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analysis

Moira Stilwell may be a political unknown, but her out-of-the-blue candidacy to replace Premier Gordon Campbell sets the wheels in motion for an unprecedented, albeit temporary, draining of political power in the province.

Not only is she the first official entry in the three-month race to the political top, she has blazed the trail for higher-profile, more senior cabinet colleagues by resigning her post to campaign.

"You can't do two jobs at once," Ms. Stilwell declared after her surprise Monday morning announcement. "At least I can't, and Superman ain't running."

Barring a last-minute entry by Clark Kent, Ms. Stilwell's blunt assertion underscores the difficulties Liberal leadership hopefuls face under the party's proposed new rules for choosing Mr. Campbell's successor.

If, as expected, the rules are approved, each riding will carry equal weight in determining the winner, forcing candidates to marshal their forces across the province. That is a daunting task in the dead of winter.

"It encourages them to be on the road," observed veteran political analyst Norman Ruff. "They've got to get out there."

Anyone in cabinet wanting Mr. Campbell's job will pretty well have to join Ms. Stilwell in ministerial exile, he said.

That could leave the Campbell government on a three-month drift, minus such cabinet heavyweights as Education Minister George Abbott, Solicitor-General Rich Coleman, Health Minister Kevin Falcon and Attorney-General Mike de Jong, not to mention any lesser ministers also making a bid for the premiership.

"It would be a very difficult situation, if even three of them decide to run," said Mr. Ruff. "They are key ministers."

The prospective vacuum would last until the new leader is chosen on Feb. 26, and appoints a new cabinet.

Former energy minister Blair Lekstrom, who announced mere moments before Ms. Stilwell's decision that he would not seek the leadership, agreed that ministers cannot serve in cabinet and campaign.

"Having been in cabinet, there isn't any way you can do the work required of you as a minister, and, at the same time, run a campaign for leadership," Mr. Lekstrom said. "It would be doing a disservice to your ministry."

The political maverick, who resigned from his post and the Liberal caucus over the HST, added that it would also be politically difficult for a minister to remain in cabinet while out on the hustings.

"It doesn't fit. Someone can't be sitting at the cabinet table making government decisions, and then go out and run for leader," Mr. Lekstrom said. "It ties your hands. It's awkward."

Under the rules put forward unanimously by the Liberals' provincial executive, each of B.C.'s 85 constituencies is worth the same number of points, regardless of membership size.

So the preferences of thousands of members in Ms. Stilwell's Vancouver Langara riding, say, will count for no more than what might be several hundred members in South Peace River.

And the final result, unless someone unexpectedly receives more than 50 per cent first place votes on the first count, will be determined by members' second, third or even fourth choice on a preferential ballot.

Besides the logistical challenge, the rules ensure that a serious campaign will not be cheap. There is a $450,000 limit on individual candidacies.

"My strategy would have been to get in your car, and you're going to spend 60 days or whatever it takes on the road, and you're going to stop in every constituency, and let people come and engage you," said Mr. Lekstrom.

There is one more wringer, as if the changed voting system wasn't enough. Constitutionally, the proposals must be passed at a special party convention by a two-thirds majority. The convention is scheduled for just two weeks before the actual leadership vote.

What if delegates say no, and it goes back to one member, one vote?

Not to worry, said the current front-runner, Ms. Stilwell. "It just means you're going to have to be nimble and thoughtful and tactical. All the things you want in a premier."