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Commentary: Gordon Campbell’s gone. Now what?

The papers are abuzz with talk and swirling rumours about who will be the successor to Gordon Campbell as both leader of the B.C. Liberal party and as Premier of British Columbia. The talk of who could possibly take the premier’s place started well before the premier declared, on November 3, that he would be stepping aside once a replacement was found. The number of names being trotted forward is impressive and intriguing. Possible candidates that have been suggested range from former cabinet ministers, like Carole Taylor, to current mayors, such as Dianne Watts, as well as current MLA’s and MP’s.

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by Matthew Tanner (Contributor)
Email: cascade.news[at]ufv.ca

The papers are abuzz with talk and swirling rumours about who will be the successor to Gordon Campbell as both leader of the B.C. Liberal party and as Premier of British Columbia. The talk of who could possibly take the premier’s place started well before the premier declared, on November 3, that he would be stepping aside once a replacement was found. The number of names being trotted forward is impressive and intriguing. Possible candidates that have been suggested range from former cabinet ministers, like Carole Taylor, to current mayors, such as Dianne Watts, as well as current MLA’s and MP’s.

The short list for the job includes: Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, former Finance Minister Carole Taylor, B.C. Minister of Health Kevin Falcon, Attorney General Mike De Jong, B.C. Minister of Energy Bill Bennett, and B.C. Education Minister George Abbott. Many others have been mentioned, such as Chuck Strahl and Barry Penner, but this shortlist represents some of the most interesting and highly regarded possible candidates.

Former Finance Minister Carole Taylor has the popularity and the experience to mount a successful leadership bid but seems unlikely to throw her hat into the race. This is because she has just recently become the Chancellor of SFU and really has no reason to leave such a job so shortly after starting it.

Another possible contender for the job is current Mayor of Surrey Dianne Watts. Her successes in Surrey are numerous, and she is receiving recognition for the job she has done in revitalizing a city with a population of 500,000 that has had its fair share of struggles. She has been in politics since 2001 and doesn’t seem to fit the stereotypical mould of a politician, something that could aid her in a province with a growing distaste for the status quo of politics.

Watts is also an attractive candidate to the Liberal Party because of her apparent popularity with supporters of both the NDP and the Liberals. This being said, in July Watts had confirmed that she planned on carrying on as Mayor of Surrey, preparing for a municipal election in 2011. An announcement on whether her plans have changed is expected this week.

If Dianne Watts chooses to continue on in Surrey, it will make it even more likely that the replacement for Gordon Campbell would come from the current caucus. Out of the multitude of candidates that could be drawn from here, it seems the success of any one of them may hinge on what voting system the party will use in the leadership contest.

If the B.C. Liberals stay true to their current One-Member-One-Vote format, the process will heavily favour those candidates in urban city centres that can easily draw support based on sheer numbers, like Kevin Falcon and Mike De Jong.

This is particularly important when considering the history of bulk membership drives in the lower mainland Indo-Canadian community which factored heavily into the NDP leadership race of 1999. If the party moves to make changes, such as adopting a weighted-vote system to attempt to balance the scales between urban and rural ridings, the changes could help give the upper-hand to candidates such as George Abbott and Bill Bennett.

Regardless of the voting system for choosing the new leader, the B.C. Liberals must be cautious when promoting from within the caucus. Those that have served as cabinet ministers under Gordon Campbell recently must overcome the taint of being affiliated with the much maligned HST. The angst over the unpopular change in taxation has not evaporated, and those that are seen to be part of it will be under pressure and will lose some popular support.

If in fact Dianne Watts does not choose to pursue the leadership of the party, it leaves the door wide open for the other challengers. Kevin Falcon, currently the Minister of Health Services, is an ambitious politician and has moved quickly to be among the front of the pack in the Liberal Party.

The large population base in and around his riding of Surrey-Cloverdale will be a factor in Falcon running a successful leadership bid, should he decide to run. He seems to be a likely candidate to replace Mr. Campbell in Victoria.

Much more will become clear in the weeks to come, and front runners will emerge. However, who will win still hangs in the balance.

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