Vancouver businessman Rick Peterson says he may seek the leadership of the B.C. Conservatives, dubbing the post a prize worth winning despite the party’s failure to secure even a single seat in the recent provincial election.
The job opened up this month when former Tory MP John Cummins stepped down after two years as party leader, setting the stage for a leadership convention on April 11 next year.
Mr. Peterson, a Vancouver venture capital financier who was Vancouver campaign chair for the party, said he will make a decision on whether or not to run by the Labour Day weekend so he can make an announcement before the annual general meeting this September in Vernon.
The energetic promoter of B.C Conservative causes and candidates said Monday he’s looking at possible levels of support and the rules of the race.
“It’s a period of what we call in our business due diligence, checking everything out,” said Mr. Peterson, 58, who has not previously held elected office.
He said he expects there are up to eight people thinking about taking their shot. Dan Brooks, a party director, has reportedly said he plans to run.
Mr. Peterson said he expects serious candidates would announce they will run before the meeting. “That’s the only opportunity you’re going to have to get the full membership together in one spot. If you’re in, you have to be in front of the full membership in Vernon. You could come in later, but I think you would be handicapped.”
In the lead-up to the provincial election in mid-May, polls suggested the B.C. Conservatives might split the centre-right vote in the province, threatening the B.C. Liberals. For much of her run as premier, Christy Clark was reaching out to disaffected Liberals on the right of the party in a bid to counter the Conservatives.
But when the ballots were counted, the party came fourth in total support – behind the B.C. Greens – at 4.8 per cent of the popular vote. In the Langley riding Mr. Cummins contested, he came third.
The party also ran third in this month’s Westside-Kelowna by-election, initiated so Ms. Clark could seek a seat in the legislature after being defeated in her Vancouver-area riding during the general election.
Political scientist Norman Ruff says the window of opportunity for the B.C. Conservatives closed with the election. “They are confined to the fringes once again,” the professor emeritus at the University of Victoria said.
He said the party will face challenges drawing volunteers and donations, which will more logically head to the governing Liberals.
But Mr. Peterson remains bullish about Conservative prospects.
“There were a lot of 10-second Liberals who held their noses and voted Liberal,” said Mr. Peterson, suggesting there is room in the political spectrum for a “realistic” approach to the economy in addition to the governing Liberals and opposition New Democrats. “There’s a huge opportunity for the B.C. Conservatives.”
He said Mr. Cummins gave the party respectability and visibility, and the party needs more time to go further.
Mr. Peterson said if Liberals can govern with a fiscally conservative approach, and smart management of the economy, “then we will not be a threat.”
He said his aim would be to lead the Conservatives to government, echoing a view of Mr. Cummins during the election.
Mr. Peterson declined to talk, specifically, about how his own professional and political background would make him a credible candidate for leader. He said he would get into the issue if he decides to run.
“If I get to the point where I made the green-light decision, then I’ll talk about that.”