B.C. Liberal party officials say nearly 50,000 new members were signed up by the Feb. 4 deadline for eligibility to help pick the province’s next premier.
“This dramatic increase in new members has pushed our membership mark so it’s now approaching 90,000,” party president Mickey Patryluk said Tuesday.
“It’s a clear signal of the enthusiasm that has been ignited by this leadership race.”
Exactly how many new members were signed up by each campaign remains unclear.
Kevin Falcon’s backers say they’ve signed up 17,500 and the Mike de Jong campaign is claiming more than 10,000. Christy Clark is expected to have the most new members, with reported estimates ranging from 20,000 to 26,000.
However those numbers don’t square with any significant number of new members from the George Abbott campaign, or from Moira Stilwell and Ed Mayne.
Nor has an official detailed breakdown been released of where the members have been recruited.
Many are believed to have signed up in Surrey, where three campaigns were concentrating heavily on the South Asian community.
Still up in the air are the rules that will govern the Feb. 26 vote to select a new Liberal leader and premier.
Party delegates vote this Saturday on a recommended plan to give equal weight to each district across the province, rather than the one-member-one-vote system.
That would greatly water down the influence of thousands of members signed up in a handful of urban ridings, prompting speculation some forces in the party may seek to defeat the proposed voting reform, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
Party officials are also purging the membership list of new members signed up in contravention to the rules.
Random audits of new members are underway to try to eliminate memberships issued without the person’s knowledge.
Under particular scrutiny are cases where multiple memberships came from the same address, particularly a business, or bearing the same phone number.
“Our party executive and staff take the integrity of our leadership vote process extremely seriously,” Patryluk said. “We are committed to a fair and equitable process for all leadership contenders.”
Among those memberships being deleted are those of several Kamloops Blazers hockey players who were signed up without their knowledge by a supporter of Kevin Falcon’s.
Falcon’s campaign manager said he notified party headquarters as soon as he learned of the invalid memberships.
Tom Gaglardi, majority owner of the Western Hockey League club, is a supporter of Falcon’s leadership bid, and the Blazers’ general manager took responsibility for what he called a “communication error” leading to the inappropriate sign-up.
That came after the Falcon team accused Clark forces of using large numbers of photocopied membership forms missing the required serial numbers, contrary to party rules that said only official membership books were to be used.
Clark’s representatives dismissed the claim.
Before that, it was the case of a cat belonging to the Delta South riding association president, a senior Clark organizer, ending up on the membership list.
George Abbott then had to order a supporter to take down a satirical website called kitties4christy.com that attempted to exploit the cat incident.
Questions lingered when it was pointed out the web site domain name was registered three days before news of the cat sign-up broke. The Abbott campaign denied any involvement in the sign-up of Olympia the cat.
Clark issued a statement saying she is “disappointed to hear George Abbott admit his campaign was involved in negative campaigning” and called on candidates to focus on respectful policy discussions.
The Feb. 26 vote is a preferential ballot, meaning there will be considerable jockeying by the camps in the time remaining to convince members to list them if not first as their second or even third choices.