Andrew Wilkinson, who is running for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party, chats with local members during an event at the Heritage Inn on Monday, Jan. 15. Trevor Crawley photo.

BC Liberal leadership candidate stops in Cranbrook

Andrew Wilkinson drums up local support as race enters final weeks.

It’s getting down to the wire for the BC Liberal leadership race, which is set to select a new party head through a membership vote in a few weeks time.

Andrew Wilkinson, the MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena and one of six leadership candidates, passed through Cranbrook on Monday night to make a final pitch to local BC Liberals members.

Wilkinson, who practiced as a general physician and a lawyer before entering politics, has the support of local MLAs such as Tom Shypitka and Doug Clovechok, while former Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett is his campaign co-chair. He was the first leadership candidate to come through Cranbrook, meeting with local party members in October.

Wilkinson arrived in Cranbrook late Monday afternoon after speaking at another event in Invermere earlier in the day.

“My job is to get out into the communities as much as possible because it’s important for people to remember that we have a race for 87 equally weighted ridings,” said Wilkinson, in a media availability before the event, “so the fact that there are 5,000 members in Surrey-Newton doesn’t mean any difference to here in the Kootenay where there are two ridings on the east side — Columbia River-Revelstoke and Kootenay East, and those have the same weight as Surrey Newton even though they don’t have 5,000 members.”

Wilkinson, whose family emigrated to Canada and settled in Kamloops when he was young, leaned on his rural credentials, as he practiced medicine in places such as Campbell River and Dease Lake before getting a law degree and settling in Vancouver.

“Issues that come up regularly, not just in the Kootenays, but also up Highway 16 and through the Okanagan, is about wildlife,” he said. “It’s something I’m quite happy to speak up about because no other candidate is speaking about the need to get much stronger wildlife inventories in British Columbia; that’s good for conservation, that’s good for hunters, that’s good for our communities because it’s part of why we’re proud to be British Columbians.”

Wilkinson acknowledged that deer populations, particularly mule deer, are changing and declining, while populations of moose west of the Fraser River are ‘in bad shape.’

“The first thing we need to do is invest more in the wildlife service and conservation so we understand what the numbers are,” Wilkinson said, “because right now we don’t even know what the numbers are; we know that it’s changing and often in the wrong direction.”

Wilkinson is running against a slate of Liberal MLAs including Todd Stone, Mike de Jong, Michael Lee and Sam Sullivan, while former federal Conservative cabinet minister Dianne Watts resigned as a Member of Parliament to enter the race.

Todd Stone is the only other BC Liberal candidate who toured through Cranbrook, meeting with supporters at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort in November for sitting down for an interview with the Cranbrook Townsman.

Wilkinson believes his experience as a doctor practicing in rural communities helps separate him from the rest of the pack.

“I grew up in Kamloops, worked over a period of three years in Campbell River, Dease Lake, Lillooet, Wilkinson said. “I’m the only candidate that’s lived in rural British Columbia and I get what its like to be in a community of 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 people — they’re different challenges, different things that people have to deal with.

“I’m very proud to be able to say I’ve lived in those parts of British Columbia and that I have an understanding of what life is like and what needs to be done from a provincial government point of view.”

The BC Liberal Party membership will vote for a new leader on Feb. 1-3, 2018.

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