Less than a month before the BC Liberal Party votes on a new leader one of the front runners, Andrew Wilkinson, paid a visit to Prince Rupert with two northern MLA’s by his side.
There are six leadership candidates who are left in the running. Wilkinson has garnered the support of 13 BC Liberal caucus members, twice as many as any other candidate. Two of his supporters, Ellis Ross, MLA for the Skeena district, and John Rustad for Nechako Lakes joined him on his trip to Prince Rupert.
“What I saw in Andrew Wilkinson was his legal background, his medical background, his government experience and what I thought was ‘that is the kind of leader we’re going to need, especially when we’re talking about B.C. being at a crossroads in terms of economic development’,” Ross said as he introduced Wilkinson to a small crowd inside Cow Bay Cafe on Thursday, Jan. 4 at noon.
Wilkinson spoke to his experience of living and working across the province, the importance of fostering opportunity by welcoming investment, and shutting down the NDP “scheme” for proportional representation. He favours being fiscally prudent rather than spending money on programs that don’t generate revenue. He believes in balanced budgets.
“We don’t run up debts for children to pay later on for things we want to consume today,” Wilkinson said.
He claimed to have the backbone to take on Premier John Horgan, and that he won’t apologize for what the party did in the past. It’s time to move ahead and learn from our mistakes, he said.
The BC Liberal candidate’s platform included hope for a future liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry despite most projects withdrawing from Prince Rupert.
“We’re welcoming investment to B.C. That means major projects like you’ve seen here with the Prince Rupert port development, like the LNG projects that Ellis and I talk about all the time, those are the sorts of things that we want to encourage,” Wilkinson said.
When asked about the possibility of medical services shifting to Terrace once the new hospital is built, he said he’s familiar with the scenario as he’s worked as a lawyer within the medical profession across the province.
“Health care planning and hospital planning is something that has to be done to figure out what’s going to be functional for people, not necessarily something that is going to be functional for a concrete building,” Wilkinson said.
However, he also mentioned that Prince Rupert spends a lot of health care dollars through its air ambulance service where people are brought in from Haida Gwaii and coastal communities to receive care at the regional hospital.
North Coast economy
The BC Liberal leader hopeful said that the city continually anticipates big projects, and when they do come along, such as the AltaGas propane project on Ridley Island, then there’s an economic boost.
“But I think the goal for Prince Rupert has got to be to get more stable economic based jobs rather than bursts of construction activity that lead to slow downs after the construction ends,” he said.
He wants to create opportunities for investors to come and establish long term durable jobs that are going to lead to prosperity for years to come.
He was asked about his concern on the housing issue, lack of affordable homes and high rents, across the province. Wilkinson dismissed the 44 modular homes that the current provincial government has promised Prince Rupert stating it’s not enough.
His approach would be to provide incentives to municipalities for zoning and permitting land to encourage the private sector to build housing.
“In the Lower Mainland it has almost completely failed because there are 110,000 units waiting for permits down there. What I’ve suggested is it’s time for us to think about taking half of any budget surplus, that would be $1.4 billion dollars this year, and creating a community investment fund. Then you say to municipalities ‘Apply for these funds. Show us what you’ve done to make things better’ and we’ll create a race between municipalities to speed things up,” Wilkinson said.
When asked how he would work with the municipal government, he said that Prince Rupert already has everything it needs in terms of a baseline structure of a community.
“What it needs of course is a sense of renewal and that’s going to come with investment projects, like LNG we hope, certainly like the port, certainly like AltaGas propane, so that we can have a thriving community here, a thriving private sector that builds housing that builds retail and provides the services like health and education that the people of Prince Rupert are entitled to,” Wilkinson said.
BC Liberal party members will vote for their new leader between Feb. 1-3.