Christy Clark will be the next premier of British Columbia, after BC Liberal members picked her as their new leader today.
"I want you to be my partners in change in Victoria," Clark said, addressing her first comments in front of the crowd gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre Saturday night to British Columbians rather than party members.
"You can count on me to listen," she said. "You can count on me to engage and you can count on me to make decisions that include you."
It took three rounds to determine a winner, with Clark edging out Kevin Falcon. Under the weighted system, candidates needed at least 4,251 points to win. Clark ended up with 4,420 points to Falcon's 4,080.
Clark said job creation and fighting poverty would be the government's top priorities under her leadership.
She congratulated her opponents and recognized their strengths. "Our party is a coalition. It is a great coalition," she said. Later in her speech, she recognized that the Liberal caucus, with the exception of Harry Bloy, supported other leadership candidates. Now is the time to join together and work for change, she said.
Election as necessary, but not necessarily soon
Talking to reporters later, Clark said she will seek election in a byelection as soon as possible. Premier Gordon Campbell still represents Vancouver-Point Grey, but if he were to step down she would likely run there, she said. "I live in Vancouver, he lives in Vancouver, I've been very active in Kitsilano," she said, citing work at a neighbourhood house in the constituency.
During the campaign, Clark said she was open to calling an election before the 2013 fixed election date. Asked about the position, she said, "The change includes an election sometime. We're going to be seeking a mandate from British Columbians, but absolutely not right away."
It would be unfair to call an election before the NDP have chosen a leader, she said. That vote is set for April 17. She also said she expects the HST referendum to be held in June, and would not call an election before that.
She said she expects the caucus will work as a team, she said. After the result was announced, Liberal MLAs gathered behind her on the stage. "That was an incredible show of support," she said. "It wasn't planned."
"We've still got some time ahead of us to heal," she said. "We are going to go forward united, I guarantee, because that's the key to winning the next election."
She mentioned that Prime Minister Stephen Harper called to congratulate her moments after she left the stage.
"We knew it was possible but it was going to be tough, and we just didn't quite make it," said Falcon. "Of course you're going to be disappointed, but Christy ran a great campaign too, you have to recognize that."
He and his campaign gave it their best possible effort, he said.
The Falcon campaign raised questions in the race's final days about party members not getting PIN numbers to allow them to vote by telephone or computer. "We wanted the party to address it so nobody was disenfranchised," he said. "I'm satisfied they left no stone unturned trying to make sure it was a fair vote."
Asked about the results, George Abbott said with a smile, "Well, they suck."
"I'm disappointed obviously. Disappointed but not displeased," he said. "There's nothing about the campaign that I would change except the result. It would be nice to change the result, but that is the result, and I'm happy with the result."
Abbott said he's looking forward to working with Clark, who accused him of negative attacks during the campaign.
Clark faces several challenges in the coming months, starting with getting into the legislature. "It will be awkward for a time, being out of the house and still being the premier," he said.
Then there's the job of fighting the HST referendum, picking a cabinet and building caucus relationships. "All of that's going to be pretty challenging for her, I suspect," he said.
Abbott said he intends to run in the next election, but will wait until closer to the time to make a final decision.
He and Clark left the convention centre ballroom with their arms around each other.
'Weighty responsibility' for Clark: de Jong
"For a candidate and members of a campaign that have worked so hard, there is obviously an element of disappointment," said Mike de Jong. "But we have elected a great, vibrant, energetic new leader. The energy in the room is great and people are going to come together."
Some people called the campaign "civil" and "boring", but that's better than alternatives, he said. "You watch television and you see what's going on in places like Libya around transitions of power. Here we do this."
Clark will have many challenges ahead he said. "She will have a lot of tough decisions and that's something we should all be mindful of," he said. "Premier Clark is going to inherit all the authority and prestige that goes with the office, but also the responsibility and it is a weighty responsibility."
One thing that was learned in the campaign is that things like virtual town halls and social media have made it easy to engage with people, de Jong added. "When politicians want to contact voters, we sure know how to do it," he said. "That technology is available, and can be used not just at election time but between elections to genuinely engage people in the decision making process."
"She'll be fine," said senior cabinet minister Rich Coleman. Coleman at one time considered running himself and later supported Falcon's bid. "The party's bigger than anyone... the party voted and we accept it. She'll do okay in the job."
Cabinet minister Pat Bell, also a Falcon supporter, said her energy will be welcome.
'We'll beat her': Dix
"I think she was the worst cabinet minister we had in 25 years," said NDP leadership candidate Adrian Dix. "It's not a good day for the province. None of these candidates represented anything in the way of change."
The NDP will be happy to run against her record, he said. On the key issues of health care, the economy and education, he said, "We'll beat her."
"I think it was a very close vote and I think it means the BC Liberals have some big problems," said Mike Farnworth, also running to lead the NDP. "This is a party that's clearly split between two people and she's got a big challenge ahead of her."
After the first count, Clark was ahead with 3,209 points. She was followed by Kevin Falcon with 2,411, George Abbott with 2,091 and Mike de Jong with 789.
Under the preferential voting system, de Jong's votes were dropped and his supporters' second choices distributed to the remaining candidates.
After the second count, Clark extended her lead to 3,575, ahead of Falcon at 2,564 and Abbott at 2,361.
The second preferences of Abbott's supporters, as well as the third choices of de Jong supporters, were distributed to Clark and Falcon.
In the third round Clark got 4,420 points to Falcon's 4,080.
The vote had 62.4 per cent turnout of the party's 90,000 or so members.
Clark replaces Gordon Campbell, who on Nov. 3 announced his resignation. He led the party for 17 years and to three election victories.
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