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'Conservatives Are for the People': New BCCP Leader

Dan Brooks says his party won't tax BC 'to death,' nor neglect non-LNG industry -- unlike the Libs.

By Andrew MacLeod 25 Jun 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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New BC Conservative leader Dan Brooks on building a conservative alternative: 'I disagree with the concept that somehow the Liberals are a right-wing party. They're not.'

A few weeks after winning an at-times bitter fight to lead the British Columbia Conservative Party, Dan Brooks was already looking to the next challenge.

"My plan is to prepare the BC Conservative Party to fight an election, and to make a breakthrough in B.C. politics," he said in an interview at a Victoria coffee shop. "That's the purpose of what I've started to do as the leader."

The job came up following the 2013 provincial election, when leader and former federal member of parliament John Cummins, after months of party in-fighting, failed to capitalize on the party's best chance in decades to make gains.

At 38 years old, some three-and-a-half decades younger than Cummins, Brooks won the leadership over Vancouver businessman Rick Peterson in a contest that included free-flowing allegations, apologies, last-minute resignations and a complaint to the police.

Dressed in a pinstripe suit, Brooks said the police complaint had come to naught and that he was putting his energy into moving the party forward. The father of seven daughters talked about land-use planning, sustainability, integrating rural and urban B.C., diversifying the economy and building grassroots support.

With three years until the next election, he's tailoring a message he hopes will appeal to a broad swath of working people, as well as those who care about the environment.

Now based in Kamloops

Brooks is following through on a campaign promise and moving from Vanderhoof to Kamloops, where the party now has its headquarters. It will put him within a few hours drive of conservative-friendly parts of the province, including the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan.

"I didn't wake up one morning and say to myself, 'I plan to be premier,'" said Brooks. "I woke up one morning and said to myself, 'B.C. needs to be fixed.' And so what am I going to do to make that change?"

As he sees it, Premier Christy Clark is far too liberal, spending freely and running up debt. "There's lots they're doing that's not conservative," he said. "Fundamentally I disagree with the concept that somehow the Liberals are a right-wing party. They're not."

Despite her statements on the campaign trial, Clark pulls the party to the left, he said. "Christy Clark's a federal Liberal. She's a provincial Liberal. She's incurred more debt than any other premier in our history. That's the least conservative thing you could do. If you're going to be conservative, you reduce debt."

The BC Liberals are a coalition and have had endorsements from former Reform Party principles like Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl. Brooks said he hopes the change in leadership of the BC Conservatives will attract them to the party. "I have every intention of approaching them and saying we need a conservative alternative in British Columbia."

Conservatives should have a party to vote for, rather than voting Liberal merely to keep out the NDP, he said. Brooks described the NDP as going through an identity crisis, though he said new leader John Horgan will be a "formidable foe."

Liberals taxing BC 'to death'

"[The BC Liberals] campaigned on the right, but they govern on the left," Brooks said. "They increased corporate taxes, they increased BC Hydro rates which is another form of taxation, they increased ICBC, they increased MSP premiums. This is an increase in taxation that just is indefinite, and it really won't stop."

British Columbians are getting "taxed to death through user fees" that aren't tied to what they can afford the way income taxes are, he said. "It doesn't matter what you do in life, you're going to pay those fees."

Brooks said the answer is to make sure the economy is growing faster than the government. "The conservative way to deal with this is reduce spending, grow government slower than you grow the economy, and of course reduce taxation to make sure people aren't burdened with that," he said.

The Liberals started in 2001 by cutting taxes and reducing debt, and conservative British Columbians supported them because of it, but that's stopped, he said.

While the 2008 recession justified running a deficit, the province is growing again, he said. "Now's the time to be paying down debt. You pay down debt when times are good, so that when times get tough you have that resource."

Land-use planning needed

Brooks, who ran a hunting and fishing business before a serious injury involving a horse gave him more time to devote to politics, said he's not satisfied with two per cent growth and that an economic boom is possible, but it will require much better land-use planning than the Liberals have done.

All of B.C.'s major industries, including mining, oil and gas, forestry, tourism and agriculture require access to land, he said. "Where access to land is restricted, or at least hindered, or there's a greater uncertainty with regards to land and its usage, that stifles economic growth," he said.

"What we need is a government that's going to promote land and land use, responsible land use, sustainable land use, in order to create the economic certainty to attract investment."

Pointing to forestry as an example, Brooks said the government abdicated on land-use planning 12 years ago, turning it over through "results-based regulation" to the companies who do little more than meet the minimum standards the law requires.

"If you mismanage the land, you mismanage our economy," he said. "I'm not talking about centrally controlled economic growth. What I'm talking about is managing the land base that belongs to the public, and allowing corporations to do that has not resulted in what we need for sustainable forest industry. It just hasn't."

Local communities and stakeholders need to make decisions together using what he calls "cumulative land-use planning," Brooks said. "If you're letting forestry walk over everybody because of the pine beetle, and that's your excuse to let them do it, this is bad."

