Stone's path to Liberal leadership not clear

Two & Out
By James Peters
October 6, 2017 - 12:33pm Updated: October 10, 2017 - 11:44am

KAMLOOPS — Todd Stone will reveal the worst-kept secret in BC politics next Tuesday. He's banking that everyone remembers the last person to cannonball into the swimming pool, not the first one.

It will be interesting to see whether the Liberals' disappointing performance in the spring election will help or hamper Stone's chances in the party's leadership race. The failure to gain a mandate certainly led to Christy Clark's eventual resignation, and that opened the door for Stone to make a run for the leadership. It may be a little sooner than he was hoping or predicting, but the door is open nonetheless and at this point, it wouldn't make sense for him to wait.

But one thing that may hurt him is the way the support broke down in May. The divide between urban and rural support was stark, with the NDP taking ridings in the Lower Mainland while the Liberals dominated everywhere else. If the Liberals want to rebuild their support, they know it's the cities in Metro Vancouver where it needs to happen. That might lead them to lean toward Dianne Watts, the popular former Surrey mayor who was elected to represent the Conservatives in Ottawa in 2015. Watts may be seen as the key to making inroads back into the Lower Mainland.

Not only that, Stone didn't exactly raise his profile in Metro Vancouver with his work as the province's transportation minister. A decision on funding for billions in transit upgrades was left to the mayors to decide and eventually led to a referendum that did not pass. In addition, there was grumbling that an MLA from the Interior didn't understand the complexities of big city transportation and transit issues.

There is a decent chance that the Liberals will return to government when the next election comes, whether that's a scheduled election in 2021 or before that in the event the NDP-Green alliance falls apart. Do the Liberals see Todd Stone, the longtime Liberal insider and Interior cabinet minister as the next premier of BC? Will they pick someone like Mike de Jong, who has sat in the Liberal benches through thick and thin? Or will they pick Watts, the relative newcomer to the party who could inject some new life?

Already, Liberal MLAs are starting to line up behind their choices, with several already supporting Stone. Watts may struggle to gain caucus support, but that didn't stop Christy Clark from taking the leadership in 2011. Stone has a battle on his hands, and it's still not clear if he has what it takes to hold off Watts and win.