Wildroses sprouting in British Columbia?

The BC Conservatives still don’t have a leader. But the long moribund party is gaining supporters at a reasonable pace, having more than doubled its membership since 2009 – another indication it could have a serious impact on the results of the next provincial election. Over the last year, right-wing opposition to the BC Liberals has been coalescing around BC Conservatives. They have picked up some important and well-known right-wing voices in this province, people such as MP John Cummins, former MPs Randy White, Darrel Stinson and Jim Hart, as well as former premiers Brian Peckford and Rita Johnston. Like them or not, these six people have a lot of election experience.

Furthermore, behind the scenes, the party’s membership rolls have expanded to somewhere between 1,300 and 1,800 cardholders. That’s still well behind the New Democrats – who had 13,500 members in British Columbia as of this past July. But, in 2009, the BC Conservatives’ membership was around 600. So there has been a lot of growth – and not from the wing nut, black helicopter crowd one normally sees in the fringe right-wing parties. These are serious federal Conservative activists, respected business people and even lawyers.

Indeed, the BC Conservatives are seeing the most growth of a provincial third party in a very long time. Meetings are being held around British Columbia and are pulling in between 30 and 200 people. About 45 constituency associations have been formed and apparently another dozen are starting up in the next month or two. At the same time, the party is managing to raise money and has a bank account with money in it. All of this has happened since the resignation of Wilf Hanni as its leader.

The race to replace him will soon be underway. But, as Mr. Peckford recently told a crowd of supporters in Victoria, the party is building up its infrastructure before firing the starting gun – hoping it will be easier to attract quality leadership candidates if the BC Conservatives have money and members in place. However, according to Mr. White, there has already been interest in that job from people with status and clout.

It’s possible, then, that the BC Conservatives could become something like the Wildrose Alliance in Alberta and threaten to become government. If you think this is impossible, look at the rise of the federal Reform Party in BC in the 1993 election when they won a majority of the seats here. An alternative scenario is something similar to what happened in the 1996 election, in which the BC Conservatives pulled enough of the vote away from the Liberals to allow the NDP to win the election.

Bernard von Schulmann is a policy and land use consultant. In 1999, he predicted “the New Democratic Party is looking at four safe seats” in the 2001 election. “A complete shutout is not an impossibility.” In 2005, he was the campaign coordinator for Yes for BC-STV. Mr. Schulmann blogs at BC Iconoclast. He is presently a member of the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives, as well as being a pacifist Quaker.

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