Pipelines, cannabis and ICBC: Q&A with BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson

The newly minted leader of the opposition sits down with Business in Vancouver to discuss the province’s most pressing issues

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson

Following Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson’s win in the BC Liberal leadership race earlier this month, the new leader of the opposition joined Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse Radio 98.3 to share his thoughts on the province’s tense relationship with Alberta, Victoria’s strategy on recreational cannabis and the future of ICBC. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How the B.C.-Alberta spat over pipelines and wine is hitting the economy

A: This is an embarrassment. I mean, this is the sort of thing that should not happen. It shows a lack of maturity amongst two premiers.… Somehow the [John] Horgan NDP government has decided that they don’t like the rule of law in Canada so they’re just going to pick a fight with Alberta. And of course Alberta, whether advisedly or not, has decided to penalize the British Columbia wine industry. So what do the people of British Columbia get out of this? They get investor uncertainty, they get complete disregard for the rule of law, they get job loss in the Okanagan, they get antagonized Alberta civilians who would otherwise come and spend on tourism in British Columbia. This is a lose-lose proposition for the people of British Columbia.

On the BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s central role in the recreational cannabis industry

A: This idea in British Columbia that every piece of liquid alcohol has to go through the hands of government employees at the Liquor Distribution Branch is a bit arcane. And now they want to expand it into the future for another product, marijuana. Anybody’s who’s in the logistics and distribution business says, “Well, you might have done that in the Prohibition era as a way to make sure you’re collecting taxes and that bad people aren’t dealing with contraband.” But in the marijuana business there’s already a very well-established black market that has been there for 50 years. And if they create these unionized jobs for people to handle marijuana and shuffle it around and take their own time distributing it, all that does is encourage continuation of the black market. It drives up the cost base of the newly lawful marijuana business and makes it less likely that it would get any revenue off it because you’ve got to pay for this distribution system first, and more likely that organized crime will continue to be involved in the black market for marijuana.

On the fate of Vancouver’s dispensaries after recreational cannabis is legalized

A: I’m hopeful that this completely renegade business that’s making it all out to be fun and games, and where we’re not sure who’s actually profiting from it, will fizzle out. There may be some of them that are more credible that will be able to license themselves and sell and become established within the framework of private operators within a tightly regulated environment. That remains to be seen.

How to fix ICBC

A: It’s a 44-year-old state-run monopoly that was created by the NDP, and in my view it’s probably outlived its usefulness. It needs a root-and-branch overhaul to make sure that it’s serving the purpose that it needs to, which is to provide affordable motor insurance to British Columbians and appropriate claims compensation to accident victims.… There’s talk about, “Do you want to privatize ICBC?” Well, ICBC is a money-losing insurance company that is essentially worthless. So the idea you’re going to sell it to somebody is probably an illusion.

On whether he would align with BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver if the current government falls over the pursuit of liquefied natural gas

A: That remains to be seen because the Green party on one hand has tried to portray itself as independent, and thoughtful and evidence-based, as they keep saying. And on the other hand they vote faithfully, loyally and reliably with the NDP on every single thing that the NDP does.

On finding a balance between taxis and ride-hailing services

A: We have to make sure that whoever is carrying passengers in British Columbia is appropriately licensed, appropriately trained and skilled, and appropriately insured. And the actual dispatch system – whether they’re using they’re own app or eCab or the Yellow or Black Top one or Lyft – those are going to change over time. That’s the nature of the technology industry. I’m more concerned about the safety of British Columbians and making sure the insurance is in place.

How he would tackle the housing affordability crisis

A: We need to answer this as a society and arrange for an appropriate growth in the housing supply. That means getting the municipal permitting sorted out. I’ve talked about tax incentives for construction of residential rental housing.… There isn’t enough rental housing out there. The market is way too tight. So we need to make sure there’s an expanded supply of housing to keep up with all of the tens of thousands of people that are moving here every year.