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Gary Mason, Globe and Mail national affairs columnists, in 2010. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail national affairs columnists, in 2010. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

POLITICS

B.C. Liberals eager to make hay out of Martin’s defection Add to ...

Once upon a time, the defection to their side of a wannabe politician who got smoked in a by-election that many thought his party should have won wouldn’t have qualified as big news for the B.C. Liberals.

But such is the dismal state of affairs for the floundering governing party, and such was the miserable week that was had by its leader, Christy Clark, that the Liberals treated John Martin’s decision to rip up his B.C. Conservative membership card and join their team like it was the monumental political game changer they’ve been desperately seeking.

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It seems to matter not that only five months ago, Mr. Martin was running for the Conservatives in the Chilliwack by-election and cursing the Liberal brand at every doorstep. Back then, he had no time for Ms. Clark or most of her policies.

The Conservatives were the future of free enterprise in B.C.

Yes, well, the Liberals may not choose to make Mr. Martin one of their poster candidates in next spring’s election, but at this point, they can’t afford to be choosy. The fact is, even though most of the province has never heard of the man, his decision is a blow to the Conservatives, which not that long ago seemed ready to become the new caretakers of the free-enterprise banner in B.C.

Now the Tories and their embattled leader, John Cummins, are in real trouble. An internal revolt is threatening to bring Mr. Cummins down. Party members gather this weekend in Langley and a leadership vote is at the top of the agenda.

If a majority vote in favour of a review, Mr. Cummins is effectively toast. And if he gets dumped, all the gains the party made under him will likely be wiped out. In fact, there is evidence that the internecine warfare is already taking its toll.

A poll released this week by Ipsos-Reid was being cheered at Liberal party headquarters. No, it didn’t show the party within striking distance of the New Democrats. Adrian Dix’s party was the preference of 49 per cent of those polled (up 1 per cent from the firm’s last survey in June) and the Liberals were at 32 per cent (up three points). The big news was the fall of the Conservatives to a measly 12 per cent, down from 16 in the summer.

Given that Ms. Clark’s personal approval numbers continue to tank, and in this poll they went down even further, it’s doubtful that those who were previously parking their affections with the Conservatives switched to the Liberals because they were lured by the Premier’s strong leadership abilities. More likely, die-hard free-enterprisers considered the internal chaos in the Conservative Party and thought: these guys aren’t nearly ready for prime time, so I’m going to move back to the Liberals – even if I’m not crazy about their leader or what they stand for.

But even at 12 per cent, the Conservatives still pose a deadly problem for Ms. Clark’s party. Given the leakage that the Liberals have suffered among voters in the middle of the political spectrum, who have supported the party in the past but appear ready to elect the New Democrats, even 5 or 6 per cent backing for the B.C. Tories is lethal.

But that’s something the Liberals will say is their worry for another day. The polls are trending positively. And Mr. Martin’s betrayal of the Tories in favour of Ms. Clark will only fuel the growing perception that by next spring, we will have a traditional two-party race again in B.C.

It’s not a surprise that despite his harsh criticisms of her leadership while a member of the enemy camp, Ms. Clark welcomed Mr. Martin with open arms. If nothing else, he helped change the political conversation in the province, which was dominated this week by her comments about her disdain for the provincial capital.

The Premier told a reporter with The National Post in the spring that she didn’t like Victoria because it had a “sick culture,” and there were no “real people” there. The comments only surfaced four months later.

Although there were certainly legitimate questions to be asked about the circumstances in which she made the explosive comments – both she and the reporter agree that they were made after the official interview was over, but he says his tape recorder was still going and she didn’t say her remarks were off the record – there was no denying she made them.

It was the Premier’s own Mitt Romney moment.

By Friday, however, Ms. Clark was trying to forget all that. John Martin represented some much-needed good news. Even if only a few short months ago he didn’t think she was fit to be Premier.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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