A man who was once president of the B.C. Liberal Party and B.C. Civil Liberties Association is now the Liberal candidate for the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena.
Andrew Wilkinson, 55, defeated former NPA city councillor Suzanne Anton by 112 votes in Sunday's nomination race to represent the longtime Liberal stronghold being vacated by retiring MLA Colin Hansen.
Wilkinson's victory came after more than 1,436 members of the party's riding membership cast ballots over five hours at Prince of Wales secondary school.
Wilkinson received 774 votes to Anton's 662 in what was a 53 per cent voter turnout in a riding that saw both candidates sign up a combined 1,100 members to swell the ranks to 2,700 eligible Liberal party voters.
"I suppose people must have come to the conclusion that my experience in government was a bit more relevant than Suzanne's and they voted accordingly," Wilkinson told the Courier after stepping from the stage where Hansen announced the results. "But it's a tribute to Suzanne that the vote was so close."
Although he didn't have the public profile of Anton, Wilkinson has strong ties to the medical and legal communities - he's a licensed doctor and practising lawyer - and he previously served as a deputy minister in the provincial government from 2001 to 2006.
A Rhodes scholar, Wilkinson was at one time president of the B.C. Liberal Party and B.C. Civil Liberties Association - leadership roles he doesn't see as incongruous.
"That was a time when we were concerned about government intrusions into life," he said of his days with the civil liberties association 20 years ago. "That is probably still a valid premise. I think that organization has different priorities now. But it's always going to be a watchdog and that's fair game."
Wilkinson stepped down from his job at the firm of McCarthy Tetrault to seek the Liberal nomination. He acknowledged it was a lot to give up with no guarantee that neither he nor the Liberals will win in the May 14 vote.
"It's giving up job security, it's giving up an interesting and safe line of work but sometimes these things need to be done because somebody has to take on these tasks to make this a better place," he said.
Wilkinson said his top priority is to encourage investment in British Columbia and create opportunities for students to acquire the skills necessary to work in a competitive marketplace. Economic prosperity, he said, is what drives funding for quality health care and education.
For Anton, it was the second time she had met political defeat since she lost her run for mayor to incumbent Gregor Robertson in the fall 2011 campaign. When asked if her political career was over, she replied, "For the moment."
As a former park commissioner and city councillor, Anton had topped the polls for the NPA in municipal elections. She noted her civic experience in her speech earlier in the day but it was not enough to resonate with Liberal members.
"There were two very strong campaigns and you can tell that from the turnout, from the interest," Anton told the Courier after accepting hugs from friends. "We both had our supporters. At the end of the day, he had a few more than I did. I don't have any more analysis than that."
Anton supporter Harj Bains said before the results were announced that he appreciated Anton's dedication to the community and her ability to get things done.
But Bains, who is the lumber business, said he would support Wilkinson in what he acknowledged is going to be a tough fight for the Liberals as they face the NDP.
"I'm for the Liberals - period," he said.
Wilkinson supporter Cathryn Wilson said Wilkinson's experience as a deputy minister and his grasp on British Columbia and its place in Canada made him her logical choice to represent the riding. The fact Wilkinson has no experience as a politician was not a concern, Wilson said.
"He's putting himself forward in a time where it's tough to be a politician and anybody who is willing to do that gets two thumbs up from me," she said, adding that Anton was also a credible candidate. "She deserves a lot of credit, too. I'm just more excited about Andrew and what he can do for us."
Vancouver-Quilchena has been a Liberal stronghold since Art Cowie held the riding from 1991 to 1994. Former premier Gordon Campbell was the riding's MLA from 1994 to 1996 before Hansen was elected in 1996.
With polls and pundits predicting an NDP victory across the province in May, Hansen said there's still a long way to go before election day and predictions don't always come true.
He pointed to elections across Canada where prognosticators were wrong in picking winners or, at least, landslides. Most recently, he said, Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec came within a few seats of being re-elected.
He said the ruling governments of Dalton McGuinty in Ontario, Alison Redford in Alberta and Greg Selinger in Manitoba were all supposed to be "annihilated" but were re-elected.
"I can tell you right now in the B.C. Liberal Party there's lots of optimism," Hansen said. "Everybody's working hard and we know we've got a gap to close."
Wilkinson will face NDP candidate Nicholas Scapillati, who congratulated Wilkinson via Twitter Sunday night. Scapillati is the executive director of FarmFolk CityFolk, a nonprofit whose goal is create a local, sustainable food system.
The Green Party and the B.C. Conservative Party are still without candidates, although both parties say they will have candidates in place before the May 14 election.
The next high profile nomination race for the Liberals goes this Wednesday when former mayor Sam Sullivan and former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt battle for the right to represent the party in the riding of Vancouver-False Creek.