Bill Bennett, left, served as the campaign co-chair to Andrew Wilkinson, who won the BC Liberal leadership race on Saturday. Photo credit: Lorne Eckersley.

Strength of Wilkinson’s campaign prevailed: Shypitka

Kootenay East MLA says new BC Liberal leader is the right candidate to move the party forward.

The BC Liberal Party has a new leader in Andrew Wilkinson, who won the leadership race that culminated in a vote by party members over the weekend.

The vote was decided in the fifth ballot between Wilkinson and former Surrey mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts, as the former took the win by 53.12 per cent. Of the six candidates, Watts made it to the fifth round, as candidates were eliminated in declining order from Michael Lee, Todd Stone, Mike de Jong and Sam Sullivan.

Wilkinson is the MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, but he enjoyed a lot of rural support, especially throughout the region as he was backed by Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, while retired MLA Bill Bennett served as his campaign co-chair.

“Andrew held a solid third place for pretty much the whole way until the fourth ballot where he just eclipsed Michael Lee by about half a per cent and then it was between him and Dianne. At that point, I had a pretty solid feeling that Andrew would take it on the last ballot.

“He was quite a bit behind, but I think the depth of his campaign really came through in the end for him and he was able to secure the spot, so it was a very exciting night.”

Shypitka noted that Wilkinson, who is both a doctor and a lawyer and former provincial cabinet minister, had more endorsements from sitting MLA’s than any other candidates combined.

“And there was a reason for that, he’s well balanced, he’s very focused and a very smart man,” Shypitka said, “but he has an approach that everyone can understand and has strong conservative values.

“[But] some of his social programs that he wants to implement, such as the opioid crisis and affordability really travels the spectrum of what our party represents.”

Wilkinson grew up in Kamloops before obtaining his medical degree in Alberta and practicing in rural areas of BC in places such as Campbell River and Dease Lake. He left medicine and went to law school, graduating in 1987 and working out of Vancouver.

Prior to his election to the legislature in 2013, he also served as the president of the BC Liberal Party from 1998-2001.

The leadership campaign lasted five months, following the resignation of former Liberal leader Christy Clark, who stepped down after an NDP-Green alliance toppled the Liberal minority government last July.

Only Wilkinson and fellow candidate Todd Stone stopped in Cranbrook to drum up support during the campaign.

The race featured five debates hosted in communities throughout the province where candidates had the chance to showcase their platforms and spar against each other.

The end of the race was marred with accusations of fraudulent email membership signups from the Stone campaign, while other candidates cried foul when Wilkinson and de Jong struck a deal to encourage their supporters to vote for each other as second choices in the preferential balloting system.

“As far as the contentiousness and the spirited debate between candidates; I think that’s healthy,” Shypitka said. “At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. Of course, everybody wants to win and we’ll sometimes use measures that we might not normally use but I think, overall, it was done really tastefully and we’re all still friends.

“I’ve had discussions with all of the candidates now and they’re all ready to jump on board and focused on coming up with a new vision for British Columbians.”

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