Ready to Rumble - The Orca

Ready to Rumble

Maclean Kay

2019 was another crazy year in BC politics – but for Andrew Wilkinson, it may have seemed comparatively tame.

It was yet another rollercoaster of a year in BC politics – but for Andrew Wilkinson, 2019 might actually have been comparatively dull.

Consider Wilkinson’s 2018. He won a hotly-contested (and contested hotly) race to become leader of the party. Days later, he walked into his first legislative session as Leader of the Opposition. He rallied his still-wounded party to campaign against and defeat “Canada’s least honest attempt at electoral reform,” – including a live, pressure-packed, one-on-one debate with Premier John Horgan.

That’s a lot for one year.

2019 was far from dull, especially in the legislature. But as Wilkinson learns two jobs (leader of his party and Leader of the Official Opposition) in real time, it’s no longer a stretch to envision Wilkinson in the premier’s office.

“I am not convinced that the NDP understand that they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth.”

Like any government, the wear and tear of problems and issues is starting to dent the NDP – and with a razor-thin minority government, Wilkinson only needs one or two seats to swing his way to become BC’s next premier.

Wilkinson brushed aside – gently – my suggestion that the NDP are becoming alive to the reality that while they may be in government, they’re playing from behind, electorally.

“I am not convinced that the NDP understand that they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth with their aggressive and corrosive economic agenda.”

While an early election looks increasingly unlikely, Wilkinson says his party will be ready to go, more or less anytime.

“We have 11 nominations coming on stream in early 2020 and the remainder in the unheld seats will be in the foreseeable future. We’ve got excellent candidates coming forward seeking those nominations and I’m completely confident we’re ready to go.”

Does that mean the BC Liberals would be ready next month?

“Next month would be a challenge, because it would be New Year’s Eve,” Wilkinson points out with a wry smile.

“We thought the NDP in this province might modernize, like Tony Blair did with Labour in the UK.”

Wilkinson points to a rapidly shrinking surplus, forestry, favouritism, increased taxes, and a slowing economy as making the NDP vulnerable. And where the economy is growing, it’s largely driven by projects the NDP actually opposed: Site C, LNG Canada, and Trans Mountain.

“They’re talking about 2% growth as being a good thing. That’s the rate of inflation and depends on massive investment from multinationals in the LNG facilities, which they objected to vigorously.”

“Now the federal government forcing the Trans Mountain pipeline on them over their best efforts in the courts, where they lose every time,” says Wilkinson, “So if not for those outside influences, the NDP would be driving this economy into a desperate state of economic failure.”

Wilkinson is unsparing in his criticism – which is, after all, explicitly his job – both on specific policy points, but also on a more general, philosophical level.

“We thought the NDP in this province might modernize, like Tony Blair did with Labour in the UK. It turns out they took us straight back to the 1970s.”

The man he seeks to remove from office, John Horgan, has said he sympathizes somewhat with Wilkinson, in that being leader of the opposition can be a thankless job where all you do is criticize.

“People keep telling me Leader of the Opposition is a horrible job, you don’t want it. I’m actually having a great time. You get to meet great people all over BC who are motivated to improve this place, to make it better for everyone.”

Wilkinson and his team hope his time in opposition is a good time – not a long time.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca