Leadership races in British Columbia politics should be overseen by an independent third party such as Elections BC to deal with alleged irregularities, says former provincial finance minister Kevin Falcon, who came second in the 2011 BC Liberal leadership contest that Christy Clark won.
"Without that independent third-party involvement that is real and credible, then it allows for allegations to be made and it potentially allows for the temptation to engage in acts that are inconsistent with the agreed-on process or even basic ethics," Mr. Falcon said in an interview on Wednesday.
Mr. Falcon's comments come as BC Liberals begin three days of voting on Thursday to choose a successor to Ms. Clark, the former premier, in the shadow of pointed concerns raised by four of six campaigns about the campaign of former transportation minister Todd Stone.
For the first time in 16 years, the provincial Liberals, a coalition of federal Liberals and Tories, are in opposition after the spring, 2017, election created a situation in which the NDP were able to form a government with BC Green support.
In a letter on Tuesday to the party rules committee, the campaigns of Andrew Wilkinson, Michael Lee, Dianne Watts and Mike de Jong asked for the disclosure of allegations related to invalid or rejected party memberships collected by Mr. Stone's campaign. The campaigns said they would raise their concerns with the media if the party did not issue a "substantive written response" to address their concerns.
In a written response, the party declined comment on a specific campaign, but said it has implemented a "rigorous" verification, audit and registration process to ensure the integrity of its membership database and leadership vote, including thoroughly reviewing submitted memberships, and 14,000 audit calls to party members to check, among other things, that their membership was paid for by them or a member of their household.
The party also said it has retained an experienced, security-focused system vendor to work with them to "ensure the integrity of the vote."
In a statement, Mr. Stone's campaign said membership applications have been deemed "incomplete" in every campaign and that the campaign engaged with the party to deal with the issue.
"The fact that, just days before the leadership vote, four other campaigns feel they need to gang up against Stone is an indication that his positive message and support is resonating," the statement said.
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, now a Vancouver MLA and one of the campaigns, said he did not sign on for the letter because it felt like an "ultimatum" to the party, an approach he opposed. In an interview, he said the issue is something the campaigns should have worked out with the party.
Mr. Falcon declined specific comment on the concerns of the four campaigns, but called for the party to come clean on the concerns of the four leadership prospects.
"Transparency on behalf of the party with respect to that situation would probably help," he said. "If there's no issue there, they should demonstrate that there's no issue and move on."
Mr. Falcon, who ruled out running in the current race, said he is confident the result of the current vote, scheduled to be disclosed on Saturday, will be valid.
He said he believes the party has improved the process "significantly" since 2011. "I doubt very much it's perfect, but there probably hardly is ever going to be a perfect process, but I believe the process they have in place is going to be fair."
Despite the pointed criticism, the campaigns willing to comment on Wednesday seemed conciliatory.
In a statement, Mr. de Jong's campaign said, "The interests of the party are best served when there is a selection process that is conducted fairly. And it's Mike de Jong's expectation that all the campaigns will abide by that standard."
Ms. Watts' campaign said in a statement that they were "satisfied" with the party ruling. "We're focused on talking to BC Liberal party members about why Dianne Watts is the best choice for the new leader of the party."
The membership of the BC Liberal party has grown from about 30,000 to about 60,000 during the leadership race, which effectively began last summer after Christy Clark resigned as party leader.