Winners and losers in the BC Liberal leadership race

The new leader of the B.C. Liberals isn't the only one who gained something on Saturday night

Credit: BC Liberal Party on Twitter

New BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson

New party leader Andrew Wilkinson isn’t the only one who gained something from the recent contest

Andrew Wilkinson emerged as the surprise winner of the BC Liberal Party leadership, fighting off campaigns from former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, ex–finance minister Mike de Jong, onetime transportation minister Todd Stone, Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee and former South Surrey–White Rock MP Diane Watts.

The Vancouver-Quilchena MLA outlasted all the other candidates in a ranked ballot contest last Saturday (February 3) that took five rounds. He eventually beat Watts, who led every other previous round, on the final ballot by accumulating 4,621 points out of a possible 8,700. 

However, Wilkinson wasn’t the only winner in the leadership contest, and the former Surrey mayor wasn’t the sole loser.

Winner: Fans of electoral reform

Yes, Wilkinson has already stated that he will be fighting against the proposed change to British Columbia’s electoral system that the NDP government plans to bring to a referendum. But given that he owes his victory to a ranked ballot system, it will be hard to him to defend the outdated first-past-the-post model.

Here are the numbers for the first leg of the leadership race, via the Victoria Times Colonist’s Rob Shaw:

Dianne Watts: 2,135 points – 24.54%
Michael Lee: 1,917 points – 22.03%
Andrew Wilkinson: 1,591 points – 18.29%
Todd Stone: 1,483 points – 17.05%
Mike de Jong: 1,415 points – 16.27%
Sam Sullivan: 158 points – 1.82%

If the BC Liberals used a first-past-the-post system, Wilkinson would have come third. Supporters of electoral reform will surely call him out on that at every chance they get.

Loser: Dianne Watts

This is obvious. Watts held the lead in every stage of the vote until the party decided it still desperately needed the status quo, just not in female form. Watts, who quit her job as a Conservative MP to run, was the frontrunner for virtually the entire campaign. It’s a tough loss for her, and if you wonder if she’ll have the will to vie for the leadership again when Wilkinson’s time is up.

Winner: Michael Lee

Technically, Lee is a loser because he finished in third place. But he and his supporters have to be encouraged by how close he came for a rookie MLA. Lee barely lost to Wilkinson in the penultimate round, and the former lawyer showed some handy instincts on social media, making his name known and his voice heard. If Wilkinson falters, look for Lee to step into the ring again.

Loser: Rural NDP supporters

Although Wilkinson is definitely an urban MLA, he also has rural cred, having spent time as a physician in places like Campbell River, Dease Lake and Lillooet. Besides championing the oil and gas industry, he’ll be trumpeting small-town values. It’ll be tough for the NDP to break much ground in rural areas with Wilkinson presiding over the party.

Winner: Urban NDP supporters

It might have been harder for the NDP to maintain its Lower Mainland base with a more progressive person at the helm of the Liberals. Wilkinson is a Vancouver MLA, but judging from the last election, his party doesn’t represent the values of most urban residents, making voters in those areas more likely to rally against him than warm to his charm.

Loser: Post-secondary students

If there was any doubt about whether Wilkinson and the BC Liberal Party in general are in touch with this part of the population, we can now put it to rest.

Winner: Question period nerds

Wilkinson is promising to hold the NDP accountable and “make their skin crawl.” He also told reporters he was going to give them interesting material to report on in the B.C. legislature. You can be sure that the BC Liberal veteran will do everything he can to make the lives of Premier John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver miserable.

Loser: The BC Liberal Party

Did the party miss a chance to change things up? Looking at recent leadership changes in Canadian politics, the trend seems to be toward younger people with fresh ideas about how to engage the public. That’s what led the three major federal parties to promote the likes of Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer.

If the BC Liberals are trying to hold onto the past, they’ll soon learn that it’s gone.