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HomeBusinessDay 22: #ThornthwaiteGate turns both BC Liberal and NDP campaigns upside down

Day 22: #ThornthwaiteGate turns both BC Liberal and NDP campaigns upside down


Bob Mackin

It is make it or break it time for Andrew Wilkinson.

His fate as BC Liberal leader could be decided in the Oct. 13 leaders debate, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on major B.C. TV, radio and web outlets. It comes the same day Wilkinson releases the BC Liberal platform and makes his first appearance since a Saturday night surprise.

From the Sept. 17 roast for retiring Ralph Sultan; title photoshopped by  (BC Liberals/Zoom)

The NDP has defined Wilkinson as an elitist and targeted candidates in Chilliwack-Hope and Langley East with allegations of homophobia and North Vancouver-Seymour for sexism.

The latter is Jane Thornthwaite, whose description of North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP incumbent Bowinn Ma on a Zoom roast for retiring Ralph Sultan threw the BC Liberal campaign upside down on Oct. 10 when former party insider Mo Amir revealed a damaging clip on his Twitter account.

Ma answered media questions on a multi-party signed street corner on Oct. 12, three blocks south of where the North Vancouver-Lonsdale, North Vancouver-Seymour and West Vancouver-Capilano riding boundaries intersect.

Thornthwaite made an awkward, two-step Twitter apology Oct. 11. Her call to Ma went to voice mail. Ma said she had yet to listen to the message.

The NDP is targeting Thornthwaite with a ferocity that did not exist in 2010, when Thornthwaite was caught in a drunk driving roadblock after returning from a night of partying at the Winter Olympics. She pleaded guilty in 2011 to the lesser offence of driving without due care and attention.

Thornthwaite’s allegation that Ma was flirting with Sultan revealed her longstanding friction with Ma, who pointed out what many insiders know: Sultan is hard of hearing and she needed to sit close in order to be audible.

A source told that early in her rookie term, Ma had sought advice about dealing with Thornthwaite, after learning of unkind comments made about her by Thornthwaite behind the scenes.

In the Legislature, Thornthwaite did not miss opportunities to be critical of her neighbour from across the aisle.

Thornthwaite made a point of privilege after Ma “had some incorrect statements with regard to MLAs visiting Sutherland secondary in the past” on Oct. 17, 2017. On Nov. 23, 2017, Thornthwaite also made a point of privilege against Ma after she said she was the only MLA who attended a Squamish nation training centre.

Thornthwaite is aiming for a fourth term in what is considered a safe BC Liberal seat. In 2017, she defeated her NDP challenger by nearly 3,400 votes. The NDP appointed veteran nurse Susie Chant before the Oct. 2 nomination deadline.

The infamous Ralph Roast on Zoom not only included Wilkinson, but also two other candidates, Abbotsford West’s Mike de Jong and Karin Kirkpatrick, the West Vancouver-Capilano successor to Sultan.

Unlike Sultan, Kirkpatrick was appointed without nomination race. She is a former CEO of the Provincial Career Training Institutions Agency Crown corporation who was caught in a conflict of interest scandal after her husband’s law firm was retained without a tendering process.

Northern scandal on the horizon

The Zoom scandal also upended NDP campaign plans.

A 9:13 p.m., Oct. 10 advisory was headlined: “Nathan Cullen and Jen Rice to raise questions about Wilkinson’s past.”

The NDP was promoting a press conference by Zoom to demand Wilkinson be held to account for decisions he made that have affected communities in Northern B.C. It was scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Oct. 11. A notice of postponement “to a later date” was sent at 9:21 a.m., as the NDP focused on the unfolding saga of the Ralph Sultan roast gone wrong.

Wilkinson was once a doctor up north, in Dease Lake. He also practiced in Campbell River and Lillooet. But a source told that the Cullen and Rice announcement was more likely about Wilkinson’s eyebrow-raising client after he left government the first time.

Wilkinson had been the deputy minister of small business and economic development from 2003 to 2006 under BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell. He was the Campbell government’s point man in dealings with Sun Wave Forest Products, a Chinese government-backed company that bought the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island in 2001 with plans to restart operations.

Wilkinson eventually left the government to become a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault where he represented Sun Wave from 2010 to 2012 in a lawsuit against the City of Prince Rupert.

City hall had seized the property after Sun Wave principal Ni Ritao failed to pay taxes on the property.

Ni was jailed in China during Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption power struggle from 2012 to 2015. Ni associate Liu Tienan, the National Energy Administration director from 2011 to 2013, was sentenced to life in jail for bribery in 2014.

Elections BC’s database shows the BC Liberals took $3,397 in donations from Sun Wave in 2006-2007 and $11,299 from related company CGR Investments from 2005-2006.

The Northern View newspaper reported in 2018, when Wilkinson became party leader, that the city spent $250,000 in legal fees a year and the cost of reclaiming Watson Island was $90,000-a-month.

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