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Countdown to a new Premier

Liberal candidates make last minute pitches to members

The race to replace Gordon Campbell as Premier and head of the B.C. Liberal Party heated up in the final week with the four remaining candidates - George Abbott, Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and Mike de Jong - battling it out at a series of leadership debates. Party members will vote by phone or online this Saturday, Feb. 26 from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the winner will be announced at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre on Saturday night, sometime after 6 p.m.

Dave Davenport, a Whistler entrepreneur and B.C. Liberal supporter, said he would be attending the event with other members from the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. He hopes to see Kevin Falcon at the podium by the end of the evening.

"The pat answer is that he's the best guy to lead the party in to the next election, but I like what he's done in supporting the Sea to Sky Corridor," said Davenport.

"I also like the fact that he can bring together the conservative wing and the liberal wing of the party together. It's a key thing to keep the party under one big umbrella."

The field was six candidates strong at one point, but last week the field narrowed with Moira Stilwell and Ed Mayne dropping out of the race. Both endorsed candidate George Abbott as they stepped down.

The most recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid group for the Globe and Mail suggested that 67 per cent of respondents that voted for the Liberal Party in 2009 thought Clark would be a good choice to replace Campbell. Some 51 per cent said the same of Kevin Falcon, and George Abbott and Mike de Jong were tied at 46 per cent.

Membership in the B.C. Liberal Party has nearly tripled since Premier Gordon Campbell announced his resignation as party leader on Nov. 3. At the time his approval rating was in the single digits, largely related to the province's introduction of a Harmonized Sales Tax.

Now the B.C. Liberal Party boasts 90,000 members, up from 36,000 in November.

The election for a new party leader breaks a lot of new ground for B.C. party elections. It's the first time that members will vote entirely by phone or online; members will vote for at least two candidates on their ballot, ranking their choices; and the will of all 99 of B.C.'s ridings will be counted equally - each riding gets one vote, regardless of how many members. The latter decision was made to keep the race fair, giving northern and rural communities equal footing with populated areas like Vancouver and Victoria.

Davenport likes the changes.

"I think it's great," he said of the ranked voting system. "It's a party vote so you want the majority of people to come away at least partially happy with the result. It really forces people to think of their first, second, third or fourth choice, because it may not be that your first choice wins."

Davenport said his own second choice is George Abbott.

As for the decision to award one vote to each riding, Davenport said it was necessary to truly reflect the province.

"It really balances the outcomes so the influence of somebody in the north or east of the province, or on Vancouver Island, has the equivalent say to a riding in the Lower Mainland," he said.

"This province is governed that way, we elect our government riding by riding, so this is an absolutely great way to do it. It mirrors how we select our MLAs."

The B.C. NDP Party is also looking for a new leader after Carole James announced her resignation on Dec. 6. Dawn Black is currently filling in as the opposition leader until a party election on April 17.

There are currently three candidates - Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and John Horgan, with Harry Lali pulling out of the race this week.