This article was written by MNH Strategies Consultant Maclean Kay and was featured in the Times Colonist on February 5, 2018.
In Andrew Wilkinson, the B.C. Liberal Party has elected a very smart person to lead them through very interesting times. He doesn’t need my advice, but if he did, this is what I’d tell him:
Be yourself. Because it’s a strength. Late in the campaign, Wilkinson’s team focused on his integrity – and it worked, mostly because it’s true. Start with the elephant in the room; no discussion of political leaders happens without the #metoo movement – and, more quietly, workplace bullying.
On both fronts, Wilkinson is zero risk – and not just because he’s a decent man. His staff adore him, because he’s reasonable, treats them well, and is easy to get along with. Not enough of his colleagues on either side of the aisle can say the same thing.
Wilkinson’s calm, confident and authoritative voice will be immeasurably valuable in the upcoming referendum on electoral reform, a marked contrast to some of the “it will end poverty and racism” magical thinking taking shape on the yes side.
Understand and embrace the inevitable attacks. In person, Wilkinson is a friendly, funny guy – but then, apparently so is Adrian Dix.
Between his resume and perfect, almost regal diction, it’s going to be a struggle to come across as relatable – especially next to John Horgan and his natural, everyman charisma. It’s not impossible – Andrew Weaver has thick credentials and a tweedy Oak Bay delivery; he’s doing fine.
But from day one, the NDP and Greens will bend over backwards to paint Wilkinson as the living embodiment of the one per cent, high-fiving the Koch brothers as he forecloses on a parade of small family businesses. Not fair, but politics seldom is.
My advice? Lean into it. Don’t let success become a liability. Refuse to apologize for the astonishing accomplishment of becoming both a doctor and a lawyer – in fact, ask his critics which one they feel he should apologize for, and why. Point out that anti-intellectualism gave the world George W. Bush, Brexit, and Donald Trump. How’s that working out?
Don’t circle the wagons. In many ways, Wilkinson’s victory was the opposite of Christy Clark’s. It happened in opposition; he was one of the establishment candidates; with the support of much of caucus and staff. That said, he’d be wise to take a page from her book. Clark gave her former rivals and their teams prominent roles.
True, she didn’t have much choice, not wanting her her win to feel like a hostile takeover. But reaching out would be especially wise, because of the next item below.
Listen to the members. Through three ballots, the two leading campaigns were a complete outsider and a rookie MLA – who together, accounted for much more new members than the other four candidates combined.
Dianne Watts isn’t in the legislature, and it’s not immediately clear when or even if there’s an opportunity for that to happen. But she commanded the most individual support, and it would be a huge mistake to write that off.
The same goes for Michael Lee, who for the sake of full disclosure, I supported and worked for during the campaign. Lee is interesting, not only because of his meteoric rise from rookie to real contender, but because he was strongest in the areas and demographics the party badly needs to shore up.
Don’t fight the last election. This weekend, one of the brightest political minds I’ve ever met astonished me, saying something so obviously true, I was embarrassed for not seeing it before. Namely, that Christy Clark was the last – and greatest – television premier.
Clark had an uncanny genius for soundbites, and presenting ideas in digestible, newsclip format. That the NDP tried to portray that as a flaw demonstrates how far behind they were – after all, Nixon’s people said the same thing about Kennedy, for the same reason.
Things change, and opponents catch up. The next election won’t be won or lost on Global TV, but in targeted Facebook posts, social media advertising, and data tracking. Make sure the party is ready.
With the legislature sitting next week and the referendum looming, Wilkinson won’t get to enjoy much of honeymoon. I have every confidence he’s not only up to the challenge, but – crucially – understands it.
Maclean Kay was Premier Christy Clark’s speechwriter for five years.