Local Liberal MLAs split on who will be B.C.’s next Premier

The B.C. Liberal party is days away from electing a new leader. When it does, the province will inherit a new Premier.Only two of the seven Capital Region MLAs are Liberals – Ida Chong (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and Murray Coell (Saanich North and the Islands) – and they’ve thrown their support behind two different leadership candidates.“I had to make my decision based on who I believe is the individual best able to continue to build on our coalition of support across the province,” Chong said about candidate Kevin Falcon.Coell, too, said his preferred candidate, George Abbott, is someone he feels will hold the Liberal coalition together.“He’s moderate and a consensus builder,” Coell said.Chong waited to announce her choice until last week, making her one of the last MLAs to do so. Coell, however, stood with Abbott when he announced his leadership bid in late November.“I’ve known George for many years, since we were both in municipal politics. He has always shown thoughtful, respectful leadership,” he said.Chong believes Falcon is a “focussed, get-results individual” whose experience proves he “drives towards outcomes.”“I imagine he will make sure that we maintain our position of being economically strong, and will put a great deal of focus on that,” she said.On Saturday (Feb. 26), the Liberal party’s 90,000 members will cast their ballots online or via telephone with the newly introduced weighted voting system.That system gives each constituency – regardless of population – equal clout by applying a points system to elect a new leader.All members who vote will rank the candidates – Abbott, Falcon, Christy Clark and Mike de Jong – in order of preference. If none of the candidates earn the required number of points based on voters’ first choice, the second choices of party members whose preferred candidate earned the least number of votes will be counted.Both Chong and Coell believe whoever is the next leader won’t change the direction Premier Gordon Campbell has taken the party.“I think all the candidates running for leadership have really learned from what has taken place over the past year, in particular – to be honest – with  the HST,” Chong said. “I think any one of the leadership candidates knows that the electorate, their expectations and how we connect with them is different going forward.“There are standards and benchmarks we strive for. I don’t think that will change under any of the leadership hopefuls.”Coell added: “You’re always building on the existing strengths when you change leaders.”Campbell announced his intention to resign on Nov. 3, bowing to public pressure stemming from the poorly received introduction of the HST.The B.C. NDP is also electing a new leader to replace Carole James, who stepped down in December. The NDP will vote on April 17.kslavin@saanichnews.com