With the B.C. government in disarray, the B.C. Conservatives are trying to position themselves as the choice for voters looking for an alternative to the B.C. Liberals, but who don’t want to turn to the NDP.
But the party has a lot of work to do to get into a position where it can attract enough votes to actually win seats. First and foremost, it needs to recruit a band of volunteers throughout the province to set up constituency associations, sell party memberships, raise money and hold nomination meetings.
The party’s hope is that by next spring, it will have enough of a base and enough of the necessary political machinery in place, to be seen as a serious player in the province’s fractured political scene and attract the kind of leadership candidates that will give the party credibility.
“That is the most critical job that is facing us now. Get these constituency associations in place and get the membership up,” is how John Cummins put it to about 20 party supporters who braved the first snowfall in Kelowna to hear him speak at the Parkinson Recreation Centre at 10 a.m. last Saturday.
Cummins is the Conservative MP for Delta-Richmond East and though there is no affiliation between the federal and provincial parties, he is also a member of the B.C. Conservative’s “Tactical Advisory Group” that includes former Conservative and Reform MP Randy White, ex-Social Credit premier Rita Johnston and ex-Newfoundland Conservative premier Brian Peckford, who nowadays lives in Qualicum Beach.
As the heartland of the old Social Credit party, the Okanagan Valley is critical to the B.C. Conservatives chances. It’s a conservative-minded region that embraced the federal Reform Party in 1993 and the provincial Liberals three years later. It’s also where the B.C. Conservatives achieved its best results in the last provincial election, with five candidates getting between eight and 20 per cent of the vote in their respective ridings.
“We shouldn’t just be talking. We have to start acting,” said Cummins to his audience. “The only thing that’s standing between us and success is our ability to organize, to get out there, to sell those memberships and make it a reality. If we haven’t got the gumption to do that, if we haven’t got the energy enough to go to our neighbours, to talk to our friends, to sign them up, then this will not be a reality.”
Despite forming government in B.C. several times during the first half of the 20th century, by the 1990s the provincial Conservative party had been reduced to something of a far-right fringe group with a tendency for destructive in-fighting .
But things have mellowed in recent years and some of the party’s more hardcore members have now left the fold. Chris Delaney, the lead Fight HST organizer and a former deputy leader of the B.C. Conservatives made a splash in September when he quit the party because he felt it wasn’t sufficiently anti-HST.
The way Cummins sees it, the Conservatives are better off. “The party now is much more, sort of, middle of the road than it was even a year ago,” he told me in an interview. “Because a lot of those folks who were on the edge, I think, have moved on. They realize that this is not the place they want to be, that mainstream folks are sort of taking over.”
Cummins said the party needs to get its organization to the point where it can hold a convention in late spring and elect a decent leader.
“If you’ve got a good organization then you’re going to be able to attract good people. People will realize this is a viable option…it’s pretty hard to attract somebody if you don’t have the vehicle,” he said. “My advice is get this membership up, get the fundraising going, that’s really the key.”
Does Cummins have leadership aspirations himself, as has often been speculated?
“No, no, no, no aspirations,” he said. “No aspirations whatsoever.”