Andrew Wilkinson

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks with reporter Ron Seymour and Valley Editor James Miller in Miller's office at The Daily Courier, Thursday.

A provincial Liberal government would expand and improve treatment programs for people suffering from drug addictions and mental-health problems, party leader Andrew Wilkinson says.

The NDP’s twin approach of focusing on harm reduction and providing housing is not working to successfully address the opioid crisis, Wilkinson said Thursday in Kelowna.

“Addiction is primarily a medical problem. So let’s treat it that way,” Wilkinson said in an interview with The Daily Courier. “Let’s find the different channels of therapeutic interventions that can get people off drugs.

“Sadly, the NDP have decided that housing and harm reduction are all they really need to do,” Wilkinson said. “We disagree. We have to find pathways to get people off drugs and treat them with the dignity they deserve, and establish some hope for them and their families, and for our society. We can’t have people spending their entire lives addicted to drugs.”

Here’s an interview with Wilkinson, whose answers have been edited and condensed.

Q: Would a Liberal government move away from the Housing First model and make housing for vulnerable people contingent on them committing to a recovery program?

Wilkinson: We need a full spectrum of care and remedies for people dealing with drug addiction problems. There’s a very small cohort of people who will be drug dependent their whole lives, and that needs to be recognized and dealt with. But there’s a huge percentage of people who can get off drugs. Housing’s part of that. But it’s only the first step of many. The NDP seem to think putting people in a box is good enough and they can walk away. We can see in all our communities that that approach is not working. We cannot consign people to lifelong addiction.

Q: What would a Liberal government do to make housing more affordable?

Wilkinson: The current government is focused on reducing demand for housing by demonizing some people and driving them out of the market. It doesn’t work. We need a much greater supply of housing.

Q: About half of Kelowna’s land base is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Would that include opening up more agricultural land for housing?

Wilkinson: We need to do a better job of using the land we’ve already got before we get adventurous with farmland.

Q: Forestry is in crisis, with Kelowna’s mill just announcing an indefinite shutdown. What should the government be doing that it isn’t doing to help the industry?

Wilkinson: This calendar year we’ve had 89 closures, shut-downs, or curtailments in forestry in B.C. All but two of them have been in B.C. LIberal ridings. The NDP have largely ignored the issue.

When we had the softwood lumber dispute back in 2003, the BC Liberals went hard on the federal government to come to British Columbia and talk about improvements to employment insurance, training programs for displaced workers, and improvements to the Community Futures program. And we got all three of those things done.

The NDP seems to be neglecting this forestry crisis because it doesn’t really affect their key ridings.

British Columbia now has the highest cost per log of any jurisdiction in North America. Under the BC Liberals, it had the lowest cost per log.

Q: What’s the status of Kelowna West Liberal MLA Ben Stewart?

Wilkinson: Ben’s dealing with an administrative review of an issue to do with Elections B.C. He is a valued member of our caucus and we hope to have him back as soon as possible. He’s part of our family.

Q: The suggestion is he told a staff member to improperly donate to the Liberal party. That’s what’s been reported.

Wilkinson: I’m reluctant to comment because I’m not a witness. It needs to be sorted out by Elections B.C.

Q: In your opinion, do school boards work? Nova Scotia recently abolished school boards. What are your thoughts?

Wilkinson: it’s got to be an ongoing conversation as to what’s the right governance model for school boards and for schools. There’s no immediate need for change in my mind, but it’s always worth looking at these things.

Q: If the Liberals are elected, will Rutland get a new middle school?

Wilkinson: Rutland is now central to the whole Okanagan. There’s lots going on. It’s the future of the Okanagan and we look at Rutland and say, ‘Maybe the time has come for a new middle school’.

Q: The NDP would say the Liberals had 16 years in power to build a new Rutland Middle School and never did.

Wilkinson: Talking about what happened 10, or 20, or 30 years ago gets you nowhere. Let’s focus on making British Columbia a better place for everyone. And Rutland Middle School is inevitably going to be part of that.

Q: Do you anticipate an election before the NDP’s four-year mandate is up?

Wilkinson: We’re all watching this federal election with interest, as the Green party surges and the NDP collapses. That’s going to cause the provincial NDP a whole lot of anxiety. And it may make the provincial Greens a little more frisky. So we’ll see if they can maintain this tense coalition they’ve had these last two years. They’re not natural bedfellows, and we’ll see if they can hold it together.

Q: How worried are you about the BC Conservatives being the same kind of factor in 2021 that they were in the 2017 election, taking just enough votes that presumably would otherwise have gone to the Liberals, so that the NDP won.

Wilkinson: It’s pretty obvious that a fringe party like the BC Conservatives can only be spoilers. They can never form government. All they can do is re-elect the NDP. We have contact with some people in the BC Conservatives. Most of them have figured out the way to get rid of the NDP and get a market-oriented, centrist government is to vote for the BC Liberals.

Some of them continue to operate in the fringes and they count upon the name ‘Conservatives’ to get some overflow from federal politics into their provincial enterprise, which has been chronically unsuccessful.

Q: The provincial Liberals are a melding of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives. Who are you cheering for in the current federal election?

Wilkinson: We don’t cheer for any side in the federal election. We stay completely out of the federal election. We just hope people make the wise chose in the next provincial election and vote for us.

Q: Why shouldn’t people support the NDP?

Wilkinson: The key message in 2019 is none of us can afford the NDP. They’re cranking up taxes, spending very generously, and have done nothing to promote economic growth in this province. When they’re asked about the future, they mutter something about the tech sector.

The NDP has no economic policy, no approach to improving business conditions. They’re just happy to spend a lot of money.