BC Liberals emerged from a weekend convention with a new set of rules that will help shape the outcome of the party's leadership vote two weeks away.
The six leadership contenders promised the party's delegates to unify after Feb. 26 but the perceived frontrunner Christy Clark faced a fresh round of questions during the Saturday convention about her commitment to stick around if she doesn't emerge as the victor.
"To the members of this party who stick around year in and year out ... that does matter to them - they want to see a commitment from a candidate who wants to be leader and premier of the province," leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon said following a mild-mannered 90-minute debate.
George Abbott also raised the question of Ms. Clark's commitment. "If she wishes to just run for the premiership and not run as an MLA in future, that's her decision but obviously we would rather see a longer-term commitment."
But Ms. Clark dodged the question, telling reporters after the debate she won't speculate on losing: "I think I am going to win. I am hopeful I am going to win."
The winner will need support from across the province to take the leadership after delegates overwhelmingly endorsed changes to the way their next leader will be chosen. The BC Liberals voted to abandon the one-member, one-vote method in favour of a system that gives every riding in the province an equal voice.
The delegates also approved a preferential ballot on Feb. 26 where voting members must rank at least two choices for leader.
Under the new system, votes from party members in each of the province's 85 ridings will be weighted so that each constituency has the same influence. It would also mean that leadership candidates with support concentrated in a smaller number of ridings are at a disadvantage.
The six leadership candidates were united in supporting the change, but opposition came from some delegates who argued it will dilute the influence of strong BC Liberal ridings.
Ms. Clark was first to the microphone to speak in favour of the change, saying British Columbia's next premier should be able to claim to have support of the party's members across the province.
She later told reporters the change won't require a new campaign strategy. "We have been signing up members all over the province not knowing what the outcome of the voting was going to be."
Four other candidates for the leadership lined up to urge delegates to vote for change. George Abbott, the rural candidate who stands to benefit the most from the change, called it a "hugely important vote for the future of this party."
But it was Mr. Falcon who won the biggest cheer in the room when he pointed out that the change would leave the BC New Democratic Party falling behind on voting reform.
The BC Liberals chose their last leader, Premier Gordon Campbell, in 1993 with a one-member, one-vote system. The party hasn't changed its voting system in the 17 years since, but a party official noted that officials within party headquarters have been quietly looking at change for the past two years.
It's the first hint that the party had been looking at succession planning long before Mr. Campbell was even thinking about stepping down. However, his sudden announcement last November that he is stepping down left the party with little time to modernize its voting rules.
The six candidates in the race to replace Mr. Campbell have just two weeks left to campaign under the new rules. With the rules of engagement finally determined, they will be ramping up their appeals to the party's roughly 93,000 members.
The convention approved the changes in less than two hours, followed by a 90-minute debate by the candidates.
Mr. Abbott dialed down his earlier criticism of Ms. Clark during the debate - a cautious affair where the candidates were given the questions in advance.
But he offered no apologies for his tough exchanges. "Agreement is good. We are all on the same BC Liberal team," Mr. Abbott told delegates.
"But there are points of disagreement [and]disagreement demands debate in a democratic party," he said. "Then there is commitment: As leadership candidates, we must make commitments to this party, its ideals and its success for years to come."
Mr. Falcon also highlighted his endorsements from a large share of the BC Liberal caucus - something Ms. Clark has not been able to match.
He called on BC Liberals to pick a leader who can keep the elected caucus together. "It helps when they are prepared to follow you," he added, reminding delegates that he has been endorsed by 16 government MLAs.