Meeting Andrew Wilkinson can be intimidating. The BC Liberals candidate for Vancouver-Quilchena is a tall man in his early fifties, looking like a self-confident leader in spite of his boyish freckles. Moreover, Wilkinson is a political heavyweight, a former deputy minister and party president. Oh, and did I mention he is also a medical doctor and a lawyer?
On the podium, Wilkinson is a polite gentleman and eloquent speaker. And he is competitive.
“Can we turn up the lights?” is the first thing Wilkinson says when the all-candidates debate at Magee Secondary School begins. He wants to see the audience, a theatre of over 500 high school students, and interact with them.
And thus, Wilkinson sets the tone of the debate before it even starts. From now on, the crown prince of Quilchena (the Liberals won 70 per cent of the votes in 2009) will always be the first to answer questions, and will often get the longest response time.
Wilkinson, who brought his son along to Magee, repeatedly tells the students how the BC Liberals have created 33,000 new apprentice spaces and have generally made post-secondary education more accessible. He urges the students to listen to their teachers. “Opportunity has to come from training. It’s not easy to anticipate skills of the future,” he says.
His most agitated rival is Matt Toner, the Vancouver-False Creek NDP candidate who fills in for Nicholas Scapillati. When Toner asks him to “think outside the box,” Wilkinson replies, “I’ll never turn down the chance of talking into a microphone.”
After explaining to the students what fracking actually is (the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers by injecting highly pressurized fluids into the shale area), he tells them that since the 1950s, 3,000 wells were fracked in B.C. without any ground water contamination.
Only Green candidate Damian Kettlewell, who expresses concern about the use of chemicals and the waste of water during the procedure, objects this proposition.
Wilkinson’s job to win his riding
After the Magee debate, Wilkinson has another appointment, so we rush through the interview and talk about what he thinks of the polls that predict the NDP is on a winning spree.
“My job is to win this riding, and each candidate’s job is to win their individual ridings,” he says. “The primary challenge is to get out there on the street and convince people to vote for us.”
Why should people with environmental concerns vote for him instead of Nicholas Scapillati of the NDP, who has a strong environmental background?
“Because we actually do things on the environment. The NDP completely failed on the Great Bear Rain forest and we made it happen. The NDP opposed the carbon tax and we made it happen. So we get things done and they just talk about it. So if you’re looking at an environmental party, I am happy to run on our record.”
Vancouver-Quilchena has meanwhile a Conservative candidate, Bill Clarke, a four-time MP. Does he pose as an obstacle?
“The Liberals have a very strong track record here with Colin Hansen and Bill is, as you saw today, doing this at the last minute and I am not sure how active he is going to be.”
An emotional moment in Dunbar
In the evening, Wilkinson is on stage at the Dunbar Residents Association’s all-candidates debate in Dunbar. The structure of the event is more a Q&A line up than an actual debate. Wilkinson’s statements are similar to the ones at Magee. But then something unexpected happens.
When a resident asks how a new B.C. government would take care of children with special needs, Wilkinson suddenly chokes. His voice breaks, and for seconds, an awkward silence comes over the room.
“This issue is dear to my heart,” says Wilkinson, almost in tears, because he has a younger sister with special needs. He does not elaborate further, but goes on to speak about his experience as a family doctor.
Maybe he will reveal more when he speaks at an all-party forum on mental health and addictions on May 7.
Quilchena no easy battleground
If the performance of the candidates at the debates is any indication, Wilkinson will not win Quilchena without a battle.
NDP candidate Scapillati is passionate about being the liaison between the riding and Victoria. The environmentalist also has an interest in First Nations issues and strong ties to the Musqueam band.
Damian Kettlewell, a third-time contender, is adamant a historic victory for the BC Green Party is pending.
Bill Clarke thinks the fact his party now has a conservative candidate in the riding will provide voters who are fed up with the present government a legit alternative.
Finally I revisit the short questions I asked all candidates, which Wilkinson, in a rush to his car, only answers briefly.
-Name a good thing the current B.C. government has done the last 12 years.
“I can name you a hundred good things (laughs) . . . Expanding education opportunities for young people.”
-Name a good thing the City of Vancouver has done in the last years.
“Accept the need for mass transit like the Canada Line.”
-What is your main means of transportation?
“The Canada Line and walking, cycling and driving. I take the Canada Line to work every day.”
-What do you think of Christy Clark’s red light issue?
“It’s done. She admitted it was an error. It’s time to move on.”
-As former president of BC Civil Liberties Association: What is your opinion about euthanasia/assisted suicide?
Wilkinson refers to Sue Rodriguez’ defeat at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993. “It’s now back before the courts. I would leave it before the courts to rule before any comments should be made.”
-Name me some B.C. movies you have seen in the last year.
(laughs) “No, I can’t! They’re usually the ones my kids watch, Hollywood productions that are done here and that appeal to the market that my teenagers are in.”
We get to the CBC news vote compass questions, which he generally does not want to answer with a simple yes or no.
–What is your view on the legislation of marijuana? (Lib: somewhat disagree with legalization)
“I already answered that in there.” In fact, Wilkinson did not answer the question directly, but referred to arguments made by one of his wife’s relatives, a police officer in Washington State.
-How many more immigrants does B.C. need? (Lib: somewhat more)
“I am an immigrant [from Australia]. Immigration is a federal jurisdiction. We bring in about one per cent of our population per year as immigrants. You’d have to talk to federal government about that.”
-Should immigrants adopt Canadian values? (Lib: somewhat agree).
“I’m an immigrant and I have adopted Canadian values. (reflects) Well, it’s a multicultural society.”
-How much oil tanker traffic along the B.C. coast should be permitted? (Lib: same as now)
Wilkinson does not answer directly, but refers to Christy Clark’s five criteria for the Northern Gateway project.
–Should fracking be stopped immediately? (Lib: strongly disagree)
Reported by Katja De Bock
This video by Vancouver Observer reporter Jordan Yerman shows an excerpt of the debate at Magee Secondary: