The fourth Liberal leadership contender in the space of 48 hours showed up in Kelowna Wednesday to press the flesh and talk to locals.
Andrew Wilkinson, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena and the province’s former advanced education minister, attorney general and technology, innovation and citizen’s services minister made a return visit to the city, his third since announcing his bid for the party leadership.
Wilkinson met with a small group of locals at the Rotary Centre for the Arts for a round-table discussion about local issues. The group included the area’s two Liberal MLAs, Steve Thomson and Norm Letnick and former Kelowna mayor Walter Gray.
Prior to that, he told reporters he feels Kelowna is the “political heart” of both the province and for B.C Liberal Party.
“So, as this B.C. Liberal leadership race unfolds, Kelowna is where the action is and all of the candidates will be coming through here quite regularly,” he predicted.
One of the upcoming Liberal leadership debates is planned for Kelowna on Dec. 2.
Wilkinson said he was in back in the city to hear what was on the minds of locals.
Several of the candidates in the race to succeed former leader Christy Clark, who quit as party leader and MLA for Kelowna West in August rather than sit as Opposition leader, have said they believe for the party reconnect with British Columbians, they will need to travel the province talking to people where they live, about issues important to them.
Wilkinson said that was brought home in the election, where he felt his party focused on the big picture, while the NDP narrowed its focus, particularly in the Lower Mainland, where it took 10 of the 11 seats the Liberals lost.
Wilkinson said as someone who has lived and worked all over the province—he was raised in Kamloops—he feels he has a good understanding of the different ways of life in the province and the different “pressures” people face in different regions of B.C..
“Still, it’s important for me to get out and listen to what people have to say.”
He said his party learned a lot of lessons from the May election—an election the Liberals won by a one-seat over the NDP, with the B.C. Greens holding the balance of power with three seats. The Liberals formed a minority government but could not hold onto power when the NDP and BC Greens joined forces to pass a non-confidence vote in the government in the Legislature in June.
As a result, NDP leader John Horgan was invited to form a government by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.
In Kelowna on Wednesday, Wilkinson touted his experience as a minister, as well as a deputy minister, saying it’s important to know how to get things done in Victoria or else “you start spinning your wheels.”
“This is a job (both as a party as leader and as premier) with no training wheels. You have to be ready to go day one.”
He said his campaign will focus on opportunity, and because there are no guarantees the way of life British Columbians now enjoy will continue, it will be up to the government to ensure all people have the training they need to get ahead and that job opportunities are there.
“We need strong employers in our free-enterprise system so people can have the kind of opportunities we’ve all enjoyed,” he said.
Wilkinson called the NDP’s plans for electoral reform, changes to political fundraising and moving the election date to the fall from the spring “a bit of a stealth program,” and predicted it will be a “rude surprise” for many British Columbians because it is being done, in his estimation, to protect the NDP and Green Party at the expense of taxpayers.
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