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BC Liberal leadership race, infighting in final stage

Last Updated Feb 1, 2018 at 7:27 am PDT

Six of the BC Liberal leadership candidates at the Surrey debate. (Ellen Coulter, NEWS 1130, Photo)

BC Liberals begin voting for a new leader; vote expected to wrap up Saturday

'It's one of the more vicious races I've ever seen for a party leadership,' says former NDP strategist

Dianne Watts, Michael Lee, Sam Sullivan, Andrew Wilkinson, Mike de Jong, Todd Stone battling to lead the BC Liberals

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The race to replace the woman who led BC for more than six years is coming to an end, starting today. The BC Liberals are voting for a new leader to fill the spot vacated by former premier Christy Clark after the last election.

Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, MLAs Michael Lee, Sam Sullivan and former cabinet ministers Andrew Wilkinson, Mike de Jong and Todd Stone are all battling to head the party.

“It’s one of the more vicious races I’ve ever seen for party leadership. There’s a lot of infighting going on,” says former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman.

“It started with a pretty heavy attack on Dianne Watts, as an outsider who didn’t do anything to help the party, particularly from Mike de Jong and Andrew Wilkinson. Now we have Watts, Wilkinson, de Jong and Lee all ganging up on Todd Stone over the issue of allegedly wrongly filed membership cards,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“You have to wonder how they are all going to pull it all together at the end of this. There are a lot of broken eggs to make an omelet I guess, but I think there are going to be some really bad feelings here.”

Political scientist Hamish Telford says while Watts might be the people’s choice to lead the BC Liberals, party insiders probably have other ideas.

“Dianne Watts will come first on the first ballot,” he predicts. “The question is whether she has broad enough support on second and third choices to go over the top. I’m sensing she doesn’t have that secondary support.”

Telford thinks the party may prefer someone with previous cabinet experience.

It can be a lot harder to bring a party back together when it is not in power.

“If somebody is premier, they can appoint their rivals — the folks they’ve been fighting against in a leadership campaign — to their cabinet. They get plum jobs and everyone goes home relatively happy,” explains Tieleman.

“When you are in Opposition, it isn’t the same. The Liberals have a much more serious challenge there. It increasingly looks like the NDP-Green government will go the full four years of its term and the Liberals will have to wait a long time — and get along — without all the perks from cabinet jobs and being in power.”

Telford says the BC Liberals will have to work to re-establish the trust of voters, regardless of who the new leader is.

“They’re going to have to get the party ready for a possible election. We have a minority government, Andrew Weaver is threatening to pull down the government. And when you have minorities, government can fall any time.

Tieleman doesn’t rule out a Liberal win in the next election, or even that they might form government before then.

“In BC politics, you never know what’s going to happen. We didn’t expect the Green-NDP government to be in power. We didn’t expect Christy Clark to disappear right off the political scene. There are so many things that can happen. I certainly wouldn’t rule out the Liberals. They are in a strong position in the Legislature, only a couple seats away,” he says.

“I wouldn’t say that the next leader couldn’t be premier of the province down the road in another election, it’s certainly possible. On the other hand, it could be that the Liberal party splits in two and goes into separate parts with one more BC conservative and the other more along federal Liberal lines.”

The BC Liberal leadership vote starts today and is expected to wrap up late Saturday. NEWS 1130 will have full coverage.