Dan Brooks wants to be leader of the B.C. Conservatives again, so he's running to regain the job he quit in January, citing family and business responsibilities.
The 41-year-old guide outfitter from the Vanderhoof area is one of six candidates being vetted by the provincial party ahead of a leadership vote in September. That wouldn't give the new leader much time ahead of the May, 2017, election.
"We're short on time and we know it," Corbin Mitchell, vice-president of the B.C. Conservatives, said in an interview.
But Mr. Brooks said he's fired up for the job, promising a "bold and daring" political message after a 2013 election in which the Conservatives loomed as a threat to the provincial Liberals yet failed to win a single seat. Both parties occupy the centre-right of the political spectrum. The Liberals, who came to power in 2001, are a coalition of federal Tories and Liberals operating under the "free-enterprise" banner.
"We failed to message very well in 2013," he said. "I have every intention of introducing some bold ideas in 2017 that are going to shake up things on all fronts here in B.C." He declined to elaborate.
Mr. Brooks said he wants his job back because of the absence of high-profile prospective successors to pick up where he left off. He won 61.9 per cent of the vote in a leadership race in 2014.
"I had hoped some federal Conservatives would step forward and say, 'We need a Conservative alternative in British Columbia.' They haven't." A few weeks ago, Mr. Brooks said, he looked around and saw a role for himself. "Not many people get a second chance in politics," he said. The father of eight said he's in a better financial position than when he announced his departure.
He said a lawsuit filed by party rival Rick Peterson alleging that Mr. Brooks and his former campaign manager were involved in the dissemination of letters targeting Mr. Peterson's professional reputation is less of a burden, though Mr. Peterson said in a statement that the legal action against Mr. Brooks, his former campaign manager and that manager's printing business is ongoing.
Stockwell Day, a former federal Tory cabinet minister, campaigned for the Liberals in the last provincial election, targeting the Conservatives as a vote-splitting threat. He said he is ready to make the case again against the provincial Conservatives, who have no official ties to the federal party. In 2013, the provincial Liberals worried that the Conservatives under then-leader John Cummins, a former Tory MP, would split the centre-right vote and allow for NDP gains. In the end, B.C. Conservatives earned 4.8 per cent of the vote.
"We'll exercise the same caution [in 2017] and not take anything for granted," Mr. Day said in an interview
Mr. Mitchell said a party review committee has been vetting six prospective candidates for the leadership since May, working toward a July 18 deadline. Potential candidates must fill out a 37-page application and pay a $5,000 fee to enter the race.
None of the candidates has received a green light. Mr. Mitchell said Mr. Brooks will be required to go through the same review process as the other candidates. "They are seasoned, successful people," he said, adding that some have political backgrounds.
The party is declining to identify the prospective candidates, but financial services worker Chloé Ellis, who ran for the federal Conservatives in New Westminster-Burnaby in last fall's election, is considering a run. Ms. Ellis, 25, placed third with 20 per cent of the vote behind the NDP's Peter Julian and the Liberal candidate.
Ms. Ellis said she has been talking to voters about a leadership run, and that it appears there's interest in a third political choice in the next provincial election beyond the Liberals and NDP. She promised a decision "quite soon."
She also chided the Liberals for declaring themselves to be pro-development, but blocking pipeline development with a series of conditions that have to be met before such projects get the go-ahead.
Mr. Brooks said the provincial Conservatives will be hard-pressed to prepare between the September leadership vote and the May election, and that the party will find it difficult to match Liberal finance resources. "But if we don't start somewhere, we'll go nowhere," he said.
He declined to speculate on how many seats the party might win, but said it might be able to make gains in the Interior and the north, outflanking the Liberals on such issues as forestry, energy and accountability.
"The B.C. Liberals have gotten a little long in the tooth," he said.
Mr. Brooks rejected the prospect of vote-splitting in the north. "It'll be the Conservatives people turn to as an alternative to the Liberals, and not the NDP."