BC Politics

Please Advise! How Did ‘Mr. Obnoxious’ End Up Liberal Leader?

Why the doctor was wrong in predicting a Watts win.

By Steve Burgess 6 Feb 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve, 
Quelle surprise! Andrew Wilkinson is the new BC Liberal leader. Wasn’t it you who predicted in this very space that Dianne Watts would surely triumph? Hmmmm?


Dear Curious,

OK, OK. The doctor’s prognosis was incorrect. Medical science is not perfect. Sometimes you diagnose acne and it turns out to be smallpox. But really, Andrew Wilkinson? Who knew?

Well, Charlie Smith over at the Straight did. But then Charlie also predicted another mayoral term for Gregor Robertson so he’s just breaking even thus far in 2018.

I confess I did not think Wilkinson would win. Frankly, I knew almost nothing about him until I watched him in a leadership debate. After that I was certain he had no chance. Wilkinson came away from that debate as the clear winner of the Mr. Obnoxious competition. He dripped condescension in a reply to Michael Lee, who responded with a fiery comeback that gave him one of the best moments of the debate. Throughout, Wilkinson employed the time-honoured shout-over-your-opponents strategy which, while destroying any semblance of coherence or civility, at least creates a kind of bedlam that makes it hard to figure out who is being the biggest asshole. But for those who were scoring at home, it was Wilkinson.

Either Liberal voters thought he was just being admirably feisty or the debate didn’t change any minds. As Smith pointed out when making his perspicacious forecast, Wilkinson had amassed the most support among his fellow MLAs. This result appears to be a case of a political party getting its head too far up its caucus.

Watts did not come off particularly well in the debate, and it is true that she faced the obstacle of being a party outsider, a Conservative carpetbagger without a legislative seat. But stick your head above the walls of the clubhouse for a moment and it should have been clear that Watts was the only candidate with any real star quality, at least in the beginning. The race may have produced another star in Michael Lee who gave probably the best debate performance, signed up plenty of members, and ran second to Watts on the first three ballots before the ronin eventually coalesced behind Wilkinson to give him a fifth-ballot win.

Either Watts or Lee would have given BC Liberals the chance to talk about a fresh start. Instead they chose a Christy Clark cabinet alumnus who promptly said his first task will be to attack the NDP with “smart, incisive questions that will make their skin crawl.”

“Andrew Wilkinson Will Make Your Skin Crawl.” I dunno. Maybe it will look better with the right font.

How will the new leader deal with his defeated rivals? With Watts’s high profile and a solid bloc of support that made her the leader on four consecutive ballots, Wilkinson will have to play nice. If she is truly interested in playing the gracious loser they will find a seat for her. Watts can console herself that Christy Clark lost the Vancouver NPA civic nomination race before rebounding into the premier's chair. Would a “50,000 Watts” CKNW talk show be a bit too on the nose?

And what of Lee? During the debate, Wilkinson got a head start on making his opponents’ skin crawl. There seems to be no love lost between Lee and the new boss. How Wilkinson handles his case will be a test of his leadership style.

The Liberal hope is that obnoxious is going to work for Wilkinson. He will get in there and needle Horgan until the Premier loses that famous temper of his. But when your strategy consists of trying to be a big enough prick to discombobulate your opponent, the risk is that you will simply come off looking like a prick. When you head out on the low road, sometimes the other team refuses to follow.

Wilkinson could very well be B.C.’s next premier. Most elections are referendums on the ruling party, and many a leader has been swept into office on a tide of resentment. But if the Liberals wanted to show that a new day has dawned and a fresh start is underway, they probably shouldn’t have gone for the grey-haired veteran who succeeded by collecting the most locker room votes from members of the political New England Patriots.

If you heard champagne corks popping on Saturday night, the sound may have been coming from Wilkinson HQ. Or it might have been coming from Premier Horgan’s office.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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