Celebrity

Wilkinson gives NDP ‘yachts’ of ammo in class warfare optics

VICTORIA — When NDP activists first saw the headline this week, they couldn’t believe their good fortune.

“Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson pans speculation tax at West Vancouver yacht club chat,” reported the North Shore News Thursday atop a report on his speech to the local chamber of commerce.

An Opposition leader who the populist-led New Democrats have framed as an elitist. Who played into the stereotype with a comment on the “wacky fun” of renting, which he later had to repudiate.

Now he chooses to deliver a speech on the admittedly half-baked speculation tax at the yacht club in West Vancouver of all places?

“Surprisingly, this isn’t satire written by me,” wrote Jeffrey Ferrier, a self-styled “progressive” and one of several who posted the story on Twitter.

“Wow,” returned Global TV correspondent Keith Baldrey, himself a columnist in the North Shore News. “Does no one do advance work for the Libs any more? A yacht club — especially the West Van one — is the last place a politician with an elitist image problem should go anywhere near.”

Stung, members of the Opposition caucus rode to Wilkinson’s defence.

“But this was a local chamber of commerce event,” protested former cabinet minister Rich Coleman. “When my chamber invites me I don’t tell them where to hold it. It is important to respect local volunteer groups, it is their decision.”

“Come on, Keith,” tweeted Michelle Stilwell, another former cabinet minister. “Why not focus on the issue of a half-baked speculation tax that doesn’t actually target speculators but makes 1.4 million British Columbians prove themselves otherwise?”

Picking up on the what-about-ism theme was former minister Shirley Bond: “How about when John Horgan calls (Liberal MLA) Jackie Tegart a ‘whiner’ for representing constituents and a bill introduced by (Liberal) Stephanie Cadieux is a ‘political stunt’? No comment???”

But as experienced politicians know — or should know — telling a reporter that he/she should be writing about something other than what he/she is writing about is not a proven media management strategy.

“The physical location/backdrop of a political leader’s appearance during an election campaign is chosen with deliberate, strategic care,” wrote Baldrey by way of reply to several Liberals. “That’s because they matter when it comes to shaping messages and image.”

Yet from this case and others, it would appear the Liberals can’t be bothered with optics, making it easier for opponents to define Wilkinson.

Before long, the exchange veered into ridicule.

When I wrote of the Liberals that “they do protest too much,” someone tweeted back: “I believe in West Vancouver it’s pronounced ‘doth.’”

Also riffing on the Liberal gaffe was one who posted a video of Thurston Howell III, the parody billionaire played by Jim Backus on the old Gilligan’s Island TV show.

The New Democrats played it for laughs as well.

“B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson sailed into the West Vancouver Yacht Club yesterday to say ahoy to about two-dozen members of the exclusive group,” read the press release from a government caucus that is still more quick-witted at the job of opposing than the official Opposition.

And so on, through Wilkinson “tying himself into knots” and “his priority is to buoy the richest two per cent and leave everyone else lost at sea,” and “instead of throwing people a lifeline, Wilkinson is making them walk the plank.”

Great fun unless you happen to be on the Wilkinson defence team.

Reaching, someone in Liberal ranks noticed that attorney general David Eby had spoken at the “ritzy” Vancouver Club, and wasn’t that the same thing?

Plus there was this, from Opposition house leader Mary Polak: “Someone should advise Horgan not to speak at the B.C. Fed convention.”

Both missed the point.

Getting cozy with the Vancouver Club is not one of the unfortunate stereotypes associated with Eby. That appearance by the wealth-taxing, lawyer-bashing attorney general was more of a case of a politician venturing into the lion’s den.

And the annual convention of the 500,000-member B.C. Federation of Labour is a somewhat more broadly based venue than the West Van yacht club, whomever is hosting.

A more apt comparison would be to Environment Minister George Heyman’s attendance at a celebratory dinner with anti-pipeline activists last January, just after he announced B.C. would restrict shipments of heavy oil from Alberta.

Not only did his government have to pull back the threat, but reporting on the appearance helped put Heyman in the activist camp himself.

Or consider how the story was played when Adrian Dix, who’d admitted forging a memo in the casino scandal, was caught without a ticket on SkyTrain.

As for Horgan, one of his vulnerabilities is a quick temper. Though he’s kept it in check lately, he made the news more than once when he lost it during his days in Opposition.

Every leader has weaknesses, some more unfortunate than others. A key political art is to turn one’s weaknesses into strengths, or failing that, to avoid reinforcing the stereotype.

Wilkinson knows very well that the NDP will indulge the class warfare theme every chance it gets.

“It’s a good way to generate stories about people who are deemed to be well off and how they are going to be kicked around a bit,” he told the chamber crowd. “That’s good politics for the NDP.”

Kicking Wilkinson around is even better politics for the New Democrats. Once more this week, he played right into their hands.

vpalmer@postmedia.com

twitter.com/VaughnPalmer

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