Despite publicly expressing remorse to the NDP’s Bowinn Ma during last month’s election campaign, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson told a caucus meeting last week that the controversy around Jane Thornthwaite’s sexist remarks was just a “fuss.”
In a September party fundraising roast on Zoom, Thornthwaite accused North Vancouver rival Ma of flirting with the retiring West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan. In a recording of the Oct. 28 caucus meeting, obtained by theBreaker.news and shared with CTV News Vancouver, Wilkinson downplayed the incident that contributed to his party’s loss in the Oct. 24 election.
“Jane and I talked the day after, during the fuss, and I said to Jane, we’ve got to stick together, call me anytime. My heart goes out to Jane,” Wilkinson said.
“In this role you can be skewered for the most trivial thing. In today’s media world, it’s just fundamentally unfair, the fact that those remarks got out was a big problem.”
NDP newcomer Susie Chant leads North Vancouver-Seymour incumbent Thornthwaite by 1,543 votes. As many as 11,586 mailed-in ballots will be counted beginning Nov. 6.
Wilkinson said during the 70-minute meeting with the outgoing caucus that neither he nor any other candidate could be blamed for losing the snap election.
“We have nothing to apologize for,” he said.
Ma was not available for comment on Nov. 2. Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Katrina Chen told CTV News Vancouver reporter Bhinder Sajan that Wilkinson’s remarks were not a surprise.
“It’s not about one individual or one incident, it’s about a bigger problem the Liberal party has in their caucus, it’s about an issue that we face in politics as women and we need diverse representation,” Chen said.
The caucus meeting came two days after Wilkinson’s Oct. 26 resignation announcement. He did not take questions from reporters after the 97-second statement.
Wilkinson did not specifically mention the Thornthwaite scandal to caucus until Shirley Bond, the re-elected Prince George-Valemount MLA, expressed sympathy to Thornthwaite.
“I was one of the people that sat and listened to the roast and I never said a word,” Bond said. “I didn’t think any thing of it, I took in the context that it was delivered, maybe I should’ve said something at the time or done something. I just want Jane to know that I deeply appreciate her and I think she paid a pretty big price for what happened there. I just want her to know that she did remarkable work on behalf of our team and I’m truly sorry for the repercussions of what happened.
“A lot of us were watching that night and I’m sure not many people said anything to her at the time.”
Shuswap’s Greg Kyllo chaired the caucus meeting. Wilkinson made reference to 45 people “on the screen.” But fewer than a dozen spoke.
Parksville’s Michelle Stilwell and Fraser-Nicola’s Jackie Tegart both blamed media coverage for the party’s poor showing.
“We’ve gone through some tough times in the last five years, that we as a party have gone through an election we won but lost the government, we lost a leader, we went through an interim and went through a leadership race that included many members of our caucus,” Tegart said.
Langley’s Mary Polak trails the NDP’s Andrew Mercier by 1,487 votes. ‘There’s a very, very, tiny, tiny statistical chance I could be back.”
Skeena’s Ellis Ross, who holds a 918-vote lead over an NDP challenger, called the NDP “slimy” and “corrupt.”
“That’s what I see, looking across the floor,” he said.
The retiring Donna Barnett (Cariboo-Chilcotin), Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) and John Yap (Richmond-Steveston) said their goodbyes. A listless version of Happy Birthday was performed in Yap’s honour.
Party executive director Emile Scheffel said volunteers and lawyers were scheduled to meet Oct. 31 to plan scrutiny of the mail ballot count. The party board was to begin planning Nov. 1 for a leadership election and campaign post mortem.
Wilkinson had earlier in the meeting said that the new caucus could choose before Christmas to instal an interim leader. The interim leader would be ineligible to run for the permanent job.
Scheffel also said the party is looking forward to millions of dollars of taxpayer funds via the per-vote subsidy by year-end or early in the new year and the 50% reimbursement of campaign expenses by spring.
“We’re going to be fine financially,” said Scheffel, who announced his own resignation on Nov. 2.
Said the NDP’s Chen: “I don’t think they connected with people. They were not connecting with people on the needs of people, with people’s wishes and priorities.”
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