Martyn Brown: Is your skin crawling yet?

Andrew Wilkinson sometimes comes across as brittle as a Liberal “promise”

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      So, it’s Andrew Wilkinson, not Todd Stone or Dianne Watts, who will lead the B.C. Liberals. Just like the Straight’s own Charlie Smith predicted.

      Damn, I sure didn’t see that coming.

      Group hug! Yes, even you, Ms. Watts, who was eventually invited on-stage by her new leader after letting her stew on the sidelines for what seemed like an eternity.

      No matter. The whole spectacle missed the six o’clock news hour, protracted as it was in announcing the winner.

      After spending the past half-year slagging each other for their inadequacies, misdeeds, failures, duplicity, and chicanery, the six leadership candidates and their supporters are all once again one big, happy, dysfunctional family.

      And all because they elected the one guy who did the best job of berating his fellow contestants for their deficiencies and devious deeds. Go figure.

      Remarkably, Wilkinson ultimately won as the party’s perceived best hope for unity and for building its flagging support with women.

      He did it by dint of his broad caucus support and of his debating prowess, which mostly established him as a bully without peer, especially vis-à-vis Watts.

      Simply put, enough Liberals saw him as a preferable alternative to the sole female candidate he eviscerated, in part, because they like his pugnacity and his easy ability to rub people the wrong way.

      They see that as a strength the party needs in opposition; one that Wilkinson demonstrated in spades, “outshining” both Mike de Jong and Stone. Both of whom assured his victory by their self-immolations and by de Jong’s strategic error in effectively endorsing Wilkinson as a suitable alternative to his widely denigrated example.

      Immediately following his epic win, Wilkinson had a message for anyone who was under the mistaken impression that he doesn’t know how to “give good quote,” as it were.

      “My task is to make sure we hold the NDP to account with smart incisive questions that will make their skin crawl,” he said, as his party reeled in enthusiastic horror.

      Mission accomplished, without even asking a question.

      “Eeewww!” was my visceral reaction.

      My mind raced thinking of all the “smart incisive questions” that might better be put to Wilkinson, Stone, de Jong and the newly repudiated former interim leader, Rich Coleman, who wrongly endorsed the latter as his first choice.

      The real question all voters should be asking themselves is this: who is this guy the Liberals just elected, and why on Earth would they do that?

      So much for doing politics differently, or for learning from Christy Clark’s “take no prisoners” approach. It alienated so many voters and largely contributed to the B.C. Greens’ gains under their pitch for mutual respect, collegiality, and interparty cooperation.

      “Our job is to drive the wedge between them [the Greens and NDP] and make sure they are more and more uncomfortable with each other,” Wilkinson added.

      Yup, their skin is crawling, all right.

      Nevertheless, both Premier John Horgan and Green party Leader Andrew Weaver promptly extended their classy, congratulatory well-wishes to their would-be assailant.

      Meet the Liberals’ new boss, who is not like his old boss, Christy Clark, except for his penchant for Big Business, Big Oil, and balanced budgets.

      Mr. Charisma, he is not. A populist he never will be.

      And despite his admirable campaign focus on the “#MeToo momentum” championed in his platform, Wilkinson’s appeal to women is clearly not like hers.

      Fundamentally, it is as tone-deaf and macho-male as Gordon Campbell’s style was in unsuccessfully wooing more women to support his pin-striped party.

      Nor is Wilkinson the visionary that Campbell was, in my decidedly biased opinion. Unlike that former party boss of 17 years, with whom he has been equated, Wilkinson is more of a misguided technocrat than a misunderstood autocratic of proven leadership capabilities.

      Regardless, he made a point of thanking both Campbell and Clark and pledging to build on their efforts. No break from the past there. Just a proud reiteration of the priorities, beliefs, and values that won the party four-straight elections and 16 uninterrupted years in government.

      Of course, it only took the Liberals five vote counts to find someone in their midst who was not initially rejected by the vast majority of their members, as the Vancouver Sun’s Rob Shaw so expertly documented in his live reporting of the results.

      So much for the Liberals’ beloved “first-past-the-post” electoral system.

      Wilkinson would have come third under that system, below both Watts and Lee on the initial count. Even after four rounds of voting, he was still second to Watts.

      As such, Wilkinson owes his narrow victory to the fact that his party rejected the very electoral model that he is now so committed to preserving in the Liberals’ self-interest.

      How ironic.

      He campaigned on fighting proportional representation as his highest immediate calling, slamming the NDP’s provincial referendum that will give all voters a say on how their votes should count as a “stealth campaign to undermine our democracy”.

      Yet he will only get to lead that battle against PR because his party adopted a form of disproportional-proportional representation that gave all 87 ridings equal voting power, under a weighted points system and preferential ballot system that gave him five cracks at winning the top job.

      Wilkinson is now bent on killing PR as the strategic threat it surely is to his party’s hopes for a majority government. Now he will lock arms in that battle with his ideological arch-enemy Bill Tieleman and Suzanne Anton, whom he defeated in the first instance to win his party's nomination in Vancouver-Quilchena, and who returned the favour by rejecting him in her endorsement of Lee.

