Choosing a New Premier

BC politics are, well, they’re weird. In late 2010, both the main political parties in BC had their leaders resign. The ruling party, the BC Liberals, had their leader — and the Premier of the province for the past 10 years — resign in an effort to control the damage created by the replacement of the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) with the Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST has the same nominal tax rate as the GST and PST combined. A good deal of the BC public, however, objected to the manner the HST was introduced and called for blood. The writing was on the wall and eventually the Premier resigned.

You would think that this event would be a political windfall for the Opposition party, but they had their own problems. They were hobbled by an ineffective leader, internal division, and a lack of a political platform. These problems cumulated in the resignation of their leader only a short time after the resignation of the Premier. So, rather than being able to solidify their position and take advantage of the disarray of the governing party, they’ve become invisible and irrelevant.

To make matters worse, the NDP have set their leadership convention for April 2011, whereas the Liberals have theirs today at the end of February. This means that the Liberals are going to have a 90+ day lead to get themselves ready for the inevitable election that the new Premier will call.

Four contenders emerged from the BC Liberal Party ranks to vie for the leadership. Christy Clark, a former cabinet minister, deputy premier, and prior to the leadership campaign a radio talk-show host is the media darling and presumed front-runner. She, however, is not currently a sitting MLA. If she is elected leader, there will have to be a bye-election. Or a general election. And a general election will catch the NDP utterly disorganized.

Other contenders include Kevin Falcon, the young, smooth-talking business-oriented cabinet minister that has the backing of the majority of the current MLAs and business leaders. There is also Mike de Jong, the somewhat scrappy popular cabinet minister from the quite conservative Fraser Valley, and George Abbott, the very competent but very staid cabinet minister from the Interior of BC.

In the run up to the leadership vote, the Liberals ran a campaign to increase memberships. For a mere $10 you could join the BC Liberal party and be guaranteed the opportunity to vote for the next premier. Based on the behaviour of the BCNDP, it seems likely that the BC Liberals will be the governing the province for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, the only chance the public has to directly be involved in the selection of the next premier is to join the party and participate in the vote.

Faced with this reality, I signed up for the BC Liberal Party on the last day that the membership was open. I’ve never belonged to a political party before, and I’m not sure how much I like it. I don’t want to feel beholden to any particular party — I prefer to evaluate each candidate and each party on their own merits. Depending on who has said what, my preference may change over time.

However, my reading of the tea leaves tells me that the NDP won’t be forming a government anytime soon. So, the only real chance that anyone will have at influencing the selection of the next premier is participating in the BC Liberal leadership race.

In the two weeks following the closure of the membership rolls, I received 54 emails from the candidates including 16 from each of the Falcon and Clark camps. Further, there were 22 phone calls made to my cell phone from the various campaigns. I won’t be upset to have the campaign over.

The leadership vote was yesterday. Voting was done either online or by phone. I opted for the online option, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. The process was simply a matter of entering the PIN that had been mailed to each eligible voter, jumping through a prove-you’re-human CAPTCHA hoop, and then selecting your preferences. The BC Liberal leadership vote was a preferential ballot. The four candidates were listed and you had to rank your preference for at least two of them. I ranked all four. After confirming your ranking, that was it! Voting took all of 2 minutes at our dining room table, in my pyjamas. So easy and convenient.

The preferential ballot was combined with a weighting system that gave candidates votes on a per-riding basis, not on a per-vote basis. So, all the first preference votes were tallied for each riding and votes were assigned to the candidates. If a candidate didn’t get 50%+1 of all the weighted votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the ballot. The 2nd choice for all those people who had the losing candidate as their 1st choice was then considered for the count of the “second” ballot. And so on, continuing to drop the lowest vote-earner until some candidate was preferred by 50%+1 of the eligible voters.

On Saturday, the vote went to three ballots. That is, since there were four candidates, two were dropped. The votes from people who supported these two were assigned to the remaining two based on the voter’s lower preferences.

My prediction for the vote was that it’d go to 3 ballots, dropping Mike de Jong on the first, George Abbott on the second, and Kevin Falcon would win on the third. It almost went that way, but Christy Clark ended up with the win on the 3rd ballot.

All in all, it was an interesting exercise in participatory democracy. In the end, the candidate I ranked last on my ballot won. I’m not surprised; I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a winner in any election.

It remains to be seen if Christy Clark will lead the BC Liberals to another term as government. I think it’s her game to lose, and from what I’ve seen in the leadership campaign, her charisma and personality will go a long way in rehabilitation the image and reputation of the BC Liberals.

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