A handy guide to the Liberal leadership vote

On Saturday, the Liberals will select a new leader and you’ll have a new premier.

Here’s a brief – and far from complete – guide to what to expect.

I have no idea who will win. There are four candidates left. Three – Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and George Abbott – are considered to be in front, with Mike de Jong trailing.

Predicting the outcome is difficult for three reasons. 

First, about 86,000 party members are eligible to vote. More than 50,000 of them were signed up since the leadership race started; who knows how many will actually vote.

Second, not all their votes will count equally. To reduce the influence of thousands of mass sign-ups in Lower Mainland ridings, the party is going with a system that gives each riding 100 votes, allocated on the basis of the ballots cast by members in that constituency. 

So if 75 of 150 members in a rural riding support a candidate, he gets 50 votes from that riding; just as he does if 800 of 1,600 members in an urban riding support him. (It’s a good approach; otherwise instant party members in a few urban ridings could decide the next premier.)

And third, the members, voting by Internet and phone, are using a preferential ballot. They have to designate first and second. 

If no one gets a majority on the first ballot – likely – then the lowest candidate is dropped. The second choices of his supporters are allocated to the remaining candidates.

So if de Jong is fourth, he would be dropped from the ballot. The party would take the second choices of those who voted for him, allocate them to the three remaining candidates and crunch the numbers again.

That might be enough to give one of them a majority. If not, the process repeats. The third-place candidate is dropped and the second choices of his or her supporters are now counted. Someone emerges victorious.

The calculations are complex. Who will de Jong’s supporters have marked as a second choice, if he’s gone on the first ballot? 

If Falcon, Abbott or Clark is dropped, where will their supporters go?

It’s interesting that no candidate has broken from the pack. 

Partly, that’s because there are no dramatic differences. They were all Liberal activists or MLAs back in the 1990s. 

Clark didn’t run in 2005, but she was an MLA and cabinet minister since 1996. 

Falcon was elected in 2001, but he helped run recall campaigns against the NDP and been paid by the party before that. 

Not a lot of new blood or new ideas. (Which reflects poorly on Gordon Campbell; part of a leader’s job is to bring in new talent capable of leading the party or organization.)

So it’s a narrow choice. 

Falcon offers a new version of Campbell’s approach to government.

Clark is a good politician, likable and has name recognition, but is short on substance and with a weak record as education minister and a brief tenure in children and families. 

De Jong is widely respected and has offered some real promise of a new way of doing things, but has no caucus support. He alone has said MLA expenses should be public. (More significantly, he and Abbott have committed to posting a list of donors, and the amounts they’ve given, online before the vote. The others have chosen secrecy until after the vote.)

Abbott has talked about inclusiveness and acknowledged, sort of, that Campbell’s one-man show didn’t work. (Although he was an enthusiastic participant, at least in the legislature.)

There you go. A spectator’s guide to the weekend events, with no predictions.

One more thing. New Democrats seem keen on Falcon or Clark as the next Liberal leader. Something for party members to consider.

Footnote: Polls suggest Clark is the frontrunner, with the public and with Liberal voters. 

The party seems to have avoided any deep divisions during the leadership race, despite some sniping among candidates. 

That reflects the Liberals’ discipline and the impact of the preferential vote system – no candidate can afford to alienate supporters of any other candidate, as he or she hopes to be their second choice.