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gary mason

While the next leader of the B.C. Liberal party won't be elected at the party's mini-convention being held today in Vancouver, a vote scheduled to take place could determine who has the best chance of winning.

Delegates at a convention hall here and at regional outposts around the province will cast their ballots on the question of weighted voting, which effectively puts all ridings on an even footing come the leadership convention. The one-person, one-vote system currently in place gives an advantage to the most populous ridings and the candidates whose base of support resides within them.

George Abbott is not one of them. His candidacy would effectively be over if regional weighting doesn't go through. He's believed to have support throughout the province but not heavy numbers. He's hoping to hang around long enough on the ballot at the leadership convention to emerge as a compromise victor.

All the candidates have declared their support for weighted voting but some of the people behind the candidates do not. Delegates will have to make their preferences known publicly, which may make it difficult for some to vote against the declared wishes of all the candidates.

Christy Clark is another candidate pushing hard for a vote in favour of regional weighting. Why? She is believed to have signed up in excess of more than 20,000 new members across the province. Mike de Jong, on the other hand, has signed up in excess of 10,000 new members, most of whom are believed to reside in a handful of ridings. The power of that support would be diluted if the party goes to a weighted system - but don't hold your breath waiting for the Liberal house leader to admit that.

Beyond the vote, there will also be a leadership debate. I have no idea what the rules are but if the forum is anything like the previous "debates" the party has overseen around the province it will be a joke. There will be no opportunity for sharp exchanges or for the candidates to challenge one another as they did Friday morning on Bill Good's CKNW talk show.

That little gathering allowed Ms. Clark to challenge Mr. Abbott on his decision to launch a mostly negative assault on the perceived front-runner. And it allowed the other candidates to attack Ms. Clark's policies in a way we haven't seen before. It was useful listening for party members still trying to make up their mind.

Who knows? Maybe the Liberal party will surprise us and allow the debate to continue today. Stay tuned.