BC Conservatives Rising
Upstart party aims to capitalize on Campbell's collapse, but NDP should worry too.
Tuesday October 19, 2010
By Bill Tieleman
"Doesn't it make you feel a bit like the early days of Reform?"
- Former Reform Party MP Randy White to BC Conservatives
When has a Conservative politician publicly said he voted for a provincial New Democrat MLA, wants to appeal to unionized workers, supports the role of government in the economy and backs environmental critics of run of river projects?
It happened in Vancouver on Saturday when veteran federal Conservative member of parliament John Cummins addressed the provincial BC Conservative Party's annual general meeting.
And Cummins got strong applause for his views from the almost 200 delegates in attendance, including former premiers from two provinces and several ex-MPs.
Cummins gave a campaign-style speech making clear the BC Conservatives are going to target not only disgruntled BC Liberal voters but also the NDP's traditional support bases.
With Premier Gordon Campbell facing a disastrous nine per cent personal approval rating in a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll while his party sits at just 24 per cent thanks to the hated Harmonized Sales Tax, past BC Liberal supporters are looking for a new centre-right home.
The NDP are pleased to hold 49 per cent in the same poll, but leader Carole James has only a 27 per cent approval rating and faces internal party issues highlighted by caucus chair Norm Macdonald's resignation last Friday over James' expulsion of MLA Bob Simpson without any discussion or vote by her MLAs.
The two major parties' problems helped create an ebullient mood among delegates, perhaps unrealistic for a party that has no leader, no elected members, only ran 24 candidates in the 2009 election and garnered just two per cent of the vote, but that optimism is not totally misplaced.
The same poll shows the BC Conservatives rising to eight per cent and positioning themselves as the go-to alternative for voters angry at the BC Liberals but afraid of the New Democrats.
That's why the BC Conservatives -- who are not connected to the federal party -- have been able to attract a collection of senior ex-politicians to advise them on how to build the party.
But it's sitting MP Cummins who has the highest profile -- and who may well be the front runner for leader in 2011, though he has to date denied any interest.
Cummins' speech may change that perception.
'People are environmentally conscious'
"You don't want people voting for you simply because they don't like the other guy -- we need to stand for something," Cummins, a commercial fisherman and teacher, told members.
"British Columbians believe there is a role for government," he said, extolling the actions of former Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett in nationalizing BC Electric to create publicly-owned BC Hydro and creating BC Ferries as a Crown Corporation.
But the BC Liberals have removed the role of government and ignored environmental concerns with their controversial independent power projects across the province, Cummins said, a mistake the BC Conservatives must not repeat.
"People are environmentally conscious -- this party has to be seen as a protector of the environment -- if not, we're not going to make it to government," he said.
And Cummins reminded BC Conservatives that in past federal elections the right wing Reform, Alliance and Conservative parties had all gained workers' votes to win seats, despite the NDP having strong ties to organized labour.
And likely referring to the HST -- which Cummins voted for in parliament as a Conservative MP and has said in a recent interview is "necessary" -- he advised the audience that the "issues of the day seem big but don't really matter in the long run."
McGrath said that if recall attempts organized by Fight HST, which I support, were successful in removing BC Liberal MLAs the BC Conservatives would contest subsequent by-elections.
But he warned that the party's lack of constituency associations in several ridings would be a problem.
"It could be that we have a by-election through recall in a riding were we don't have a C.A. -- that would be unfortunate but it could happen," he said.
While McGrath also said sitting BC Liberal MLAs were welcome to join the BC Conservatives, they would have to apply and go through a process to be accepted.
However, he added to loud applause: "If Gordon Campbell were to apply, I as a board member would vote no!"
McGrath was also asked why Fight HST organizer Chris Delaney had quit the BC Conservatives in September to join a new political party, BC First.
"Chris Delaney was very opposed to the HST -- as we were, as we are. He formed his own party and said we were in favour of the HST -- a total fabrication," McGrath claimed. "But I don't want to be negative today, only positive."
Confusing stances on taxes
"None of us want to be elected. Our job is to keep these people out of the minefields -- just ask my wife," White said to laughs. "We have a limited shelf life until the new leader is elected in 2011."
For any who doubt that, take a good, long look at the results of the federal election of 1993.