Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson quizzes former Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts on her first priorities if she wins the B.C. Liberal leadership, Jan 23, 2018. (Global TV)

Which MLA would step aside to make room for Dianne Watts?

B.C. Liberals arrayed against outsider who needs legislature seat

If Dianne Watts wins the B.C. Liberal Party leadership this weekend, she would be the third consecutive leader who needs to move a sitting MLA out of the way to get a seat in the legislature.

The B.C. Liberal Party heads into its leadership vote with 42 MLAs getting ready to face 44 NDP and Green rivals, and a reinforcement expected on Valentine’s Day with the return of Ben Stewart to the Kelowna West seat he won handily in 2013.

Stewart stepped aside after former premier Christy Clark won a third majority government for the party, but lost her own seat in Vancouver-Point Grey. Stewart spent the next three years in Beijing as a special trade representative for B.C., a job created for him.

When Gordon Campbell won the leadership in 1993, it was Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Art Cowie who resigned, allowing Campbell to enter the legislature the following year.

Watts has a more difficult challenge, with none of the sitting MLAs supporting her leadership and rival candidates arrayed against her like a circle of musk oxen facing outward to repel a predator.

In an interview with Black Press, Watts confirmed that she will need to persuade a sitting MLA to make room for her.

“I will sit down with caucus and with the party and have those discussions,” Watts said. “I know that when Christy Clark was elected leader and the same thing with Gordon Campbell, neither one had seats. They dealt with the issue and I will do exactly the same thing.”

RELATED: Comparing policy positions of the B.C. Liberal hopefuls

Except for MLAs with administrative positions in the legislature or the party, all B.C. Liberal MLAs have backed one of the other leadership candidates. The majority support the current Vancouver-Quilchena MLA, Andrew Wilkinson, who has led the attack on Watts’ lack of readiness to take over. He said the nearly six-month wait for a replacement for Clark shows the risk.

“John Horgan cynically waited until the very last minute to call the Kelowna West by-election,” Wilkinson told Black Press. “I would expect that he would do the same if a leader is elected who doesn’t already have a seat in the legislature.”

In the final leadership debate in Vancouver Jan. 23, Wilkinson asked Watts to name five steps that the party needs to take in February, then supplied the answers when Watts continued her strategy of sticking to generalities about the need for co-operation. Wilkinson listed getting Stewart elected Feb. 14, mobilizing opposition to the NDP-Green referendum on proportional representation, and appealing to all MLAs to put aside their leadership divisions.

In the same debate, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone pressed Watts to make a commitment to run in the next B.C. election if she doesn’t win the leadership. Watts resigned her seat as Conservative MP for Surrey-White Rock and joined the B.C. Liberal Party for the first time last summer.

“Yes, absolutely,” Watts replied. “There’s lots of seats in Surrey. There’s lots of seats in the Lower Mainland, and you know what, we have to win those seats back.”

Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong was asked in the debate about his own defensive move, teaming up with Wilkinson to encourage their supporters to choose them for the top two spots on a ranked ballot.

In an interview, de Jong rejected the suggestion that he and Wilkinson are engaged in an anti-outsider strategy to deny Watts second-ballot support. It expresses mutual respect, and encourages party members to choose more than one candidate, he said.

“If people don’t make second choices, you could end up with a leader who has 30 per cent of the vote,” de Jong said.

On the subject of going into the legislature session on Feb. 13 without a leader present, he added: “It’s tough to lead the troops if you’re not on the battlefield.”

Stone declined to comment for this story.

A member of de Jong’s team earlier acknowledged that Watts is a front-runner, and that she and rookie Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee have led the field in signing up new members.

What remains to be seen is how many of those new members will register and vote Feb. 1-3, and how concentrated they are in the Lower Mainland. The party has adopted a points system to give rural constituencies the same clout as city seats, regardless of the number of party members.

Just Posted

Bowser residents protest marine sewage outfall plan

Veenhof and staff endures harsh criticisms at public information meeting

Qualicum Beach society goes to bat for insect eaters

Two bat houses built to monitor population in Heritage Forest

Parksville reopens portion of wetland

City undertakes review, remediation of liability concerns

Is Steve Nash Vancouver Island’s best athlete of all-time?

As Captain Canada gets ready to enter basketball’s Hall of Fame it’s time to debate his legacy

Who is Vancouver Island’s greatest athlete ever?

We want to know, you get to choose in a 64-athlete tournament bracket

VIDEO: After the floods, comes the cleanup as Grand Forks rebuilds

Business owners in downtown wonder how long it will take for things to go back to normal

SAR scaling back in Kilmer search, but friends will keep looking

Search for 41-year-old Cobble Hill dad hits six-day mark

Rachel Notley to skip premiers conference to focus on pipeline deal

Kinder Morgan has ceased all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project until it receives assurances

B.C. tech company will power Uber Elevate

Moli and Uber announce research and development partnership.

Olympian sues USA Swimming, saying it failed to protect her

Ariana Kukors Smith alleges her former coach Sean Hutchison began grooming her for sexual abuse at the age of 13

Defence minister thanks troops for B.C. flood relief work

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Still no sign of missing father in Cowichan Valley

Search group for Ben Kilmer now stands 40 SAR volunteers and another 100 friends and concerned community members

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

‘So grateful:’ Injured Bronco hockey player glad he’s alive, works on recovery

Ryan Straschnitzki was badly hurt in the accident: a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and punctured lung

Most Read