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High-profile figures mull bids to replace Clark as BC Liberal leader

In interviews over the weekend, Sam Sullivan, Jas Johal and Todd Stone said they are assessing their prospects to make a bid to replace departed Liberal leader Christy Clark, along with Andrew Wilkinson, the Vancouver-Quilchena MLA who has had a high profile criticizing the NDP in its early days of government.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A former Vancouver mayor, a onetime high-profile journalist and B.C.'s former transportation minister are among the caucus members who say they are considering bids to replace Christy Clark as party leader.

In interviews over the weekend, Sam Sullivan, Jas Johal and Todd Stone said they are assessing their prospects, along with Andrew Wilkinson, the Vancouver-Quilchena MLA who has had a high profile criticizing the NDP in its early days of government.

Dianne Watts, the former Surrey mayor and now a federal Conservative MP, who is seen as a possible contender in the first Liberal leadership race in six years, said in a statement that she has received a lot of calls and e-mails about the contest. "I have not made any decisions at all one way or another," she wrote.

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Read more: BC Liberal leadership possibilities to consider after Clark

Political scientist Hamish Telford said the main challenge ahead for the Liberals is finding a leader who can win governing support in both rural and urban British Columbia, especially after the party lost seats in the Lower Mainland. Still, the professor at the University of the Fraser Valley said the leadership is alluring for some, with the reasonable odds of becoming premier given the politics of B.C. "For the politically ambitious person, it's an attractive proposition," he said.

Mr. Wilkinson, a lawyer and physician who has also served as the former advanced education minister, said Sunday, "I'll be making inquiries to determine if there is support for someone like me and making my own decision about whether to enter the contest."

Mr. Stone, the Kamloops-South Thompson MLA and a former transportation minister, said in an interview on the weekend that he is taking some time to consider a run, reflecting on the impact of a leadership bid on his wife and their three daughters, who are between 7 and 13.

"If we do get to a place where, as a family, we think we can make it work, then the next step would be to really reach out to party members, both inside caucus and folks outside of caucus and get a sense of whether there's support there. But it's a big job and the speculation about any aspirations I might have at this point are really premature."

Mr. Stone, founder and chief executive officer of a software company before winning his seat for the first time in 2013, said the primary job for the Liberals is to be an effective opposition, but that there is a larger necessity beyond that. "There's a real opportunity to reinvigorate the party and, as part of that process, refresh some of our positions and policies, and re-earn the trust of British Columbians," Mr. Stone said.

However, former education minister Mike Bernier, an MLA from the Peace region, said there is something unseemly about MLAs musing about leadership bids given that Ms. Clark has just announced her departure at a caucus meeting in Penticton on Friday. She is quitting the leadership and her Kelowna-area seat on Aug. 4. Former deputy premier Rich Coleman has been named as interim leader.

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"Right now, I feel the main focus needs to be on the tremendous legacy Christy Clark has left and thanking her for her service. In my opinion, it is very inappropriate for leadership contenders to be already publicly talking about taking a run at the leadership," Mr. Bernier wrote when asked Sunday for comment on whether he is interested in the leadership.

"That time will come soon enough once the party decides the timing and process [of the leadership campaign]."

The BC Liberal Party executive says it will meet in the next 26 days to decide on the rules for the leadership race, which comes as the party was ousted after 16 years in power. In the wake of a May election that created the first minority legislature in decades, the NDP and BC Greens voted together on a no-confidence vote in the Liberal government, leading to the New Democrats assuming office.

While Mr. Bernier was averse to talking about his leadership prospects, others clearly were not.

Mr. Sullivan, a former Vancouver mayor and now the MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, said he is a long way from making a final decision on a leadership bid, particularly since he also teaches a course at the University of British Columbia.

Mr. Sullivan, who said he is talking to his family and also weighing whether he is up for the spotlight that would come with running, said he was energized by the possibility of dealing with housing issues and issues around harm reduction that he addressed while he was mayor.

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In an interview, Mr. Sulivan said the Liberals need a renewed urban agenda: "We've hollowed out our urban MLAs. I am one of the few left that represents a high-density riding. That's another reason I would consider it. We need to have a strong urban agenda because, as we found out with the last election, you can't get government unless you have both a rural and urban focus."

The NDP won eight of 11 Vancouver seats in the May election. However, the party has only four MLAs outside Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Jas Johal, a Global TV reporter in B.C., Beijing and New Delhi for 23 years, was elected to the legislature in the May election. As he considers a leadership bid, he said he did not think his relative lack of political experience would be a liability in what is expected to be a crowded race.

"When you look at voting here and internationally, people want something new," he said in a weekend interview. "People don't want professional politicians. I am proud to be an outsider. I bring a different experience."

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B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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