The leader of the BC Liberal Party says he was “embarrassed” by an incumbent MLA’s comments during an online retirement party three weeks ago that targeted a New Democrat politician, but stopped short of taking responsibility for laughing at the sexist jokes.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the now-viral video was released Saturday, Andrew Wilkinson acknowledged that he didn’t speak to Jane Thornthwaite about her comments until last weekend. In the clip, which shows colleagues roasting retiring MLA Ralph Sultan, Thornthwaite jokes about BC NDP incumbent Bowinn Ma using her looks to get close to Sultan.
“Jane’s performance that night was so clearly inappropriate and embarrassing that the tenor of the call was that she had done something completely wrong. I did not enforce it because she knew that,” Wilkinson told reporters at a campaign event on Tuesday.
“It didn’t need to be reinforced because it was so clear what she did was wrong.”
But when asked why he’d been laughing in the video and hadn’t spoken out at the time, Wilkinson said he did not want to embarrass Sultan, who represented West Vancouver-Capilano, by bringing attention to the remarks.
“We have all been in those scenarios of someone saying something inappropriate … this one was for a 87-year-old man who lives alone and there was a sense of not wanting to ruin his evening,” he said.
“Many of us were embarrassed to the point of being appalled. It is hard to stop the train in a social event when you don’t know what will be said next. I wish I had found a way to intervene without embarrassing Ralph. ”
Wilkinson had apologized to Ma on social media on Sunday, and added on Tuesday that he would be happy to apologize again to her over the phone.
Ma, who is running for re-election in North Vancouver-Lonsdale, told reporters on Monday that Wilkinson had a lot to answer for.
“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,” Ma had said.
Thornthwaite, the incumbent in North Vancouver-Seymour, has apologized numerous times and said she left Ma a voicemail apologizing as well.
Voters go to the polls in the provincial election on Oct. 24.
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