John Cummins says the B.C. Liberals should not expect too many B.C. Conservatives to show up at the governing party's unity convention later this year to unite the free-enterprise vote.
"I don't think you're going to find too many B.C. Conservatives seduced back into the Liberal fold," the Leader of the B.C. Conservatives told a news conference following a speech Tuesday at the Terminal City Club billed as Mr. Cummins shot at making his party's case to the downtown business community.
"I think our folks are certainly free to go if they wish to attend that event. We're an open party, a free party. We're not a controlling bunch of guys or gals."
Asked if he would go, he said "Oh gosh no."
Mr. Cummins called the convention a "desperation move" for a party that has been closed for many years.
Seeking to unite the centre-right vote, the Liberals have said non-party members will be allowed to vote on certain issues during the October meeting, which will also include discussion about changing the party name.
But Mr. Cummins, whose party has one MLA in former Liberal solicitor-general John van Dongen, said he expects he can become the province's next premier in the coming May, 2013 provincial election.
"Do we really have to continue for four more, long years under a discredited, unpopular, out-of-touch BC Liberal government? Is our only alternative a high-taxing, high-spending NDP administration?" he said told about 60 people during the speech. "Fortunately, British Columbians do have another choice: the B.C. Conservatives."
Mr. Cummins spent much time taking shots at what he called "the self-serving myth" of vote splitting – the suggestion that the NDP wins when the centre-right vote is split in the province.
Instead, he said the NDP core vote is between 20 and 40 per cent, and many voters intent on supporting the NDP out of visceral distaste for the Liberals, who are seeking a fourth term. "Those voters need another option," he said.
"For those of us who want to prevent the election of another NDP government in May, 2013, the challenge over the weeks and months ahead is clear. We must give British Columbia's free-enterprise, middle-of-the-road, non-socialist voters another choice; another option.
"Fortunately, there exists such an alternative to the discredited B.C. Liberals. That choice is the B.C Conservatives."
The speech convinced Philip Hochstein there's no hope of unifying the free-enterprise vote in B.C ahead of the 2013 election.
The president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. has long been an advocate for uniting the provincial Conservatives and Liberals, now jostling for the centre-right vote.
"What I heard is he's not going to help form a free-enterprise coalition, and it sounds to me like we're going to go in [to the 2013 provincial election] with a tent that's divided," Mr. Hochstein told reporters after sitting through the speech..
"I think it was very important for the good of the province that they come together, but I think he's unequivocal now, and 10 months to the election? There's not much time to change his mind," he told reporters.
Ed Odishaw, who voted Liberal in every election in which Gordon Campbell led the party, said he has switched his allegiance to Mr. Cummins and his Conservatives.
He said the long game for the party may be replacing the Liberals as the opposition in the 2013 election, and leading the rebuilding of the centre-right coalition en route to taking power in the 2017 election.
"You've got to rebuild the opposition and it can't be built around what will be left of the Liberal party," he suggested.
"The B.C. Conservatives, if we get a toehold, maybe 10 or 15 seats could be the vehicle that's rebuilt to be the government four years after that."
Asked about the premise, Mr. Cummins called it "an interesting hypothetical question," but said he doesn't buy it.
"There's plenty of time for us to win government in 2013. That's what our focus is. I'm not into speculating on what ifs?"