      Like it or not, old enemies and disrespected “colleagues” are all now intertwined as strange bedfellows.

      They are all part of Wilkinson’s army in waging the grand fight to “keep the world safe for democracy” that has for so long advantaged conservative parties of every ill-liberal stripe.

      The good news for them is, if the new Liberal leader honours what he said in the party’s last leadership debate, the “No” side shouldn’t need any additional monetary support from B.C. taxpayers to make its case.

      After all, Wilkinson suggested that his party should devote every penny of its nearly $2 million dollars in public campaign subsidies this year to fighting PR. Still committed to that, is he?

      With Wilkinson’s triumph, the B.C. Liberal party has staked its future squarely on a 60-year-old, ultra-partisan, establishment “white dude” who epitomizes the past.

      Give him a pipe and he might easily pass as Ward Cleaver. Or maybe as an adult Eddie Haskell.

      Dang, and here I had been hoping for a real shake-up that might really rock the Liberals’ tired world.

      Video: Watch Eddie Haskell throw Wally Cleaver under the bus.

      Apparently, there was a minor earthquake last night in the Salish Sea.

      I’m thinking it might have been caused by all those champagne corks simultaneously popping in downtown Vancouver’s corporate towers and multi-million dollar condos, to the extent their absentee owners and foreign investors were even in them.

      God knows, the Liberals made their dreams possible, as they padded their profits.

      No one is happier than the Big Kahunas in Big Oil, property development, law, and other white-collar grime.

      Wilkinson is their wet dream.

      It would seem that he cares not a jot for serious climate action and that he is as avid a fan of unchecked fossil fuel development, foreign real estate investment, and costly litigation as the Liberals have ever had. And that’s saying a lot.

      He wants to privatize government liquor stores and perhaps ICBC as well.

      Wilkinson’s “fully costed” plan envisions little new investment in health care, education, child protection, added assistance for people living with disabilities or on low incomes, environmental protection, or reconciliation.

      His business is almost all about business, meaning business-as-usual for his party.

      For all his rhetoric about how the Liberals’ became too obsessed with balanced budgets and Triple-A credit ratings, he has thus far offered little hope for those living on the margins or paycheque-to-paycheque.

      Their lives of quiet desperation are as they should be, in Wilkinson’s world-view, which is more concerned with liberating equality of opportunity—whatever that really means—than with addressing growing and unconscionable inequities that beg to be materially righted.

      You thought Campbell was callous? You thought Clark was insensitive to the human impacts of bloody-minded cost-cutting in part required to fund hidden subsidies to big business?

      Stay tuned.

      If anything, Wilkinson aims to set the bar even lower, whatever he says to the contrary. He is adamantly opposed to John Horgan’s socially progressive “affordability” agenda and hopes to succeed by ramping up the politics of division to enrage “middle class” voters at the NDP’s expense.

      That is not to suggest he won’t politically succeed in his aspirations.

      On the contrary, lots of British Columbians – perhaps a significant plurality, if not a majority—are aligned with his party’s values, ideals, and priorities.

      They will happily drink his “free enterprise” Kool-Aid, as they always have, no matter who was serving it up as the cure-all for our “trickle-down” society.

      Wilkinson has proved that he is no pushover. 

      He is all too easily underestimated: both, for all that he lacks in relatability, warmth and generational appeal, and for all that is at the root of his perceived arrogance and aloofness.

      Namely, his sheer smarts, self-certitude, thick skin, and overachiever’s insecurity. The latter is borne of his Australian blue blood, of too much intelligence for his nerdy nature, of his sometimes-awkward physical presence, and of his pursuit of perfectionism.

      To say nothing of his gobs of experience as a Rhodes Scholar, doctor, lawyer, party president, senior bureaucrat, and minister of several portfolios.

      As I have previously written, Wilkinson is actually a warm, compelling, caring, and extraordinarily competent man. He knows his stuff, inside and out, and he is all too happy to let you know that, in no uncertain terms.

      In my 13-year professional association with the man, I can tell you, he is honest, principled, mostly consistent, and passionate in his convictions about what is required of governments in British Columbia’s interests.

      Of all the leadership candidates, despite his caustic campaign, Wilkinson should have the easiest time of rallying the party that he has so long and so admirably served in various capacities. The respect he deservedly earned throughout his many years working for his party is really what won him his new job.

      But he is also readily disagreeable, brittle as a Liberal “promise”, and contemptuous of the ideology that happily now rules supreme in British Columbia through the GreeNDP alliance.

      As someone who very much liked him on a personal level, and who has been impressed by his public service and dedication to a task that most of us wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemies, I wish him well.

      Indeed, I wish him good luck. Just not too much of it.

      For his mission and his means are indicative a party that still views B.C.’s future through a cracked rear-view mirror, where the objects that should be avoided and left behind are always closer than they appear and central to Wilkinson’s ideological orientation.

      It’s back to the old hyper-partisan future in B.C., under a new Liberal leader who won’t be tamed, taught, or intimidated.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at