B.C. Liberal leadership candidate withdraws, endorses Watts

A B.C. Liberal leadership candidate has pulled out of the race and thrown her support behind one of the frontrunners.

Dianne Watts will give the party its best chance to defeat the New Democratic Party in Lucy Sager's opinion.

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"I feel like Dianne has the momentum, she's got the moxie, she's got the team," Sager said in an interview following a media event at University of Northern British Columbia.

"And I look at Dianne and she's willing to work with others. She's recognizing that we're better when we lift each other up and so I'm really proud to be a part of her team."

In turn, Watts, said Sager's decision has left her humbled and honoured.

Sager, a Terrace-based business consultant, managed Skeena MLA Ellis Ross's campaign, but has little if any profile outside the northwest making her a fringe candidate in what was a seven-person race.

In contrast, Watts, a former three-term mayor of Surrey, is seen by many as the person best positioned to turn around the Liberal's fortunes in the Lower Mainland and put the party back into power in the process.

The Liberals lost 10 seats in the Lower Mainland, she noted, and blamed the turnaround on the party losing touch with what mattered to voters in the regions.

"There are around transportation, there are issues around tolling, there are issues around affordability and I know there are issues around affordability throughout the entire province," Watts said.

As for northern B.C., Watts sees proportional representation as the region's biggest threat.

"What that will do is take away the voice of many MLAs up here and it will focus that voice within the urban centres, which is wrong," Watts said. "We need to have representation from throughout the whole entire province. Voices need to be heard and people need to be connected."

In answer to candidate Mike de Jong's promise, made earlier the same day, to centralize forest and lands ministry offices in Prince George, Watts said she would like to see the Liberals form the next government and a MLA from Prince George be the forests minister.

About a dozen supporters showed up for the event, held in UNBC's administrative wing.

Sager's withdrawal also means there are no candidates from northern B.C. after Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier pulled out two weeks ago. Bernier has thrown his support behind de Jong, who appears to be Watts' main adversary.

Along with deJong and Watts, Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan, Michael Lee and Todd Stone remain candidates. All but Stone are from the Lower Mainland.

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