The race is on - well, sort of. - The Orca

The race is on – well, sort of.

Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: Between confusion over when the former leader resigned, and a hesitant introduction of the first official candidate, the BC Liberal leadership race is off to a rough start.

The race to lead the BC Liberal party lurched out of the gate this week in an uncoordinated and messy fashion that makes you wonder about the future of that party.

First, leader Andrew Wilkinson resigned. Again.

That’s right, he wasn’t actually gone after a disastrous snap election campaign in October cost the party 13 seats.

Turns out, he merely veered the campaign off the road, into a ditch, set it on fire – and then left in silence, as if nothing happened.

We were all left with the impression he had left – in fairness, this impression was helped out by the fact the party and pretty much all BC Liberals told us so.

But he’d been there this whole time, like one of those cheesy daytime soap operas where it turns out the main character in a coma actually had an evil twin nobody knew about, shenanigans ensue, and everyone wakes up at the end only to realize it was all a dream.

Alas, there’s no waking up. No matter how hard they scream.

So, party members and MLAs, like everyone else, learned about Wilkinson’s resignation via a perfunctory press release that the ghost staff in the party office issued on Wednesday.

“As required by the constitution, I will call a meeting of the party executive to be held within 28 days of receipt of the resignation,” party president Don Silversides said in the release.

“The Party executive will set a date not later than February 16, 2022 for holding a Leadership Vote.

“The Party executive has established a Leadership Election Organizing Committee (“LEOC”). LEOC has been empowered to administer the Leadership Vote, including preparing and enforcing a set of rules, determining timelines, establishing fees, deposits, revenue sharing arrangements and other matters required for the Leadership Vote within the perimeters set out by the Party executive.

“LEOC has been meeting weekly to prepare the Leadership Vote rules and to make the other determinations required for the administration of the vote and expects to be able to announce the details of them shortly.”

Got it?

The press release read like a bulletin from a high school young monarchists club – look how many super cool rules and procedures we have: so please join us.

The NDP’s social media brigade – which apparently has nothing better to do, like say actually run the government – got busy hanging the remaining BC Liberal members by their underwear off the nearest coat rack, while everyone else stared in bewilderment.

Apparently, though, this was all planned.

Wilkinson was doing the party an immense favour by staying on as leader this whole time, you see. He was giving the party time to plan its leadership race, because had he resigned right away, there is no provision in the constitution that allows for an interim leader to be appointed without a special meeting to amend the constitution which would require… oh, sorry, I fell asleep there.

Sure, it’s entirely possible the BC Liberal constitution failed to think through the mechanics of a leader actually resigning. Though, that should tell you something of the mindset when the constitution was drafted many years ago during the BC Liberal dynasty.

Step one for the BC Liberals – write a more flexible party constitution, especially when it comes to leaders and resignations. They may need it again.

Step two, get control of the party. It appears to be the political equivalent of a car pushed down a hill with a brick tied to the steering wheel.

If it’s true that Wilkinson took one for the team by remaining as leader –  then what have the BC Liberals been doing this whole time?

The leadership committee — I’m sorry, the LEOC — has been in place for a month. But there are no rules set. None of the important details have been decided, like an actual timeline, membership sign-up details, fundraising limits, how the vote will be counted, who is eligible to vote, or pretty much anything else.

Nonetheless, into that void stepped Ellis Ross.

The Skeena MLA told his local paper he was in it to win it, shortly after Wilkinson’s evil twin resigned. It was, as the story goes, a bit of an accidental launch.

“I guess I’m doing it,” Ross said when contacted by Global BC’s Richard Zussman. “It’s out there now.”

You won’t see that campaign slogan on many signs.

And that’s a shame because Ross is the kind of candidate that the party desperately needs to present new ideas and revitalize stale thinking.

He’s a former chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation. His understanding of aboriginal land title issues, natural resource development and First Nations reconciliation challenges is unparalleled in the legislature. When Ross stands to speak, everyone goes quiet. Not even the most boisterous New Democrat backbenchers dare to heckle him.

His campaign launch actually mirrors the kind of no-nonsense, straight-talk that has endeared him to many BC Liberal members.

Whether it will provide the urban-centric voice the party needs to win back seats in the Lower Mainland is an open question for party members.

Ross might be the only official candidate we see for some time. Strategically, it’s a reckless time for anyone to launch their campaign.

Not until the party decides upon its rules, procedures, and timelines are you going to see much-rumoured heavyweights like former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon enter the race.

Until then, the party drifts.

But don’t worry, if things get really bad the party can always ask Andrew Wilkinson to resign for a third time.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.