John Cummins, confirmed Saturday as BC Conservative leader, is promising to scrap the carbon tax if he becomes the province's next premier.
The promise came in a fiery speech as the former Tory MP, transitioning into provincial politics, cast the BC Conservatives as an alternative to the governing BC Liberals and opposition New Democrats.
Mr. Cummins, speaking to about 200 supporters at a Surrey hotel, said axing the tax would mean cheaper gas, more funding for schools who would not have to pay the tax and a relief for rural British Columbians who don't have public transit.
But in a subsequent news conference, Mr. Cummins said the party had yet to crunch the numbers on how to replace the carbon tax, which is supposed to be revenue-neutral due to other tax cuts. Premier Christy Clark has publicly mused recently about using revenue from the carbon tax for public transit.
Regardless, Mr. Cummins said his party would stick to the commitment.
"It's an unfair tax and it has to go and it will go," he told reporters.
Mr. Cummins was the only candidate for leadership of the BC Conservatives, who have not governed B.C. since 1933 and have no members in the provincial legislature.
Still, the party held a vote to affirm his leadership. Mr. Cummins won the support of 97.7 per cent of 605 votes cast.
Although, as an MP, he supported federal enabling legislation for the harmonized sales tax, he sharply attacked the Liberals for bringing in the tax without deeper cuts to the provincial sales-tax component.
Critics, including such former federal colleagues as Stockwell Day, Jay Hill and Chuck Strahl, have said a revived provincial Conservative party could split the province's centre-right vote, allowing the NDP to win.
"Though I consider John a friend I cannot support his decision to split the vote in British Columbia," Mr. Day said in a statement Saturday. "Giving the NDP a chance to put the economy and jobs in jeopardy again is just not worth the risk."
But Mr. Cummins described the prospect of an NDP government as a "horror show," and said the Liberals were effectively chasing away their own vote with policies on the HST and hikes in corporate taxes and the minimum wage.
"What we provide is a new option; a real choice and an alternative to the NDP for the free-market voters, who are ready to flee the Liberals," he said.
He said the BC Conservatives, who ranked at 10 per cent in a recent poll and 18 per cent in another, now have organizations in 50 of the province's 85 ridings and will move quickly to cover the province.
"We are the underdogs," he said, but added the party will be ready whenever Premier Christy Clark calls the election.
And he said the 18 per cent poll ranking is inspiring.
"It's a long way to go and a lot of hard work to get into government, but it's a hell of a start. Eighteen per cent is higher than any third party has been in the polls in B.C. since the Liberals emerged from the wilderness and replaced the [Social Credit]as the free-enterprise party," he said.
Mr. Cummins had some pointed support Saturday from Dennis MacKay, a former two-term B.C. Liberal MLA, who has endorsed Mr. Cummins' leadership and introduced the rookie leader as he gave his victory speech.
Mr. MacKay, who was MLA for Bulkley Valley-Stikine, said he had quit the Liberals to officially join the Conservatives. In his second term, he said he felt frozen out of policy and decisions.
"That was really, really unfair. I was never able to express my views on issues that were going to affect us in rural B.C.," he said.
He said he was under pressure to run for his new party, but not likely to do so.
"I think my time has come and gone, and I think it's time for a younger person to seek the nomination."