VICTORIA — British Columbia's Liberal leadership race is expected to expand to eight candidates, with former transportation minister Todd Stone scheduling a campaign-style blitz Tuesday that sees him visiting Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Interior.
The Kamloops-South Thompson member of the legislature has stops in Surrey and Victoria, then finishes the day with an event at Thompson Rivers University in his hometown of Kamloops.
An email statement Friday from former Liberal cabinet minister Peter Fassbender says B.C. needs a fresh vision to keep the province on track and Stone will make a special announcement about the Liberal party's future.
"This is an incredibly important time for our party and our province," says the statement, without making an official announcement about Stone's candidacy.
Stone released a YouTube video in September saying he was considering whether to run, then added that if he were to be leader, the B.C. Liberal Party would not accept the taxpayer subsidies that are being proposed by the minority New Democrats.
Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts announced her intentions for the party's top job last month, along with 38-year-old Terrace businesswoman Lucy Sager and five current provincial Liberal politicians; Sam Sullivan, Mike Bernier, Andrew Wilkinson, Mike de Jong and Michael Lee.
The first of six candidate debates is set for Oct. 15 in Surrey, with party members electing a new leader to replace former premier Christy Clark in early February.
Stone's likely candidacy brings with him the potential to appeal to urban and rural voters and his experience as a high-tech entrepreneur will help separate him from the former Liberal government's largely ineffective attempt to develop a liquefied natural gas export industry, said David Black, a political communications professor at Royal Roads University in Victoria.
Stone is the founder of the Kamlooops-based software company iCompass Technologies Inc.
But Stone, the former transportation minister, could be dogged by a New Democrat government review of debt at the Insurance Corporation of B.C., the Crown-owned auto insurance agency under Stone's watch for years, Black said.
"I think he has the profile of someone who, both with his relative youth, he's 45, and with his new economy bona fides, has an ability to speak to Vancouver in a way some other candidates, Mike Bernier for example and others, may not be able to," said Black.
The Liberals lost votes and members in Metro Vancouver, including four cabinet ministers, and won only one of 14 seats on Vancouver Island.
Clark resigned as premier and as the member for Kelowna-West in August following last spring's tight election result that did not produce a clear winner.
The Liberals were defeated in a confidence vote in July, paving the way for the NDP to form a minority government with support from the Green party.
The current standings in the 87-seat legislature are: 41 New Democrats, 41 Liberals, three Greens, one Independent and one vacancy.