VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It will likely be more than a year before the BC Liberals choose a new leader but appointing someone to the job on an interim basis will “rejuvenate” the party after a crushing election defeat, according to a political scientist.
When the final votes for 2020 were tallied, the BC Liberals lost 15 of the seats the party held in 2017 giving way to a decisive majority for the BC NDP.
“We’ve learned during the election campaign, and certainly subsequent to the election campaign, that Andrew Wilkinson perhaps doesn’t have the greatest sense of timing,” says Hamish Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
“I think this is perhaps another example of him contemplating for too long before making an announcement.”
Telford says Saturday’s announcement means the party — and its supporters — can move on from the election.
“The party starts to look rejuvenated immediately if there’s an interim leader in place,” he says.
“Liberals are feeling pretty down right now. I think that a new interim leader could enliven their spirits, and get people working on that rebuilding process with some enthusiasm.”
Whoever is chosen to succeed the outgoing leader will have a tough road ahead, Telford notes.
“They’re going to be inheriting a considerably weakened party. The Liberal party was always an uneasy coalition of liberal-minded and conservative-minded voters, and that coalition started to fracture under the stress of this election campaign. It has now become a party that’s more conservative, more rural-based. How do they hold on to that base and start to rebuild the party in more urban, more liberal areas?”
Wilkinson will stay on as the MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, but Telford says stepping away from that role will likely be what is best for the party as it tries to rebuild.
“He’s in a tricky sort of position. It is incumbent upon him to provide that representation, at least for a time,” he explains.
“It would also be helpful for the party if he stepped down as MLA perhaps late next spring, next summer before the leadership contest really gets underway, and certainly before a new leader is selected. That will clear the decks to come in and inherit the party with a more clean slate.”
Abbotsford-West MLA Mike De Jong is someone Telford thinks could assume the role of interim leader, since he has been vocal about the fact that he has no desire to enter the race.
De Jong, commenting on Wilkinson’s announcement, commends him for working with John Horgan and the NDP through the pandemic.
“This past year, where other opposition leaders have taken every opportunity to be partisan, to try to score political points, Andrew Wilkinson did something very unselfish. He put the interests of the province first and worked cooperatively with the government to keep people safe,” he says.
But De Jong is also looking forward. saying he is excited to see who will rise up to fill the role.
“We’re going to have a new face at the helm. Those are exciting times for political parties, when the process of selecting a new leader takes place. It helps to reenergize the party and bring new ideas to the fore. So I’m looking forward to watching who the competitors will be,” he says.
He’s hopeful a new leader will embody the party’s core principles while also invigorating members and supporters.
“The world has changed dramatically in the last six months and will continue to change,” he says.
“The BC Liberal Paty under a new leader will continue to advance principles around free enterprise, empowering the individual, and freedoms for the individual with responsible fiscal management. But along the way, there will be a whole host of new people, new ideas, and new energy to carry us forward.”
With files from Jonathan Szekeres and Bethlehem Mariam