British Columbia's Liberals will pick a successor to former premier Christy Clark on Feb. 4 of next year as the party seeks to recover from being reduced to a minority in the spring election and then forced from power.
On Tuesday, the party executive announced rules for the race that include a campaign spending limit of $600,000 – an increase from $450,000 in the 2011 leadership race that Ms. Clark won. The entry fee will be $50,000.
The party said in a statement that the increase reflects inflation, population growth and the fact that the race will be six weeks longer than the one in 2011.
The next leader of the BC Liberals, which have no formal connection to the federal Liberals, will take the helm of a party in Opposition for the first time in 16 years. The NDP formed a government with support from the BC Green Party.
Prominent Liberals considering a bid for the leadership praised the rules, but said they are still deciding whether to run.
"On first blush, [the rules] appear to be fair and workable,"said Andrew Wilkinson, a former advanced education minister and BC Liberal Party president, who is considering a run.
"The rules appear to provide a level playing field. It will be a long campaign and require funding." He also noted that candidates will have to travel B.C. through the winter months.
Mr. Wilkinson said he will continue talking to party members to determine the level of support for him – which other prospects said they are also doing.
"I'll be connecting with people over the coming days to listen to their advice – and make a final decision," former education minister Mike Bernier said in a statement. Todd Stone, a former transportation minister, said the rules provide certainty about the process and should prompt candidates to begin making announcements.
As for his own possible campaign, he said he continues to talk to party members. "We'll make a decision one way or the other on this fairly soon."
Mr. Stone said he did not think holding the leadership convention on the date of the U.S. National Football League's Super Bowl game would be a detriment to the leadership process.
"Certainly, all the friends and family I have are more focused on the Grey Cup, but the Super Bowl is a big deal for some. I would hope that would not preclude individuals from coming for the final day to be there in person for the leaders' announcement.
"There are three days people will be able to vote which should get everyone an opportunity to cast a ballot and participate in the election of our party, and likely the next premier of British Columbia."
A party spokesperson said on Tuesday that early February is set in stone for the leadership decision, but adjustments in the timing of the vote could be made within that time period.
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, now a Vancouver MLA, said he continues to consider a leadership bid and that he was pleased with the rules, including the increase in the spending limit.
He said he wants to make the case for bringing millennials and tech workers who may have defected to the BC Green Party back to the Liberals. "We need to show a real sensibility to urban issues. I feel I could definitely be part of that," he said. "For me, the calculation is not whether or not I can win, but can I help the party."
Several other former cabinet ministers and former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, now a federal Conservative MP, are also considering whether to run for the job.
Neil Thomson, a business consultant from Kamloops, is the only candidate to declare yet.
The new leader will be chosen by online and telephone voting over three days beginning on Feb. 2 and ending on Feb. 4, the day of the leadership convention. Each party member will have one vote, with each electoral district given an equal 100 points weight in the balloting.
Ms. Clark resigned as party leader as of Aug 4. and resigned her seat in the riding of Kelowna West.
Declared leadership contestants will also have to participate in party-sponsored debates or forums in Vancouver, Surrey, Prince George, Nanaimo and the Thompson-Okanagan region, and one organized by the BC Liberal Indigenous Network, the party said in a statement.
The party also announced that former attorney-general Geoff Plant will act as chief returning officer, overseeing voting arrangements and ensuring that campaigns comply with the rules.