In the six months after he filed his papers with the B.C. Liberals to seek re-election in Boundary-Similkameen, MLA John Slater couldn't figure out why the party wouldn't set a date for his nomination meeting. He announced on Monday that he has quit the party, saying it is now clear to him that Premier Christy Clark's team wanted him out of the way.
It is rare that a party refuses to sign an incumbent's nomination papers, and the B.C. Liberal Party alluded to unspecified personal matters to explain why it deemed Mr. Slater unsuitable for the job.
"Mr. Slater's candidacy is not being approved due to personal issues that, in our view, impact his ability to represent the party," B.C. Liberal president Sharon White said in a statement on Monday.
The split has raised the prospect of a four-way race that boosts the B.C. New Democratic Party's chances in the riding when the provincial election is held four months from now.
"We're going to see a lot of turmoil, a lot of B.C. Liberal supporters who will be in shock. I'm in shock," said Zach Poturica, who quit as the party's riding president on Monday to show his support for Mr. Slater. He predicted the B.C. Liberals will have a difficult time hanging on to the seat.
"If John runs as an independent, I'll be there to support him. He has done a lot of good work in Victoria; there is overwhelming support here for him."
Mr. Slater said in an interview that he got an inkling that his party had turned on him only when a caucus colleague sat him down early in December and told him that he couldn't be re-elected.
"I was told, 'We have polling that shows you are going to lose. It would be better for your health if you step down,'" Mr. Slater said on Monday, shortly after announcing on Twitter that he will sit as an independent MLA until the election.
He caved to the party's pressure, initially, and told the caucus emissary last month – he would not name the MLA – that he would withdraw from the race. But in the weeks that followed, Mr. Slater changed his mind. "I got a whole bunch of misinformation. I went around my riding and there was no polling done. They obviously just wanted me to step down," he said. "I got my hackles up. I can win this riding."
Mr. Slater has left the door open to running as an independent in May – which would be another wild card in a riding that is no sure bet for the B.C. Liberals.
He won the riding in 2009 by a slim margin – just 811 votes over his NDP rival. As well, the B.C. Conservatives took 20 per cent of the vote – a significant showing for a party that got only 2 per cent of the popular vote province-wide.
Asked about the personal matter that the party referred to, Mr. Slater said it was a smear based on his outspoken nature within the caucus. "There are times when I stand and speak my mind in caucus," he said. "I don't think there was a specific issue."
Mike McDonald, campaign director for the B.C. Liberal Party, would not comment on any polling that might have been shared with Mr. Slater.
"I'm not going to get into the strategic stuff. There was concern over John's personal issues," he said in an interview. "That did coincide with concern about representation in the riding."
Mr. McDonald said the party was obliged to offer some kind of explanation: "It's an exceptional situation, where an incumbent is not approved. We have tried to be as respectful as possible."