B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson responds to the B.C. NDP government’s $1.5 billion COVID-19 economic recovery plan in Burnaby, B.C. on Thursday, September 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Wilkinson aims to be B.C. premier after cabinet role, working as doctor and lawyer

B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as party leader, following predecessor Christy Clark

Former cabinet colleague Bill Bennett warns anyone verbally sparring with B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson to be prepared.

“It’s easy to fall into a trap when you’re arguing with Andrew,” Bennett said in an interview. “Without knowing it you end up in a dead-end canyon, wondering how the heck you’re going to get out of it. He’s a very logical person and he won’t say anything more than he has to say.”

The B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as party leader, and part of his challenge is that his predecessor was Christy Clark, whose magnetic personality was a draw, Bennett said.

“He’s an unusual person to be in politics and he’s probably an unusual person to be running for premier of the province,” said Bennett, who co-chaired Wilkinson’s leadership campaign after Clark resigned in 2017 following the Liberals’ defeat after 16 years in power.

But Bennett said there’s substance to Wilkinson, 63, who attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and worked as a doctor in three small B.C. communities for about three years in the 1980s before becoming a lawyer.

“He’s not charismatic. He’s not Christy, he’s not Ralph Klein,” Bennett said, referring to a former premier of Alberta.

“He’s not colourful, but he’s very smart. And he’s got a good heart. He cares about people, I can tell you that.”

Bennett, who represented the riding of Kootenay East for 16 years and left politics in 2017, said Wilkinson got into politics “for the right reasons,” not for a “popularity contest.”

Where flair sometimes fails him, fairness and a solid argument are among Wilkinson’s best qualities, Bennett said, adding the avid birder who grew up hunting with his father has learned to “measure his words.”

That’s after some of Wilkinson’s words have fallen flat.

In one instance this year he apologized for his choice of words after characterizing an NDP throne speech proposal to give five paid work days to people leaving domestic violence as pay for people in a “tough marriage” during a radio interview.

In a tweet shortly afterwards, Wilkinson said he used the “wrong choice of words and I got it wrong. Victims of domestic violence need their voices heard and our unwavering support, and I want everyone to know they have that with me.”

Wilkinson, who represents the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena on the city’s west side, was criticized by the housing minister as being “out of touch” for saying in a budget speech last year that being a renter can be “a wacky time of life, but it can be really enjoyable.”

He later clarified his remarks, saying on Twitter that as a renter for 15 years and working a low-paying job he knows what “it feels like to worry about making ends meet each month. I know what it feels like to dream of a better situation, more choice and freedom in life.”

He said in an interview that his main interest in becoming leader was to improve the lives of people through policies that spur the economy, including the creation of more daycare spaces and services for those who are addicted to illicit substances in a province where over 5,800 people have fatally overdosed since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

“We’ve said for two years now that we need to have a pathway to get people off drugs,” Wilkinson said. “As someone who trained in medicine, I have some ideas about that and I’ll be rolling them out in the next week or so.”

Wilkinson, who was born in Brisbane, Australia, said he had “very humble beginnings” in Kamloops, where his family immigrated in 1962 after his father accepted a job with the federal Agriculture Department as a scientist working on cattle parasites.

“I grew up delivering newspapers as a kid and pumping gas in high school. And I paid my entire way through university with my own funds so I’ve worked hard to get where I did and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a successful life. And I hope to bring those set of skills to this job.”

Wilkinson was elected in 2013 and became technology minister and then minister of advanced education two years later before serving for a short time as attorney general prior to the 2017 election.

He cycles or runs daily and kayaks in the summer while cross-country and downhill skiing in the winter. He has been married since 1993 to Barbara Grantham and the couple has three grown children in their 20s.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson announces new infrastructure spending on the Lower Mainland on Monday, flanked by Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows candidate Cheryl Ashlie and Maple Ridge-Mission candidate Chelsa Meadus. (Neil Corbett/Black Press)
Wilkinson says plan to rebuild B.C. will work for Vancouver Island

B.C. Liberal leader talks to the News Bulletin about homelessness, forestry, infrastructure

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants

Police say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

Plastic checkout bags could be banned in Nanaimo by next summer if a city bylaw receives provincial approval. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo moves closer to banning plastic and other single-use checkout bags

Nanaimo city council votes to forward checkout bag regulation bylaw to province for approval

Rotary Centennial Garden at Maffeo Sutton Park. (Sean Fenzl photo)
New Rotary garden officially open at Nanaimo’s Maffeo Sutton Park

Rotary Centennial Garden design inspired by the shoreline

Jenna Forster moderated the Virtual All Candidates Forum between Duck Paterson (top left); Chris Istace (top right); and Doug Routley (Youtube/Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates state their case in virtual debate

Duck Paterson, Chris Istace, and Doug Routley are on the ballot for October 24

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Candidates in the Nanaimo riding include Kathleen Jones, B.C. Liberal Party, top left; Sheila Malcolmson, NDP; Lia Versaevel, Green Party. (Photos submitted/News Bulletin photo/Elections B.C. image)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Nanaimo candidates

Provincial election candidates discuss their priorities in their own words

Candidates in the Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding include Chris Istace, B.C. Green Party, top left; Duck Paterson, B.C. Liberals; and Doug Routley, NDP. (Photos submitted/Elections B.C. image)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates

Provincial election candidates discuss their priorities in their own words

Candidates in the Parksville-Qualicum riding include Rob Lyon, B.C. Green Party, top left; Don Purdey, Conservatives; John St. John, independent; Michelle Stilwell, B.C. Liberals; and Adam Walker, B.C. NDP. (Photos submitted/Elections B.C. image)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Parksville-Qualicum candidates

Provincial election candidates discuss their priorities in their own words

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Most Read