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November 3, 2010

BC Liberal Leadership Race in the Open

"When public debate becomes focused on one person, instead of what is in the best interest of British Columbians, we have lost sight about what is important. When that happens, it's time for a change."
Gordon Campbell, November 3, 2010

On the eve of a caucus meeting that could have seen Campbell confronted with demands for his head, he did the right thing and got out of the way. We may never know who visited him in the hours before his hastily called news conference. Perhaps the straw that helped him make up his mind was the decision from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to reject the Prosperity project that would have destroyed Fish Lake, despite approval from the Campbell government. Whatever the reason, even BC Liberal leadership hopefuls who have active campaigns underway, will refrain from public comment today so as not to appear overly joyful that Campbell is finally out of the way.

Campbell's timing is perfect for Dianne Watts since it would allow her to campaign for the leadership while sitting as mayor of Surrey without causing a by-election, since municipal elections are in November 2011. She could keep all of her options open.

If Watts does enter the race, her candidacy will make for interesting politics in Surrey as she would likely face off against Kevin Falcon and Rich Coleman who depend on the same donors and supporters. My money is on Coleman to win the race as he appears to be best organized on a province wide basis, although a lot will depend on what rules are set for the race. Membership in the BC Liberals costs only $10 for 4 years. If there is an open season for signing new members before the Liberal leadership vote, all bets are off as anyone could win.

Whoever emerges as the new leader and next premier of BC, will face a problem Campbell will leave behind. Wording for the initiative vote on September 24, 2011 has yet to be finalized; preliminary wording was expected this month, although Campbell's resignation may slow down decision making throughout government. Whatever the final wording, Campbell promised to eliminate the HST if a simple majority voted against it on September 24th. Legally it is almost impossible to satisfy the requirement of a double majority that is specified in the Recall and Initiative Act; furthermore, even if an initiative vote is successful, all the Act requires is that the Bill be introduced to the legislative, not necessarily passed. A new BC Liberal leader will have to say if he or she will honour Campbell's promise; a promise that virtually guarantees the elimination of the HST. A new BC Liberal leader will also have to specify exactly what the government will do upon the successful defeat of the HST in the September 24th vote. Just a day before Campbell's resignation, Finance Minister Colin Hansen, fuming over a promotion by Sears, said even if British Columbians vote in favour of striking down the tax, it will take time, and the passage of federal legislation, before the HST is repealed in BC. Those with BC Liberal membership cards who will be voting on who will be premier in 2011 might want to know what that premier will do about the HST on September 25, 2011 - the day after the vote.

The BC Liberals will chose their new leader through one-member-one-vote. That will make campaigning through the media essential for a successful campaign. That should provide fascinating opportunities for all British Columbians to comment on each candidate's campaign.