Political spotlight falls on Cummins

The information age might have sped up B.C. voters’ mood swings, but the basic dynamic hasn’t changed since the days of Social Credit.

When familiarity breeds contempt, people vote to reject the familiar and see what happens. Or as one radio talk-show caller summed up his decision to climb on board the B.C. Conservative bandwagon, he knows two things about leader John Cummins: “He’s not Adrian Dix and he’s not Christy Clark.”

It’s been more 21 years since Gordon Wilson reshaped B.C. politics and launched the modern-day B.C. Liberal Party with a single quip in a leaders’ debate between a bickering Rita Johnston and Mike Harcourt. Cummins has about a year to show he’s earned his rising poll numbers, and to refute the conventional wisdom that he’s the best friend the NDP has had since Wilson put them in power and later joined them.

So let’s get to know Cummins a bit better. He’s 70, and has an 18-year record as a Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP. His Ottawa days are mainly remembered for battling treaties and aboriginal-only fisheries, and for being the first Reform MP to reverse himself and take the MP pension. That pension pays him about $100,000 a year as he tries to build a second political career in B.C.

Another legacy of Cummins’ federal record is his support for the harmonized sales tax. As he hastens to clarify, he supported Conservative legislation to enter into HST deals with any province, which Ontario and B.C. subsequently did.

Cummins said B.C. could have brought in the HST at a lower rate to reflect its broader reach, as Atlantic provinces did. But they tried to make it a “tax grab” and now they’ve “poisoned the well” for many years.

“We’re going to have to pay the price I guess, in the sense that where it has been introduced, it has been shown to have grown business,” Cummins said. “Think tanks on both the left and the right have come to that conclusion.”

To me this beats the NDP’s crude coffee-shop populism that simply ignores HST benefits for small business and the poor.

Speaking of crude, Cummins further distinguishes himself from the B.C. Liberals by endorsing the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Kitimat.

He applauds the federal government for moving to place limits on submissions to federal environment hearings, citing the thousands of Internet sign-ups that have clogged the Northern Gateway hearings.

His record on aboriginal issues suggests he has little sympathy for territorial objections from First Nations, those with treaties or those without.

The April 19 byelections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope offer a chance for the B.C. Conservatives to present policy alternatives. So far they’re against gas taxes, especially the carbon tax, against a second Metro Vancouver garbage incinerator, and in favour of fixing the “catch and release” justice system. These are the slogans that stand in for actual policies needed to govern.

Cummins will be going door to door in the byelections, especially in Chilliwack-Hope, where he believes his upstart party has a real shot at winning.

He offers a telling anecdote about the last time he was door-knocking in Port Moody, the premier’s former hometown.

The B.C. Liberals have suggested the B.C. Conservatives chose Christine Clarke as their candidate to capitalize on the premier’s name recognition.

That wasn’t what Cummins and his previously unknown candidate found when they first started campaigning.

“She’d say hi, my name is Christine Clarke, and the doors would close rather quickly,” Cummins said. Now she identifies herself as the B.C. Conservative candidate, then gives her name.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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