The head of the B.C. Conservatives is taking solace from the rise of the right-wing Wildrose Party in Alberta, which has overtaken the governing rival right-wing Progressive Conservatives in the polls as an election looms later this month.
Although former Tory MP John Cummins underlines that B.C. and Alberta are very different provinces, he says he can see a similar dynamic in B.C., where the Conservatives are splitting the centre-right vote with the B.C. Liberals.
“There is a bit of a lesson in the fact that the Conservative Party in Alberta has really swung to the left, and it’s not representing the people well,” Mr. Cummins said, following a speech to the annual general meeting of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association.
“To that extent, there is a similarity here in British Columbia in that the Liberals have really swung to the left.”
During a speech to the home builders, Mr. Cummins criticized the Liberals for hikes in medical premiums, fees and taxes to suggest they are far from conservative.
“They can bring in all the Conservative advisors you want,” he said, referring to a move by Premier Christy Clark to hire former associates of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for posts in her inner circle in an apparent bid to bolster her conservative credentials.
“It hasn’t helped. The shift is there. The same thing has happened in Alberta. Similarly the Conservative Party has moved to the left. It has moved away from where the people are and it’s made room on the centre-right of the spectrum for the Wildrose party.
“There’s plenty of room on the right for us.”
But the former Reform MP said Alberta is no B.C.
“As a Reform guy way back when, I could see that very, very clearly,” he said. “If you listened to some of my colleagues in those early Reform days from Alberta, their message was much more hard line, black is black and white is white sort of message. In British Columbia, the message is different.”
He said B.C. voters are into “considered change.”
However, the former Conservative MP said he’s no right winger.
“I don’t see myself as sort of an extreme right-wing guy. I see myself as more of a centrist with a right-leaning, Conservative philosophy. That’s what British Columbians are. They’re centre right.”
Mr. Cummins said he and his provincial Conservatives, who have no ties to their federal namesakes, are working on costed policy for the May 2013 election. During his speech, he invited members to forward any relevant data on issues of concern that would help the Conservatives.
Among other stands, he said a Conservative B.C. government would cut and eliminate programs that didn’t pass the tests of helping economic growth, making B.C. a safer place to live, work and raise a family, and helping people who cannot help themselves.
“The simple truth is if a program does not do one of those three things, the government has no business providing it,” he told his attentive audience at a Coquitlam hotel.
While polls have shown the Conservatives gaining support – an Angus Reid Public Opinion survey released earlier this week had them even with the Liberals – Mr. Cummins was sanguine in a manner that, ironically, echoed the approach of Premier Clark, who has been dealing with surveys that suggest the centre-right vote is splitting.
“A poll is a poll. You don’t want to get too excited about it. It’s always gratifying when you’re doing well in a poll and the trend is in the right direction,” said Mr. Cummins “Our rise has been steady and consistent and that’s what we would like to see continue. There’s every indication it will. We’re careful about the promises we make. We’re careful and considered in our comments on the issue of the day, and I think people want that.”
He said he was not sure that other Liberal MLAs will be joining his party after former Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen recently crossed the floor to become a provincial Conservative..
“There’s been speculation in the press, but I can’t say. It’s just one of those things. It’s a difficult call for a lot of people to make that kind of move,” he said.