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First debate today for BC Liberal leadership

Last Updated Oct 15, 2017 at 9:14 am PDT

(Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Six debates to be held before party members choose a new leader in February

Seven candidates are vying for the top job

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – Don’t expect to see Christy Clark’s name come up often during the first of six debates by those vying to replace the former premier as BC’s Liberal leader.

With seven candidates, there’s no clear front-runner, but a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley thinks former Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has a bit of an edge.

Hamish Telford says she’s the only one who can credibly claim she represents change.

“I think it’s going to be more difficult for the established cabinet ministers like Andrew Wilkinson and Mike de Jong. They’re going to sort of be making other claims that they’re ready to be premier tomorrow, they have the experience and the where-with-all to do that. The challenge for Dianne Watts is going to be to prove that she is up to speed on provincial policy files. She’s obviously had a lot of experience at the municipal level and a bit of experience at the federal level, but she’s new to provincial politics — whereas for most of the other candidates, they’ve been living and breathing this stuff for the last five years.”

Telford adds Clark’s economic record makes it hard for any candidates to distance themselves from her other than to say, “We’ve listened. We’ve learned lessons and we promise to rectify those mistakes.”

He says it’s too early to predict who the eventual winner will be. “They’re all pretty much very capable and experienced candidates, but I think we’ll start to see after the debate and get a better sense of how they’re ranked against each other and how their organizations are starting to shape up and how many members are getting signed up.”

However, it’s not too early for all seven candidates to build up their profiles. “It’s not a terribly long campaign and it’s important for the candidates to start differentiating themselves from each other in terms of policy positions, leadership style, as well as getting themselves known and really, I think the importance of this debate is to create a first impression.”

The last and youngest candidate to throw his hat in the ring is former transportation minister Todd Stone. The 45-year-old from Kamloops made it official last Tuesday.

Another MLA who wants the job and abandoned by Clark at the end of July is former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.

Today’s debate is at a banquet hall in Surrey and comes one day after former Education Minister Mike Bernier dropped out of the run to help co-chair the campaign for Mike de Jong.

Five more debates are planned before a winner is announced during a convention in Vancouver on February 4th, 2018.