Editorial — Public has doubts about Conservatives

The Conservatives didn’t come through their weekend annual general meeting stronger — at least in the eyes of the public.

If six months is an eternity in politics, eight months is even longer.

In B.C. politics, every move is calculated as to its effect on the provincial election which will be held on May 14, 2013. Right now, almost everything is in a state of flux. While the NDP is firmly in the lead in voter preference at present, the BC Liberals are making attempts to shore up their support, and having some success.

That’s why the BC Conservative convention in Langley on the weekend was so important. If the party had come through the event unscathed and united, it would be more likely that the BC Liberals were headed for oblivion in the next election.

However, the Conservatives didn’t come through the weekend stronger — at least in the eyes of the public. Internally, the party is more united and the leader, John Cummins, has a renewed mandate. But people wonder why former candidate John Martin went over to the BC Liberals on Friday, and why former Liberal John Van Dongen, the party’s lone MLA, left the party Saturday shortly after Cummins’ leadership was endorsed.

While Van Dongen seems to have trouble with party leaders (he has now publicly castigated two of them in six months), he was a key asset to the Conservatives. As an elected MLA, he had an unique profile.

Even more importantly, had he remained a Conservative MLA, there would be no question about Cummins taking part in leaders’ debates. That isn’t so certain now.

In 1991, when the BC Liberals made their breakthrough, the biggest break of all came when Gordon Wilson was added to the leaders’ debates, after numerous protests. That appearance, and a brief retort he made to Mike Harcourt and Rita Johnston, was gold for the party, which elected 17 MLAs despite some very weak campaigns.

The party’s fortunes went up overnight, and Wilson’s debate performance and the subsequent rise in Liberal polling numbers even brought about a counterattack from the NDP, which until that time had ignored the Liberals.

The BC Conservatives will have problems matching the Liberals’ 1991 performance. The party has little money, and although well-organized in some parts of B.C., can’t compete with the NDP and Liberals.

However, if it runs candidates in all ridings and gets modest support, the vote will split and the NDP will definitely form government.

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