I went to the BC Conservative leadership debate held in Victoria on Wednesday February 19th and here are my impressions and thoughts.
In total 60 people came out, that includes the candidates and their entourages. Certainly not a big crowd but better than what most fringe parties have been able to achieve in this province. The crowd was older than average and I think most of the people were over age 65, at 48 I was still in the young part of the audience.
Here is a short clip of the room
I only recognized one media person in the audience, Andrew MacLeod of the Tyee. Overall the race has seen little coverage in the media and is sort of quietly going along. Given how badly the party did in the 2013 election, it is not really surprising they are not getting more media for this race.
I generally avoid leadership debates because normally candidates will say very little about what makes them a better leader than the other person and certainly it is not likely you would see negative campaigning. I really went out of a morbid curiosity to see how small the crowd would be but I was surprised at how much sniping there was between the candidates, well more by one candidate than the other.
Rick Peterson made a number of fairly direct and veiled attacks against Dan Brooks, it felt like that was one his agendas for the evening. He mentioned the party should focus on the coast and the interior and north. He pointed out that the the BCCP got a $50,000 donation from someone in Vanderhoof after Dan Brooks talked about wanting the part not be behold to large corporate donors. He did not think the Dan Brooks' idea of a shadow cabinet was a good one. He did not like Brooks' idea that the party should have their headquarters in Kamloops. He said it was great that Dan Brooks has a vision but that it is more important to know who is backing each candidate.
I could see Dan Brooks wanted to try and respond back and do the same to Rick Peterson and it felt reactive and not planned. It will be interesting to see how responds to the attacks from Peterson.
Overall by the end of the evening I felt like Rick Peterson was trying sell me something while Dan Brooks sounded much more genuine. Rick Peterson I think had practiced in detail what he wanted to say whereas Dan Brooks I do not think did so.
Dan Brooks seems to have decent natural speaking skills. He actually dropping in a Shakespeare quote by Polonius from Hamlet:
to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
This was in the context of Dan Brooks speaking of the importance of honour in politics because he sees honour as being honest to yourself and that is a higher degree of honesty.
Dan Brooks came across as slightly naive and inexperienced but Rick Peterson name dropped so much that the advantage he should have had with this was muted. One of my biggest concerns about Dan Brooks is the potential that he is a bit tea party lite - he used the line "slippery slope to socialism" and talked about being part of a liberty loving movement.
Rick Peterson tended to be unrealistic about the BC Conservatives - 125,000 members in two years and 60 to 65 seats in 2017. This is a party that not only did not win a single seat in 2013, they were not even close in any of the races. He also seems to believe the path to power is through the right leader and doing politics in a very status quo way. Peterson also glossed over the fact that many of his supporters were core to the problems the BCCP had in the run up to the 2013 election. He does not seem to be willing to acknowledge that the BC Conservatives had a really, really bad election for a host of reasons. He put the weak result down to the performance of John Cummins in the leader's debate and this was just one bad night.
Dan Brooks sounded more realistic about the party. He acknowledged he and others made mistakes in how the party was run in 2012/13. He also said that as the leader he would run in any by-elections even in Victoria.
It sounds like Rick Peterson wants to build an organization to win government in the next election whereas Dan Brooks sounds like he is more interested in building a strong political party. I am not at all convinced that Rick Peterson will be a major player for the BC Conservatives if he loses the leadership race.
Based on this debate, if I were a member of the BC Conservatives I would vote for Dan Brooks but not expect the party to do any better than a handful of seats in 2017.
My final thought, given how much stock so many people have put in the concept of Rick Peterson - there were those that saw his as a possible BC Liberal leadership candidate - why is his race for the leadership of the BC Conservative party so weak? Dan Brooks is a nice guy but really inexperienced as a campaigner. Why does it seem this race is close at all if Rick Peterson is reputed political player?