B.C. Liberal leadership frontrunner Andrew Wilkinson (right) speaks to a group of around a dozen people in the tea room of the Penticton Art Gallery on Friday. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

B.C. Liberal leadership frontrunner draws lean crowd in Penticton

About 15 people attended the art gallery event, including Andrew Wilkinson, his staff and media

Andrew Wilkinson, a B.C. Liberal leadership frontrunner, drew a lean crowd at the Penticton Art Gallery Friday, as the leadership contest enters its last legs.

Wilkinson, MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, stopped in Penticton among other Okanagan stops in his B.C. tour, following stops in Northern B.C., where he said he was well received.

Though former federal Conservative Dianne Watts was initially considered the leader of the race, poorly received performances in debates have led to her sinking in the polls, while Wilkinson has been among those taking the front row.

Related: Wilkinson surges, Watts sinks on social media as B.C. Liberals race heats up

In Penticton, under 15 people, including media, Wilkinson and his staff, were present in the art gallery’s tea room, which Wilkinson attributed to the unusually cold weather.

“It’s great to be here. It’s a snowy day and so it looks like we’ve had a little bit reduced turnout because people aren’t used to driving in the snow in Penticton, because it’s such a nice climate to be in,” Wilkinson said.

In Penticton, Wilkinson spoke on issues ranging from housing to trade to crime with local reporters and those in attendance, making clear he stands fiscally to the right of the leadership contest, pushing back against bigger spending platforms like Todd Stone.

Related: Wilkinson weighs in for B.C. Liberal leadership

“It’s an ongoing project to develop what the part’s going to stand for in the next election,” Wilkinson said.

“What I’m saying is we’ve got to stick to where we grew up and where we came from, which is being a party that understands that it’s better to have taxpayers keep money in their pockets rather than have government take it and say what is better to do with it.”

That attitude stuck with housing affordability, which Wilkinson said was best handled through economic prosperity and low taxes.

Related: B.C. VIEWS: B.C. Liberal battle getting bitter

“I’ve been talking all over B.C. about affordability, and it means different things in different places. If you’re in the Northern Interior, it probably means am I going to have a job in three years or five years because it’s not clear what’s going on with the local forestry business,” he said.

“If you’re in Vancouver, it’s because the cost of housing has become so high. If you’re in the Okanagan, there’s a combination in the significant rise in the cost of housing in places like Kelowna, plus the issue of making sure people have the incomes they need to get ahead.”

To solve that, Wilkinson said another combination was needed: make sure the economy is growing and keeping the “hand of government in a reasonable place,” meaning lower taxes.

Related: B.C. Liberals gear up for leadership campaigns

“If there are two paychecks coming into a household, they’ve got to have enough money to move ahead in life,” he said. “Otherwise it’s not going to work.”

Pressed on the difficulties faced by those subsiding on disability pensions, Wilkinson said it was a complex issue.

“It depends on where it’s coming from and for what reason, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that,” he said. “The goal, of course, is to make sure people have enough to get by.”

Related: NDP adds $52 for disability transportation

Wilkinson, who took on the attorney general role for the short time the B.C. Liberals held power following the election, also spoke on the issue of crime, saying when it comes to policing he would review where resources are allocated, to make sure areas with low crime rates are not over-staffed while spots with high crime rates are understaffed.

“I’ve said it’s time to distribute policing resources where the crime occurs. That’s very important, because the crime rate varies considerably around the province, varying from a place like Parksville with very low crime to some parts of Northern B.C., which have very high crime rates for the province,” he said.

Related: B.C. Liberals set leadership vote date

He also noted the issue of addictions-driven crime, saying he has spoken in “great detail about getting a hold of the opioid crisis.”

For example, he proposed monitoring people’s usage of prescription drugs, and when someone appears to be getting too deep, bring in interventions and pain management specialists.

Wilkinson is heading up to central and north Okanagan communities on Saturday.

Locally, Wilkinson has gained endorsements from Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick.

A leader is set to be announced Feb. 3.


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