. “You need to look at the province as a whole.”
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Following the vote, Wilkinson thanked the other candidates and reminded party members of the come-from-behind election win by Clark in 2013 and the landslide victory led by Gordon Campell in 2001.
“Think about fiscal responsibility, that we are the party that does not spend our children’s money,” Wilkinson told a boisterous crowd at the Vancouver Wall Centre hotel on Saturday. “All of us have to come together now.”
Watts, who led the leadership race going into the fifth round, finished with 4,075 points.
Wilkinson has an impressive resume as a politician, lawyer, and licensed physician. He was appointed minister of advanced education on Dec. 18, 2014, and prior to that, served as minister of technology, innovation and citizens’ services from June 2013, after being elected MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena in the 2013 general election.
Prior to being elected MLA, Wilkinson worked as a lawyer in the Vancouver offices of a major national law firm, and before being called to the bar he was a licensed physician, living and working as a doctor in Campbell River, Lillooet and Dease Lake.
“He’s no slouch,” Polak said. “He’s also a Rhodes scholar in his spare time. He also served as deputy minister under the (Gordon) Campbell government for a time, so he’s well acquainted with how government works.”
Polak believes Wilkinson brings to the table “the whole package,” and in doing so positions the B.C. Liberal Party as a political force moving forward.
“Now we have our leadership settled and it’s time for us to get to work to make sure our party is properly rebuilt,” Polak said.
“Andrew’s job as a leader is to bring everybody back together,” Coleman said.
“The toughest thing, I’ve always said, for a political party is a leadership campaign. When you’re done, you have to go heal. Last time after Christy (Clark won the party election) there were people who were disappointed or threatened to leave, or (said they) can’t work with her, and they found out they could, and she grew into the leadership, and became the most exceptional leader in B.C. political history. I think he can do the same thing.”
Coleman hands over reins
Coleman was, in the opinion of many of the party faithful, a strong candidate to run as Liberal leader.
But the Langley East MLA said that for private reasons, he decided not to run.
“The leadership thing… at times you think emotionally you’d like to do it, but I look at it from a different perspective,” Coleman said.
“I have been leaving on Sundays to go to Victoria for 22 years. I looked at that, and the family, and all of that stuff, and I knew how invested emotionally people around me get in things, and I really felt that I didn’t want to put them through it, and felt it would be the right thing for me not to run for leader. It was a private decision for me.”
The age of the former deputy premier and solicitor general (he was born in 1956) also factored into his decision to not throw his hat in the ring.
“Just thinking about where I wanted to be five, 10 years from now. Obviously I’ve got a term to finish and I’ve got another decision to make going into the next election, and I’ll make that decision about a year from now.”
Coleman said you have to have a “certain fire in your belly” to lead a political party.
“I said to (former Liberal premier) Gordon Campbell once, ‘Look, I’d make a really good lieutenant.’ And he said ‘You’d make an unbelievable lieutenant,’” Coleman related.
“I can make sure the work gets done and the trains run on time, take care of people, sit down, get to know them, and help them learn their portfolios and things and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”