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Former B.C. energy minister Bill Bennett speaks with reporters at the provincial Legislature in Victoria after losing his cabinet post on Nov. 17, 2010. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)
Former B.C. energy minister Bill Bennett speaks with reporters at the provincial Legislature in Victoria after losing his cabinet post on Nov. 17, 2010. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)

Bennett rejected moves to join BC Conservatives Add to ...

MLA Bill Bennett, newly readmitted to the BC Liberal caucus that ejected him for criticizing Gordon Campbell, says he was courted by the BC Conservatives, but never seriously thought of joining.

"They were interested in having a sitting MLA," Mr. Bennett said in an interview on Wednesday, describing phone conversations, e-mails and Facebook contact.

"They were interested in me. I appreciate that," says the self-described "rural populist conservative," who has said the conservatives are a force in his region of the province.

"But I thought they're on the wrong track."

The former energy minister, who sat an independent in political exile, said he always wanted to return to the BC Liberal caucus and made that clear to the governing party.

Now the Kootenay-East MLA, a member for 10 years, says that he will work to defend the BC Liberal coalition against a move by the conservatives under a new leader to gain support.

Ex-Tory MP John Cummins will be the only candidate on the ballot of a May 28 leadership vote for the provincial conservatives, and has promised to take on the BC Liberals, a coalition of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals.

"I expect I will be one of those spokesmen who will talk to people who have concerns about the coalition. I'll be there to say it's a pretty damn, big tent."

Mr. Cummins has declined to comment in detail on contacts with Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Bennett said Mr. Cummins party, which like the BC Liberals, has no link to its federal namesake, is missing "the essential point.

"We have conservatives in the BC Liberal government caucus. I am one of them. We are a coalition and if you try to develop a party that is purely conservative then you will not be elected government.

"You will split the vote and elect the NDP. You really can't argue with history."

After what Premier Christy Clark described as a "difficult discussion" behind closed doors, members of the Liberal caucus Tuesday voted to readmit Mr. Bennett after an exile of about four months

Last fall, Mr. Bennett was fired as energy minister by his cabinet colleagues for suggesting publicly that departing premier Gordon Campbell should speed up his exit.

Caucus subsequently bounced him after a scrum with reporters in which he described the premier as an abusive bully, who was "not a nice man." and once spat in his face during a heated exchange.

Mr. Bennett had said, before this week's caucus meeting, that he regretted his remarks, and suggested his comments came out of an outspoken response to a major change in B.C. politics that nudged him to step outside the normal rules of caucus conduct.

"I did that, but you can't have a caucus member or cabinet member freelancing. I get that. I know how to do that, and it will be done."

He said it was "unnecessary" to attack Mr. Campbell personally.

"The fact that my colleagues forgave me is an indication of the level of quality of the people in the room."

He said he was grateful to have another chance with the BC Liberals.

"I feel really good about the group of people I spent many years with is a group that has the capacity to accept differences of style and to forgive," he said.

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