BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is stepping down after an election night defeat that saw the party lose roughly one third of its seats.
Wilkinson made the announcement at a brief news conference Monday afternoon, speaking for less than two minutes and taking no questions. He said he called NDP Leader John Horgan Sunday with a message of congratulations.
Wilkinson noted there are still about 500,000 votes to count, but said "it's clear that the NDP will be forming the next government of British Columbia."
"Leading the BC Liberals has been a great honour, but now it's time for me to make room for someone else to take over this role," Wilkinson said.
He said he's asked those in top positions within the party to start the process, saying he'll step down as soon as the next leader has been chosen. Party executive say they have not decided when the next leadership race will be.
Wilkinson added he'll be speaking to elected candidates once the vote count is over, when it will be decided who will actually be sitting in the legislature.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said he wasn’t surprised by Wilkinson’s resignation but did question why the leader didn’t step down on Saturday when he had the attention of many British Columbians.
“Two days later, when nobody’s really paying attention he says, I left. It’s very peculiar.”
Telford said the Liberals had an uphill battle during the campaign. The government was popular, and credited for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, he says the Liberal platform appeared to be crafted for wide appeal, but left a lot of people questioning what the party stood for.
“From day to day, he lurched from the right (with a promise of) cracking down on crime, and then he'd lurch to the left and promise daycare," Telford said. "He was like, 'Hey, I’ll outspend the NDP and run up the deficit.'”
Then there were the popularity issues for Wilkinson, who never seemed to gain significant momentum. Add to that the candidates accused of sexism and homophobia, and criticism for being slow to address the issues, and Telford says it made for a difficult campaign.
Given the party's poor showing on Saturday night, Wilkinson said it was time for the party to rebuild. That’s a familiar refrain. In 2018, after becoming leader, he said his goal was to renew the party and lead it to success. That didn’t happen.
The CTV News decision desk is projecting the NDP will have 55 seats, the Liberals 29, and the Greens three. That is pending the counting of mail-in and absentee ballots. If the numbers hold up, the Liberals will lose 14 seats.
The results Saturday also show a clear rural-urban divide, with the Liberals strong in areas outside of Metro Vancouver. It shows the party needs to appeal to urban voters.
Over the weekend, pollster Mario Canseco said the weak showing for the BC Liberals in the provincial election suggested a need for the party to regroup and rebrand.
In some ridings the BC Conservative party seems to have split the right-of-centre vote. The Liberals are currently a big tent party with both federal conservatives and liberals.
Telford says the results point to a fracture in that co-operation.
“The coalition is falling apart so how do they put humpty dumpty back together again?” he said.
In an emailed statement, Premier-elect Horgan thanked Wilkinson for his work as leader of the Opposition.
"I've done that job, and I've often said it is the toughest job in politics. Mr. Wilkinson led the official Opposition through a very challenging time for our province," Horgan said.
The NDP leader described Wilkinson's campaign as "spirited," and said the outgoing Liberal leader made the province stronger with his ideas.
"We are all better for his contributions."
Green Party leader, Sonia Furstenau tweeted a message thanking Wilkinson for his service, as did Adrian Dix, who served as health minister in the Horgan government.
CTV News declared an NDP majority less than an hour after the polls closed on Saturday.