Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Could there be a rise of the BC Conservatives coming?

Original version published in 24 hours on Friday May 7th

The 2013 BC election is still a long time away, but we may be seeing the rise of a new political movement. Our province has a long history of supporting populist movements and the current anti-HST campaign is the most populist movement BC has seen for many years.

A movement is not a political party, but with former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm and former Unity party leader Chris Delaney as spokespeople of the ant-HST campaign, there is a strong connection to the anti-Liberal populist right wing in BC.

On the surface it looks improbable that a populist conservative party could be a major factor in the next election, but with the history of elections in BC, it is not that far fetched. In 1952 Social Credit came out of nowhere to form government. In the 1993 federal election the Reform party came out of nowhere to sweep most of the seats in BC. It can happen. If you look at the 25 ridings where anti-HST campaign has done the best in getting signatures you can see that 19 of them are in the old Socred heartlands and the places that voted for Preston Manning.

There is a BC Conservative party but it has not been a serious factor in politics because it is small and has been divided. In the last election they only managed to run 24 candidates, but those 24 did reasonably well, two independent conservatives did even better, Arthur Hadland came second in the Peace North, and Vicki Huntingdon won in Delta South. There is an underlying interest in our province for a party to the right of the BC Liberals that has been dormant for the last three provincial elections.

Last month the news came out that former populist Reform MP Randy White is involved with the BC Conservatives. There has also been Federal Conservative MP John Cummings has been making the case for support of the BC Conservatives and not the BC Liberals for more than a year now.

With a serious Conservative party running a full slate on a populist platform, the only aspect of the 2013 election I am certain of is that the BC Liberals will not be government after the election.

I get a sense among New Democrats that they are happy to see another party on the right in the hopes a split vote would allow them to win the next election. The danger in this strategy is that just being the default government in waiting is not a guarantee of a win the next election. A populist right wing party could come out of nowhere to win the election unless the NDP find their populist roots, given the current leadership this seems unlikely.

For the BC Conservatives to succeed, they will need to find an articulate and charismatic leader this year, maybe Arthur Hadland from the Peace? The anti-HST campaign has hit a populist nerve in same way the Charlottetown referendum did with the Reform party in 1992, but someone has to take ownership of the movement and channel it into a party to have any impact.   The well executed petition campaign will offer to a conservative party a whole host of capable and active volunteers across the province.   They have a structure of people ready to be lead.

 The ingredients are all there for a major change in 2013, we should know within a year if change is coming or if we will head into the 2013 election with the same two parties we have seen in the last three elections.

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