Moving to area-based tenures for forestry would help, but not the way the government is going about it, he said. "They're just handing another club to forestry to beat everyone else with."

"I'm not talking about burdening industry with greater regulation," he said. "What I'm talking about is cumulative impact planning so forestry knows and understands what is expected of them on the land base, so that tourism understands, so that agriculture understands, and so that we're all working from the same playbook."

Too much LNG focus

Developing a forest industry that is sustainable forever requires careful planning, said Brooks. "The idea that somehow corporations are going to take care of this public asset for the benefit of the public, it hasn't worked, it hasn't happened, it never happened."

The same goes for other industries as well, he said, noting that he likes the direction of recent changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, but that it should be split into several zones instead of only two as the Liberals are doing. "Why should Peace River be zoned the same as Vanderhoof? They're completely different regions."

The government is putting too much focus on the proposed liquefied natural gas industry, Brooks said. "Christy Clark is putting all her eggs in the LNG basket and saying, 'We're going to boom LNG and that is going to fix everything in this province,'" he said.

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Dan Brooks says B.C. conservatives should have a party to vote for, rather than voting Liberal merely to keep out the NDP. Photo by Andrew MacLeod.

"Great, we want LNG, but it's so extraordinarily myopic to the future of our economy that it fails to recognize that there are still farmers, there are still tourism operators and loggers that want jobs," he said, adding those industries still need the government's support.

There also needs to be a greater balance in the relationship between urban and rural British Columbia, said Brooks. He gave the example of a wind farm being planned for his home community. "They employ 40 people in a high-rise in Vancouver and nobody in Vanderhoof," he said. "It's not until the project happens [that] we're going to get a few hundred jobs in construction."

The head offices for the province's mining and forest companies are in Vancouver too, he said. Meanwhile, rural communities are struggling. "We lost 58,000 [residents] out of rural B.C. in the last 15 years. Where does that end?"

'Conservatives are for the people'

Brooks applies the same kind of land-based logic to the proposal to build the Site C dam on the Peace River. He said he doesn't want to say 'no' to the project outright, but thinks other alternatives like wind, solar and natural gas should be fully explored before the province floods more land.

"I think it's possible to make some changes to how we deliver and produce electricity for British Columbians that doesn't require Site C," he said. "There are alternatives out there. We have to look at the future and not be stuck in this past of building dams and coal-fired power plants in order to meet our needs."

Brooks lives off the grid, using wood for heat and generating electricity from solar and wind. "I don't pay BC Hydro bills," he said. "We don't need big hydro projects. We can do it on our own roofs."

Implementing his vision, of course, requires winning an election, which means competing in a sometimes crowded field. Fundraising went well for the leadership contest, and the party is getting started on raising money, said Brooks.

He recalled a university professor saying he was tired of how the government flips back and forth between parties funded by the Chamber of Commerce members or by unions.

"Conservatives are for the people," he said. "We're not going to be beholden to any big dollar interests and we're certainly not going to be beholden to unions. We're interested in what the people want and a government for the people."

He said he'd rather have 50,000 people each give $10 than have 10 big donors give $50,000 each. "They come with strings attached. I don't want a political party that has those sorts of strings attached."

Brooks said he ran for leader on a platform of eliminating corporate and union donations from provincial politics, and it would be one of the first things he'd do if he becomes premier, he said. Meanwhile, he doesn't want his party to take any donations over $10,000, an amount he figures he could pay back if necessary. "Over that amount you start getting into figures that are very difficult to repay."

He also said he'd like to see fewer patronage appointments, and would entertain holding elections for things like directorships on health authority boards.

"We've created a culture of entitlement where I give you money, I'm expecting favours in return," he said. "That's a problem for good government."  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

NO COFFEE, THANKS

When we met, Dan Brooks said he wouldn't be ordering a coffee as it would stunt his growth. He's over six feet tall.

That's when I remembered I'd heard it alleged people supporting Rick Peterson's campaign tried to make an issue of Brooks' religion during the leadership race. Though it should be noted Ian Tootill, who worked on Peterson's campaign, said their team deliberately avoided making religion an issue. *

"Yeah, I'm a Mormon," Brooks said. "I don't have a problem with you drinking coffee or if we meet at a coffee shop. It doesn't offend me. I believe in freedom for everybody... If you want to drink coffee, please drink coffee, enjoy yourself. I choose not to, that's my freedom."

The Mormon faith is a good fit with conservative values, he said. "Everything in my faith is focused on making choices for yourself and being responsible and accountable to those choices, and that coincides very strongly with, of course, conservative beliefs, which [are] individual liberty, freedom and accountability."

Everybody has the freedom to make their own choices, and government involvement is needed where those choices have impacts on others, he said.

*Paragraph clarified, June 25, 2014.

— Andrew MacLeod

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