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Conservatives plough fertile ground in BC's interior

KELOWNA – Asked where he figures his party has the best chance at grabbing seats this provincial election, B.C Conservative leader Wilf Hanni, replied, “In the Interior.”

B.C.’s Interior has a long conservative history, and is where both the Social Credit Party and its right wing successor, the B.C. Liberals, have found much of their support. Hanni however, who is running in Kootenay East, is not worried about splitting the right wing vote and allowing the NDP to steal a few ridings and possibly government.

“In order to split a right wing vote, you would have to have two right wing parties in the race and we don’t, we only have one, that’s the B.C. Conservative Party, and we’re not even extreme right wing, we’re moderate,” he said. “The B.C. Liberals have taken a dramatic turn to the left and now there’s not a lot of difference between them and the NDP.”

Hanni’s party announced yesterday that its latest candidate, Chris Delaney, is running in the Okanagan riding of Penticton.

Delaney led the B.C. Unity Party (which was an attempted union of five conservative parties including the B.C. Social Credit, Reform and Conservative parties) when it ran 56 candidates in the 2001 election and captured 3.2 per cent of the vote.

Prior to that, in 1999, Delaney was president of Reform B.C., when the party’s leader was disgraced former Socred premier Bill Vanderzalm.

Like Hanni, Delaney does not live in the area where he is running, though according to a B.C. Conservative press release, Delaney recently bought a 160 acre ranch in the nearby Thompson-Okanagan region, where he is farming Christmas trees.

“I have been coming to this riding (Penticton) every summer for the past 18 years on vacation with my family. It is like a second home to me, and I have many friends here. With such a strong desire for a Conservative alternative to the worn out and corrupt Liberals, I decided to accept the invitation to run here. I am very excited,” said Delaney in the release.

Most prognosticators do not give the B.C. Conservatives, who are not affiliated with the federal Conservatives, much chance of winning a seat this election. In 2005, the party’s nine candidates only got 9,623 votes, good for 0.55 per cent of the provincial total. Two Interior candidates however, Colin Black in Okanagan-Vernon and Beryl Ludwig in Shuswap, won over 2,000 votes each, with Black getting almost 12 per cent of the vote in his riding and Ludwig getting nearly 10 per cent.

The B.C. Conservatives best chance this time around is probably their star candidate in Boundary-Similkameen, Joe Cardoso, who actually won the Liberal nomination in his riding before being disqualified by the party when it discovered he had written a letter to the editor of his local newspaper in 2005, calling for Premier Gordon Campbell to be fired.

After his dismissal, Cardoso promptly signed up with the Conservatives, giving Hanni and his party much needed attention and credibility.

Cardoso also claims that over 100 people who joined the Liberals to support him have asked to have their Liberal memberships terminated and are continuing to back him.

Cardoso is also a good example of a Conservative candidate possibly splitting the right wing vote to the benefit of the NDP. A Tyee analysis of voting results from the last election, adjusted to take into account this election’s new riding boundaries, gives Boundary-Similkameen to the Liberals with a five per cent margin over the NDP.

If everything else remains equal, Cardoso doesn’t need to capture many Liberal supporters to give his former party a lot of grief on May 12.

Hanni has set a goal of running between 20 and 30 candidates this election. So far, with the campaign into its third day, the B.C. Conservatives have 17 candidates, with 11 in the Interior. And Hanni says his party won’t be satisfied simply playing the role of spoiler.

“We’re not planning to split the vote, we’re planning to elect a number of MLAs and hold the balance of power in a minority government.”

Adrian Nieoczym reports for the Kelowna Capital News.

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