The Orca’s year-end interview with Andrew Wilkinson
Few BC politicians had a more eventful year than Andrew Wilkinson.
After a long, vigorous – and tight – contest through the winter, he won leadership of the BC Liberals, and became Leader of the Opposition.
Since then, he’s guided his party through two busy legislative sessions, the proportional representation referendum, a surprisingly energetic party convention, the beginnings of a crucial byelection in Nanaimo, and oh yeah, that whole thing in the Speaker’s Office.
As the man entrusted with restoring a party accustomed to governing, Wilkinson faces an even busier 2019.
Maclean Kay: This was a very big year for you.
Andrew Wilkinson: A busy year.
MK: What stands out?
AW: How quickly team came together after the leadership campaign. The other candidates came onboard in a very solid way, caucus came together, and did a very good job of holding NDP to account in spring session.
MK: In a recent profile, John Horgan said being Leader of the Opposition is harder than being Premier. Is he right?
AW: He has a $55 billion budget, which helps. Like most people I was of the understanding that being opposition leader was a crummy job with not a lot of rewards. [But] I find it very enjoyable, having a great time with it, and so I guess that’s a sign of good things to come, because the goal is to get into the Premier’s office one day. And if it’s easier according to John Horgan, it’ll be harder for me, because it’s going to be a lot of work to clean up after what the NDP has done.
MK: What do the BC Liberals need to do to win the next election?
AW: The goal is to get the message out to British Columbians that this is an exciting, enjoyable place to live, full of opportunity – and that is falling apart under the NDP. There’s an increasing tax burden, and a complete indifference to the wellbeing of people apart from their friends.
We’ve got to make this a place where opportunity is available to every single person in BC, not just the friends of the NDP.
MK: There are no certain things in a minority government. If something happens, say after the budget [in February], are you ready to go in March?
AW: We have a great team of MLAs. And it’s interesting how very, very capable people come up to me and say they’d like to run for our party. Really strong candidates are showing up, and of course the money issue…there’s this mythology out there that the NDP beat us in fundraising. But if you add the $4 million we raised during the leadership race, we beat them 3 to 1.
MK: Where are the NDP most vulnerable?
A: Their problem is that they purport to talk about regular British Columbians, but if I’m riding the SkyTrain today, I’m not feeling any better today than I was two years ago. In fact, I might be feeling my tax bills are starting to hurt me. And that’s where the NDP are very vulnerable. Because they’ve done nothing of any consequence to make life more affordable, but have actually raised people’s taxes instead.
MK: At [BC Liberal] convention, you mentioned 19 new or increased taxes – and that you were going to ‘take a chainsaw’ to them?
AW: There’s an aggressive NDP tax platform. They’ve raised taxes by $5.8 billion in one year, and that flows through to individual humans.
Someone’s gotta pay it – it’s not the tooth fairy, it’s not some fantasy company, people pay taxes eventually, because it all flows through to individuals.
It’s a little over a thousand dollars per person, and the NDP have said they know better what to do with that than you do, and know better how to spend it than you do. Even if you’re really tight for cash.
MK: I wonder if you’re seeing the first cracks right now, as municipalities across the province are saying the Employers Health Tax is forcing them to raise property taxes.
AW: About three weeks from now, people are going to be realizing the cost of having an NDP government. Property taxes are going up throughout the province, and that’s going to flow through to renters, homeowners – and business owners [particularly] will get hammered with a property tax bill going up significantly – all because of NDP policy.
It’s one tax after another, either raised or new. Anyone trying to buy a home will pay a much larger property purchase tax. Anyone trying to retire is vulnerable to NDP’s speculation tax. Even the carbon tax, which they raised and took away the idea that you would reduce another tax. They abolished that, and now just a tax grab.
MK: Where are the BC Liberals vulnerable?
AW: We have to work on making sure things are practical in people’s everyday lives. I think the big error of the last election was talking in big macro terms, and the NDP were offering free stuff. They broke half their promises about free stuff, but we’ve got to talk to people about things that really matter in their daily lives.
MK: At the BC Liberal convention, you spoke without a podium, with no speaking notes that I could see, you were mobile, and unafraid to show a little emotion. Is this the new normal for you?
AW: Being myself seemed to connect with the crowd. I don’t like to hide behind a podium, I like to get around and look people in the eye. I’m glad that worked at convention, and hope it works in an election.
MK: Was that your idea?
AW: Yeah, I’m pretty independent. I don’t take any written notes from anyone; I just go and do it myself and live with the consequences. If it works out, I get some credit. If it doesn’t, it’s all my fault.
MK: The situation in the Speaker’s Office – how did we get here?
AW: The Speaker is playing hide and seek in front of 5 million British Columbians, saying he can know something they can’t know, and the budget not subject to scrutiny. He’s wrong. There is a need for a thorough audit, and it needs to be made available. He’s single-handedly damaged the credibility of the institution over the last month.
MK: What do you say to accusations from the NDP that you’re just pursuing a vendetta against Darryl Plecas?
AW: Why are the NDP hiding from truth? Why don’t they let the truth get out, so people can have some confidence in this place? It’s an embarrassment to see this on national TV. He’s the first Speaker in the history of the British Commonwealth who’s behaved like this.
MK: You once sat in the same caucus room. When’s the last time you spoke [to Darryl Plecas]?
AW: Oh, quite a long time ago. He’s his own person. He’s accountable to the public even though he doesn’t seem to think he is.
MK: Obviously, your next big concern is the byelection in Nanaimo. It’s been solid NDP territory pretty much half a century; what’s your strategy there?
AW: Nanaimo is fascinating. I’ve been up there three times now doorknocking. They all say “we know Tony Harris, he’s a great guy.”
This happens almost every doorstep. They want their names recorded, many are taking signs. Because they see the NDP fantasyland not coming true; there’s no utopia coming. When you think about it, Nanaimo’s had precious little from NDP since took office…until the byelection, and suddenly Premier Horgan shows up with $30 million for a new intensive care unit – because Tony Harris put it on the agenda.
MK: I spoke with Andrew Weaver, and he made a prediction for the referendum: 52-48 for the Yes side. Care to make a prediction?
AW: Andrew Weaver is full of over the top, bombastic statements. I’m not like that. I’ll wait to see what they tell us.
MK: Turnout is around 40%. If it’s a narrow Yes win, that means about a fifth of eligible voters will be choosing a new electoral system. Does that raise questions of legitimacy?
AW: Yeah, the risk is with 41% voting, and if 21% votes for change – and then you divide that by 3 (to choose a specific system of PR), and you’ve got 10% telling the other 90% how to vote.
It’s conceivable that the number of spoiled ballots [would have been] enough to swing the results, and regional differences could be a very divisive issue. It didn’t need to happen this way. John Horgan should have followed through on his promises: hold it during a general election, have a citizen’s assembly, and a simple yes/no question. He broke all three.
MK: Do you think this government serves its full term and makes it to 2021?
AW: I’d be surprised if any minority government lasts four years. We’ll be ready whenever the election happens.
Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca