B.C. Liberal party sets rules and Feb. 4, 2018 date for leadership vote
Former B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark leaves a poling station after casting her ballot in Vancouver, B.C. on May 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VICTORIA — B.C.'s Liberal party has set the rules for electing a new leader, allowing a longer race, a higher spending cap and a different way to validate the identity of voting Liberal members.
The party announced Tuesday it has opened the race to elect a new leader at a Feb. 4, 2018, convention, following the July 28 resignation of former leader and premier Christy Clark. The timing means the leadership race will be six weeks longer than it was in 2011, when Clark won.
Candidates widely considered to be contemplating a leadership bid include MLAs Mike Bernier, Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, Mike de Jong and Michael Lee, as well as South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts. None have officially announced their intention to run for the leadership, but Bernier, Stone and Wilkinson said Tuesday that they'll decide in the coming weeks.
Candidates will have a Dec. 29 entry deadline, and have to pay $60,000 in various fees ($50,000 of which will be non-refundable). Each candidate will have a $600,000 spending limit, up from $450,000 in the 2011 leadership race.
"The way they've adjusted the limits is more than fair for anyone who is running," said Bernier, who added he's encouraged by the overall rule changes. "If you cannot run a leadership race for under $600,000, I would say there's a problem with how you are running your campaign."
In another change from 2011 candidates won't be able to exempt personal expenses as defined under the Election Act from their spending cap. The party said that exemption caused considerable confusion in the last race, and so was eliminated.
"It's very simple, it's very clean," Stone said of the cap. "The cap in and of itself will allow for a level playing field that ensures each campaign can run a provincial and professional campaign without that campaign being over the top."
Wilkinson said he thinks the rules are "quite reasonable."
"It seems the party has done its best to address concerns about the duration of the race, the amount of money that can be spent by candidates and most importantly about the integrity of the voting system," he said.
Perhaps the biggest change in the race will be how Liberal members have their identities authorized to vote. In 2011, the party mailed personal identification numbers (PINs) to members, but then faced harsh criticism from candidates after thousands of members, from mainly rural ridings, failed to get their PINs before voting opened.
"I'm glad they learned from some mistakes from last time," said Bernier.
There were also concerns raised in 2011 about PINs being obtained in bulk to cast votes, though the party says that allegation was never substantiated.
The Liberal party said it intends to put out a request for proposals to find an alternate form of member authentication in the coming weeks. Voting will run Feb. 2-4 online and by phone.
"I think there was a lot of concern expressed by a lot of members around the province, and I shared those concerns, that there were many stories from the last go-round that called into question perhaps the integrity of the PIN system," said Stone. But he said he's pleased to see the party considering new technological solutions.
The Liberals have retained the weighted vote system from the 2011 race, which gives all ridings in the province 100 points to award to a candidate. Bernier said it gives rural areas, with fewer members, the same voice on selecting a leader as big urban centres.
The price of a membership remains the same — $10 for four years.
The first candidate to get to 50% of the points provincewide wins the race, though the preferential-ballot system also means it could take multiple rounds of counting votes to conclude the contest.
The Feb. 4, 2018, election date coincides with the NFL's 2018 Super Bowl (LII).