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Delta-Richmond MP John Cummins. (The Canadian Press)
Delta-Richmond MP John Cummins. (The Canadian Press)

B.C. Tory brass welcome Cummins candidacy Add to ...

Former B.C. premier Rita Johnston, an adviser to the B.C. Conservatives, is welcoming the prospect of former federal Tory MP John Cummins seeking the party's leadership, suggesting he offers the party years of political experience.

"The stature of the gentleman, the experience he's had, I think, would bode well for our party, starting out, scrambling around and signing up members wherever we can," the former Social Credit politician said of Mr. Cummins, who recently stepped down as MP for Delta-Richmond East after 18 years.

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Mr. Cummins, who as an MP was sharply critical of B.C.'s governing Liberals on various issues, including their style of government and adoption of a harmonized sales tax, has scheduled a news conference Tuesday in Vancouver where he's expected to seek the Conservative leadership.

B.C.'s leaderless Conservatives, who have no official relationship to their federal counterparts, are to pick a new leader on May. 26. There are no other declared candidates yet for the party, which has no seats in the legislature.

Still, Ms. Johnston, who succeeded William Vander Zalm as premier and spent most of 1991 in the job before being toppled by the NDP, said she would welcome more than one candidate in the leadership race.

"I have worked on a couple of people myself to try and talk them into it, and both of them have said their wives would kill them if they got back into politics," she said.

Party spokesman Keith Roy said the 69-year-old Mr. Cummins, who was a forceful critic of federal fisheries policies, is the kind of candidate he wants in the leadership race.

"John is a man of depth and substance, and I think [Liberal Premier Christy Clark]is a bit of a flash and show," he said.

It's been decades since the B.C. Conservatives were a force in provincial politics, but observers say it has prospects given disaffection with the governing B.C. Liberals, who, like the provincial Conservatives, have no official links to their federal namesakes. To provincial Conservative loyalists, the potential is to win power. To others, the potential is to split the centre-right vote, allowing the B.C. NDP a shot at winning.

Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, whose plans to quit federal politics were made public at the same time as Mr. Cummins's, expressed that concern as he announced his departure.

Ms. Johnston, who said she was offended by the B.C. Liberals' adoption of an HST as well as a decision to cover the legal bills of two civil servants in the BC Rail case, was skeptical.

"We used to hear, over the years, all this business about splits, and you just can't take that stuff seriously," she said.

"You do what you believe in. I don't believe in the Liberals and I don't believe in the NDP so I was delighted when I had a call telling me there was going to be an alternative, and I said I'll help as much as I can."

She added: "You can't go into an election thinking, 'Oh well, it would be nice if we came second. We're going to go in to win, and I'm going to be out knocking on doors with everybody else to see that we can make sure people realize there is another alternative.'

Mr. Roy agreed. "I'm starting to think the B.C. Liberal Party is trying to give people Stockholm syndrome and hold them hostage," he said.

"People are really looking for another place to put their vote, and the idea we're going to split the vote with a party that nobody really wants to vote for anymore is really absurd."

Ms. Johnston, British Columbia's first female premier, said she isn't feeling much sympathy for the second.

She said she once enjoyed watching Ms. Clark give it to New Democrats in Question Period.

"She would hammer away at the NDP and it would give me a lot of satisfaction," she said.

Although both she and Ms. Clark faced similar political challenges, trying to save a party from defeat after a long run in office, Ms. Johnston scoffed at suggestions she might empathize with B.C.'s new Premier.

"No, I don't feel any sympathy. I don't think anybody felt any sympathy for me. You know what you're doing when you're going into that job. You just hope you can pull it all together. I couldn't and I hope she doesn't. That's political life."

"She's a smart young lady. There's no two ways about that," Ms. Johnston said, but expressed skepticism at Ms. Clark's promised change agenda.

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