B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson with Nanaimo by-election candidate Tony Harris, Jan. 12, 2019. (Karl Yu/Black Press)

Post-Nanaimo, Andrew Wilkinson talks B.C. Liberal renewal

At least three current MLAs not running in next election

They’ll make their own retirement announcements when they choose, but at least three veteran B.C. Liberal MLAs will be retiring before the next election, party leader Andrew Wilkinson Thursday.

Speaking in Nanaimo the morning after watching the NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson hold the seat vacated by now-mayor Leonard Krog, Wilkinson said the performance of first-time candidate Tony Harris represents his idea of the next generation for the B.C. Liberals.

RELATED: Malcolmson wins Nanaimo seat for B.C. NDP

“At least three of our B.C. Liberal MLAs have signalled they’re not running again, and that’s the opportunity for candidates like Tony, people who are young, enthusiastic and know their community,” Wilkinson told reporters.

Long-serving MLAs who have stepped back from key opposition roles include Mike de Jong in Abbotsford West and Rich Coleman in Langley East, while Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond has continued her aggressive work both as finance critic and as a party organizer.

Harris increased the B.C. Liberals’ share of the vote in Wednesday’s by-election, but a win by former area MP Sheila Malcolmson extended the NDP’s long hold on the Nanaimo seat. Premier John Horgan’s NDP retain a two-seat minority hold on power, thanks to an increasingly strained relationship with the B.C. Greens.

Harris was criticized during the intense by-election campaign for downplaying his party affiliation. He stuck mostly to community issues, while the NDP ran a negative campaign, accusing Wilkinson and the B.C. Liberals of being complicit in the legislature spending scandal and the rise of money laundering in Vancouver and Richmond.

All party leaders made appearances in Nanaimo to rally volunteers and knock on voters’ doors. Wilkinson was there Jan. 12, but made no brave predictions of an upset win in a seat that the NDP has only lost once since 1971.

Appearing with Wilkinson at his campaign office that day, Harris continued said his community-focused campaign isn’t about the party’s image.

“The biggest impact I can have is bringing attention to what’s really important here,” Harris said. “My focus on Nanaimo is bringing attention and investment to institutional areas of our community, whether it’s hospital, port and university, but when we really focus on these key areas in our community it drives more investment from private enterprise.”

B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver put a brave face on the result, which saw the Green vote collapse to about eight per cent, down from 20 per cent in the general election of 2017. Weaver alluded to voters’ fear of vote-splitting, something he attacked the NDP for “fear-mongering” about during the hotly contested by-election.

“While disappointing, tonight’s results were not unexpected, given the conversations we have had with Green voters over the past few weeks,” Weaver said after the result Wednesday night. “I can say with absolute certainty that our support exceeds the votes cast for the party today.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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