B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson. (Hansard TV)

Painful Truth: Wilkinson’s “wacky” comments provide fodder for NDP

The Liberal leader seems to have no clue on issues affecting renters, students

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson shot himself in the foot last month.

So pleased was he with the effect, that he decided to shoot himself in the other foot this week.

At the tail end of February, Wilkinson went after renters.

“We’ve seen the same attitude with the government’s approach to rentals. ‘Let’s protect the renters,’” he said, sarcastically criticizing NDP measures to, um, protect renters. He characterized renting as “wacky” and “part of growing up and getting better, we’ve all done it.”

You know. Like your acne clearing up, or ditching that embarrassing Flock of Seagulls haircut.

He was roundly criticized for his attitude, of course. B.C. has an incredibly tight rental market, with vacancies generally at or under one per cent, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver is more than $2,100, well above $3,000 for a two-bedroom. Across Metro Vancouver, more than a third of residents rent, and they’re not all young folks fresh out of college – they’re seniors and families and people who work hard, but don’t make enough to save for a home of their own.

But Wilkinson’s first self-inflicted wound could have been worse. He came off as clueless and out of touch, more than actively malevolent.

The second comment, though, makes you wonder what he’s thinking.

This week, he took offense to the NDP’s new policy of eliminating interest on new and existing student loans.

“The concern with the NDP taking the interest off them completely is that students in their early years may get a little carried away with how much they’re borrowing,” Wilkinson said. “If there’s no interest whatsoever, then students are likely to borrow more.”

This is interesting information! I didn’t know that banks and lenders charged us interest out of the goodness of their hearts, so we wouldn’t borrow too much! I thought it had something to do with making big, fat profits.

Wilkinson’s statement is so bizarre and wrong-headed, it must have made some of his Liberal compatriots squirm.

It also brings attention to the fact that Wilkinson was the minister for advanced education from 2014 to 2017, and he didn’t exactly do a lot to help students out from under financial burdens – until right before the provincial election, when the government slashed loan rates, which had until then been the highest in the country.

Student debt soared during Wilkinson’s tenure, with the average hitting more than $30,000 for a four-year program.

This isn’t even the first time he’s put his foot in his mouth about student debt. Back in 2015, he claimed that 70 per cent of B.C. students graduated university with no debt at all. A 2013 study showed it was just 51 per cent, and that didn’t include graduate students.

Wilkinson is both a doctor and lawyer. His riding, Vancouver-Quilchena, is one of the wealthiest in B.C. His party presided over a massive housing crisis and, during its early years in power, a huge increase in university tuition fees.

If he wants us to take him at face value, and assume he’s an elitist snob who doesn’t care about anyone making less than six figures, he’s doing a pretty good job.

Or maybe he’s just happy to help the NDP put together a highlight reel for their attack ads in the next election.

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