As the British Columbia provincial election enters its final stretch, the B.C. Liberal Party is scrambling after a Zoom “roast” video leaked this weekend. The recording, featuring a party candidate engaging in sexist comments, had attendees that included the party leader and other Liberal candidates standing by and laughing along.
B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson told reporters Tuesday he regrets not speaking up and was “appalled” by the comments made by Vancouver North Seymour candidate Jane Thornthwaite during a virtual roast of a retiring colleague several weeks ago.
“I was embarrassed to see those remarks made,” he said Tuesday, three days after the video leaked on Twitter. “That’s not the way my world works.”
In the video shared to Twitter by Vancouver podcast host Mo Amir Saturday, several Liberal candidates are participating in a virtual “roast” of retiring MLA Ralph Sultan. Thornthwaite recounts a story involving a sexist joke at the expense of NDP candidate Bowinn Ma, suggesting that she attempted to seduce Sultan by “cuddling up” and using her “cleavage”.
“Bowinn is a very pretty lady, and she knows she’s got ‘it,’” Thornthwaite said in the video, to smiles and laughs by others on the call, including Wilkinson. Mike de Jong, Karin Kirkpatrick, Kevin Falcon, Jess Ketchum, Jordan Sturdy and Gordie Hogg also appear onscreen in the video.
The comments and blind support from the other Liberal MLAs prompted outrage across the political sphere and social media over the weekend. The original video on Amir’s account has racked up over 300,000 views.
On Sunday, Thornthwaite tweeted that she supports all women in politics.
Two hours later, she clarified to note that she was apologizing for the comments and said she had reached out to Ma to personally apologize.
“The comments I made at the roast for my colleague Ralph Sultan fell flat and were inappropriate,” she wrote. “I unreservedly apologize for making these comments.”
Wilkinson echoed Thornthwaite’s apology on Twitter Sunday, noting that “on reflection, those comments were inappropriate.”
But despite calls from opponents and the press to do so, Wilkinson did not hold public availability to address the video over the Thanksgiving weekend.
His first public comments about the video came during the party’s platform announcement Tuesday, three days after the video was first shared. He said he didn’t speak up during the mid-September event or immediately after because it was obvious to him Thornthwaite “had made a fool of herself.”
He added that he was concerned about “embarrassing” Sultan at his retirement roast. Wilkinson also confirmed Tuesday that he did not address Thornthwaite’s comments until after the video leaked.
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“The embarrassment was immediate, and felt throughout the audience of that call,” Wilkinson said.
“It didn’t need to be reinforced because it was so clear what she did was wrong.”
On Monday, Ma called out Wilkinson’s handling of the gaffe.
“I think Andrew Wilkinson has a lot to answer for about what he feels is acceptable in his caucus,” Ma said during a press conference. “And I question if a man who is unable to set a tone of his political party in terms of respect for women is able to set a tone for British Columbians.”
It’s not the first controversy of the campaign to shake the Liberal leader. Earlier in the campaign, Wilkinson defended a Liberal candidate who is opposed to rainbow crosswalks and another who advertised in an anti-LGBTQ magazine and has written in favour of conversion therapy.
He refused to address either crosswalks or conversion therapy, instead repeatedly saying he has “gay family members.”
“To be perfectly clear, I have gay members of my family. I have lesbian members in my family. I love them, I respect them,” Wilkinson told reporters last week.
Wilkinson’s Liberals are currently polling well behind John Horgan’s NDP. According to a recent Leger survey, 50 per cent of voters would choose the NDP compared to only 35 per cent who plan to vote Liberal.
Election day in B.C. is Oct. 24.