As would-be successors to Gordon Campbell begin hustling for funds and voter support, a former senior adviser to the outgoing Premier says the terms of his departure threaten to tear his party apart.
"To say, 'I expect all of us to stay on the same page,' - that will destroy the party," said Bob Plecas, who helped craft Mr. Campbell's transition plans in 1996.
Any serious contender to replace Mr. Campbell, whose unpopular harmonized sales tax has crippled the party, would have to be free to differentiate himself or herself from the current policies, he added.
"But what he's asking them to do is stay on the Titanic and keep rowing," Mr. Plecas said.
On Thursday, Mr. Campbell told a news conference he intends to remain as Premier to usher his government through the next budget, and that he expects leadership hopefuls to support the initiatives he has introduced - including a sweeping government restructuring, a 15-per-cent personal-income-tax cut and the September, 2011, referendum on the HST.
Amid the fallout from Mr. Campbell's decision, New Democrats are scrambling to squeeze parsimonious donors.
An Angus Reid poll taken just before Mr. Campbell's exit was announced showed his party with just 6-per-cent voter support - leaving the opposition NDP with a commanding lead.
But the same poll showed the Liberals would be competitive with the NDP if the party had a different leader.
The NDP's provincial secretary, Jan O'Brien, fired off a fundraising appeal this week, warning of the Liberals' new advantage.
"I'm deeply troubled," Ms. O'Brien wrote. "The BC Liberals are moving quickly to replace their leader. They're hoping that by the time the next election rolls around, British Columbians will have forgotten the decade of lies, corruption and failed policies that got us to where we are now.
"They're hoping that their big money backers will help install Campbell 2.0, and help elect them come the next election. … But without proper funding, we don't have the resources we need to unmask the truth about the next BC Liberal leader, and reveal their ties to Gordon Campbell."
Both parties are mired in debt, and donations have dried up since the last election. In reports filed with Elections B.C., the Liberals reported a $4.5-million deficit for 2009. The NDP reported a deficit of $1.4-million.
In internal documents leaked last month, NDP president Moe Sihota warned that the party's organization is not strong enough to fight a campaign and that the apparatus in key swing ridings is in a state of decay.
A date for the Liberal leadership convention is expected to be set at a meeting of the party executive on Saturday. Under the party constitution, the date would have to be set between Jan. 1 and mid-May. Because the government will be in the middle of a budget and Throne Speech in February, it is likely the convention will be held in late March or April.
That would give candidates time to sign up new supporters, who will get to vote in the "one member, one vote" system.
The New Democrats are set to have a regular convention in November, 2011, but could face pressure to hold a leadership contest of their own if a revitalized Liberal Party looks strong. Under the province's fixed election dates, the next election is set for May, 2013.
Meanwhile, Mr. Campbell will be feted by the province's construction industry, which had intended to name him "builder of the decade" for B.C. Now the award dinner is being converted to a $150-a-plate tribute to the outgoing Premier. The Nov. 18 event, initially scheduled to take place the night before the now-cancelled Liberal convention, has moved to a larger room in the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The event is expected to draw representatives from companies and industries that benefited from a Liberal-backed building boom that included projects such as the Canada Line and the Sea to Sky highway overhaul.
"We have a strong policy of supporting candidates that believe in building infrastructure," said Jack Davidson, president of B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, a trade group that will have representatives at the event. "We believe in a strong economy, everybody does well, including ourselves,"
According to figures from Elections B.C., the association contributed $110,000 to the Liberal Party last year. That figure represents spending on advertising, sometimes in conjunction with other groups, and the cost of seats at party fundraisers, Mr. Davidson said.
The association typically restricts its political spending to election years, and expects to spend about the same amount - around $100,000 - in 2013 as it did in 2009, Mr. Davidson said.
The trade group also expects to dip into its political budget to support the HST.
"It's good for our business," Mr. Davidson said.