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BC Liberal memberships more than double, but who benefits?

The latest tally of new B.C. Liberals suggests the party has more than doubled its membership, swelling the ranks to numbers nearing those of the landmark 2001 election, but which leadership candidate will benefit the most won't be known until voting day.

A source inside Christy Clark's campaign said she signed up between 20,000 to 25,000 new members before the deadline last Friday, but no one from the party would confirm those numbers.

Add that to the 17,500 Kevin Falcon said he's signed up and the 10,000 claimed by Mike de Jong and at minimum, the party has pushed its numbers to 82,000, reaching towards the 100,000-plus the Liberals had in 2001 when the party virtually wiped out the NDP.

Prior to the leadership race, there were 35,000 members of the B.C. Liberal Party.

"The parties use these occasions not just to bring in a little extra money, but to try to rejuvenate the party. You sign up someone as a member and it increases their identification with the party and hopefully serve you well not just in the leadership contest but in any ensuing general election," said Norman Ruff, a retired University of Victoria political scientist.

"If you sign someone up you are not necessarily acquiring their political soul," Ruff said.

The swell in numbers also can't be assumed to translate into overwhelming support for the Liberals if a provincial election were to be held. When the Liberals trounced the NDP in 2001, the governing NDP were widely and hugely unpopular, a position the B.C. Liberals found themselves in in the fall before Premier Gordon Campbell announced his resignation.

Michael Roy, a spokesman for the B.C. NDP, declined to provide any numbers on how many members the leadership candidates in the NDP race have signed up since Carole James stepped down. Roy said he has been away from the office for four days and could not provide a timeline on when a figure would be available.

The deadline for new NDP members to join was last month. The party has a rule requiring people to be a member of the party for 90 days before they can vote in the leadership contest April 17.

"We are processing the memberships. We are going through our verification process, we are making sure we produce accurate lists and accurate counts, which the B.C. Liberals can't claim to do," Roy said.

Clark's campaign manager Shane Mills said the Liberal strategy is to not release any numbers.

"We are pretty sure we are competitive everywhere and happy with the numbers that Christy brought in," Mills said.

The former deputy premier turned radio host announced on Dec. 8 that she would be running to replace the outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell.

"We don't own these number so we are going to go and try and reach out to all ... B.C. Liberals. So she is going to be trying to convince them all that they should vote for her on (Feb.) 26," Mills said.

B.C. Liberal spokeswoman Lilian Kim could not be reached for comment.

Further new members have also been signed by the other Liberal leadership candidates — George Abbott, Moira Stilwell and Ed Mayne — but those camps weren't releasing their numbers.

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