Former energy minister Bill Bennett has exclusively told Public Eye he'll be organizing a political alternative to the provincial Liberals if the party doesn't approve a new leadership vote process that gives rural ridings more of a say. The party presently has a one-member, one-vote system - which favours candidates with support from populous urban ridings. Its provincial executive has recommended changing that system to one where the results will be weighted "to ensure each electoral district is counted equally." But such a change must first be approved by delegates attending a convention that will take place on February 12 - just two weeks before the leadership vote is held.
Those delegates will come from constituency associations across the province. But Mr. Bennett is worried those from rural ridings might be not be able to afford to attend the convention.
For example, he said the 64 delegates from the three Kootenay ridings would likely have to pay between $1,500 to $2,000 in travel and hotel expenses to attend the convention - a lot of money if you're from a small town "and you're economy is in the shitter."
"Even if you drive it's $1,000 and we're talking about February - dangerous roads," he added. "Why would you want to have 64 people from three ridings in the Kootenays driving to Vancouver in February?"
As a result, "if the BC Liberal Party truly wants to be the party of the whole province, they will find a way for the 21 people in each riding outside the Lower Mainland to vote without them physically having to be there" - something Mr. Bennett said hasn't happened yet.
He's also concerned delegates might vote down the new system - a move that could potentially benefit candidates such as Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and Mike de Jong but shut out George Abbott.
"It's going to be pretty tough for a guy from the 250 area code from Sicamous to win the leadership campaign if it's a one-member, one-vote system," he explained.
If that happens, Mr. Bennet said, "I think we're gone. I know personally for me, I'm gone. I'm done with BC Liberals if they vote no. They don't care about what my constituents think about who should lead the party then we don't care about the party."
"And we'll go about figuring out how to have our interests represented more effectively in the B.C. legislature - whether that's through a new party or an existing party or as a group of independents or whatever."
Indeed, that plan - tentatively called the Kootenay Manifesto - is being mapped out right now by Mr. Bennett and his supporters.
"The goal will be to achieve a type of government and a type of political party along the lines that I've already discussed with you - it's more open, it's more accountable to the people, it allows elected people more of a role in the process, it allows the regions to have more of a say in terms of developing priorities and policies. So that's our overarching goal."
"We think, maybe, we can get there through the BC Liberals - maybe. But it's up to the BC Liberal Party. So, on February 12, they will decide whether we go the next step with them or not."
Ms. Clark released a statement today saying she's in favour of the new weighted voting system.
Mr. Falcon has taken a similar position both publicly and privately, said a source close to the candidate.
A spokesperson for Mr. de Jong told Public Eye the former attorney general is also "in favour (of the weighted voting system) but wishes we had had this discussion six months to a year ago instead of right in the middle of the leadership campaign."