BC Liberal leader facing internal backlash amid growing list of candidate controversies
VANCOUVER -- Andrew Wilkinson's leadership of the BC Liberals is under fire following a string of candidate controversies that have caused rising tensions within the free-enterprise coalition.
The party's membership chair criticized Wilkinson publicly on Thursday, writing on Twitter that the BC Liberal Party under his leadership "does not reflect values I support."
"We have a problem in the leadership of the party and their lack of willingness to stand up for diversity, inclusion and the values of BC Liberal members – not just the interests of a small group of constituents," Nicole Paul said.
"I will continue to advocate for an inclusive party that doesn't just talk the talk, but walks the walk. I'm looking forward to those discussions with members after this election."
Paul declined an interview with CTV News on Friday, but gave an email statement saying her intention isn't "destroying Andrew or the party – it is about getting back to what we stand for."
Her comments were posted hours after Chilliwack-Hope candidate Laurie Throness resigned from the Liberals amid backlash over his recent remarks comparing a policy of offering free contraceptives to eugenics.
Previous calls to eject Throness from caucus over the summer – when he initially refused to cut ties with a socially conservative publication that has defended the homophobic practice of conversion therapy – were ignored.
Paul said she's been fighting BC Liberal leadership behind closed doors for months, arguing that "the views of Laurie Throness do not belong in our party."
"I have advocated for many constructive courses of action that would help keep our coalition together. All of which have been completely ignored by the party leadership and in some instances, completely contradicted," she wrote.
Asked about the criticisms on Friday, Wilkinson stressed the BC Liberals' commitment to equality and suggested that candidates who don't fall in line wouldn't be welcome in their ranks.
"Everyone in British Columbia needs to feel secure that they are free of discrimination regardless of the grounds being age or family of origin or sexual orientation or gender," the leader said.
"If our candidates don't stand by those values, they're no longer our candidates."
But Wilkinson has also been criticized for failing to take action in the wake of recent controversies, and even for letting Throness resign rather than firing him.
He told reporters he called Throness on Thursday "with the plan that he would be ending his candidacy on that call," suggesting that Throness beat him to the punch.
Last month, Wilkinson also came to the defence of Margaret Kunst, a Langley East candidate who voted against endorsing a rainbow crosswalk in her community as a city councillor.
While Kunst said she voted it down because she wanted a process in place to avoid approving such things on an "ad-hoc basis," it was later revealed she had previously filled out a questionnaire indicating she wouldn't support rainbow crosswalks because she believes "our Canadian Flag represents freedom and inclusivity for all in Canada."
On Friday, the NDP raised concerns about another candidate in New Westminster, Lorraine Brett, who tweeted support for author J.K. Rowling's headline-making blog post on gender identity, which was widely viewed as an affront to transgender women.
"J.K Rowling's best work! Thank you," reads the now-deleted post.
Brett defended her remarks on Twitter Friday, while touting the BC Liberals' "unequivocal" support for the LGBTQ community.
"I think it's important to hear different ideas in a fair and open society," Brett said, adding that her party has "worked hard to advance an agenda that builds a better and more tolerant British Columbia."
The remarks rang hollow for some on the platform, including one user who called it "sickening" to suggest "the rights and safety of trans people are up for debate."
Former BC Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott told CTV News the party's current tensions are likely the byproduct of the unique mix of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives who make up its membership.
"Sometimes that coalition operates in a fairly comfortable fashion," said Abbott, who left the BC Liberals years ago. "At other times there are overt tensions in the party, and this appears to be one of those occasions."
With just over a week to go until the election, Abbott said Wilkinson will surely be working hard in the coming days to bring the party together.
"One never wants to see them fraying during election campaigns," he said.
Meanwhile, NDP Leader John Horgan, who remains way ahead of Wilkinson in the polls, capitalized on the controversies at his own campaign event Friday, calling on the BC Liberals to remove both Kunst and Brett from the party.
"Andrew Wilkinson can't claim there's no room for discrimination when continuing to tolerate hate in his own team of candidates. He needs to fire Margaret Kunst and Lorraine Brett today," Horgan said.