The B.C. Conservative Party is gunning to pick off Liberal voters in the May 12 election by presenting itself as a viable right-wing alternative.
“Frankly I never really felt I would run for public office,” said Peter Neville, a computer store owner who is doing just that in the riding of Kelowna-Lake Country.
“The reason that I’m running on this occasion is because I feel very disillusioned with the choices that we have, in particular the B.C. Liberals. I believe they have abandoned their conservative policies.”
Neville is one of three Kelowna-area Conservative candidates who held a press conference Wednesday, to introduce themselves and show off the new campaign office they are sharing.
And according to the party’s freshly minted deputy-leader, Kelowna-Mission candidate Mark Thompson, the office is doubling as the party’s provincial election headquarters.
In the 2005 election, the Conservatives were a fringe party, running seven candidates who won a total of 9,623 votes or 0.55 per cent of the provincial total.
This time around, the party’s leader, Wilf Hanni, has publicly said he hopes to run about 30 candidates. With seven weeks to go until the vote, the party has nine candidates lined up throughout the province. That includes the three introduced Wednesday, who all spoke with bravado about winning their seats.
Thompson, a former Saskatoon city councillor, had actually been in the race to become the Liberal candidate in his riding but dropped out a couple of months into the campaign without anyone having seen or heard much from him. When he announced he was switching parties he said it was because Liberal party rules prevented the candidates from speaking openly about their views.
Since joining the Conservatives, Thompson has taken a lead role in the party, organizing an election readiness weekend that brought the party’s candidates together last weekend, to fine tune their platform and election strategy.
The effort apparently impressed Hanni so much that he appointed Thompson as the party’s second in command.
The third Kelowna candidate is Mary-Ann Graham, a former elected director to the Regional District of the Central Okanagan who is the president of her neighbourhood’s residents association and a director of its business association.
She cited the Conservatives' grassroots approach to developing policy as one of the main attractions that drew her to the party.
“I was quite excited actually this weekend (at the election readiness sessions) because as the new person on board, I was allowed to speak. I was allowed to be a part of the platform process and that to me is very, very important in the whole democratic process,” she said.
The B.C. Conservative party is needed because we have lost our way in this province, she said.
“Society needs to return to basic family values to change the direction in which we are going. We need to be empowered to take control of our own lives and circumstances.”
The three candidates also unveiled a six-point B.C. Conservative platform:
1. Eliminate the carbon tax
2. Eliminate the B.C. property transfer tax
3. Roll back excessive pay scales awarded to high level civil servants
4. Eliminate the Bill 42 ‘gag law’ (restricting third party advertising in the lead-up to and during an election)
5. Reduce personal and corporate income taxes
6. Stop the Recognition and Reconciliation Act
The Recognition and Reconciliation Act, which would recognize Aboriginal title but has been shelved by Premier Gordon Campbell until after the election, seemed to most upset Neville’s conservative instincts.
“The whole basis of our land title system could collapse with very dire consequences,” he said.
“Yes, it has come to this. You need the B.C. Conservatives to protect your property rights. The Recognition Act is so dangerous, we cannot, must not, entrust Mr. Campbell with another majority government to ram it through.”
Hook contributor Adrian Nieoczym is a reporter with the Kelowna Capital News.