On Saturday afternoon, the BC Conservative Party met in Parksville on Vancouver Island to elect a Regional Director for the region of Vancouver Island – North, one of 14 regions that the BC Conservative Party has divided the province into for management purposes. Party president Reed Elley and leader John Cummins were on hand to rally the troops and solicit donations.
The meeting opened with “O, Canada”, and then after a quorum was confirmed, party president Reed Elley reviewed some decisions the provincial board has made in the last few months including a new logo, website and membership database. He moved on to finances and included a comment that at the time seemed quite reasonable: funds donated to local constituencies would remain local and donations made to the provincial party would stay at that level. Later in the day, though, it was reported that the party had given $10K to each constituency where the up-coming by-elections are to be held, so clearly the party will move provincial funds around to wherever they’re deemed to be needed the most.
Next, the floor was opened for nominations for the aforementioned position of Regional Director for Vancouver Island – North. John Sherry was nominated for the position. Two other nominations were made, but the nominees declined. Regional Directors are members of the Provincial Board of Directors for the party. Reading through the party constitution, this position basically manages communication between the individual constituencies and the provincial party. Seven ridings from Cowichan to North Island make up the region. Voting took place to affirm his selection, and after the ballots were collected, party leader John Cummins stepped up to give a speech.
I recorded Cummins’ speech and the question period that followed with my iPod. The audio quality of the questions really isn’t very good, but you can hear Cummins’ responses quite clearly (when they are clear, that is!).
“We’re in the next election to win government… and I’m not being delusional when I say that,” said Cummins. “If we weren’t in the game, the NDP would win a majority government the next time around. With us in the game, they don’t have that chance.”
Cummins brought up the recent case of a Nanaimo child sexual predator that was sentenced to house-arrest in the community after pleading guilty to sexual assault of children. Cummins claims that because of the backlog in our provincial court system, this criminal was going to get off “scot-free” if they hadn’t offered a plea-bargained down with house-arrest.
His call for elected MLAs to put their constituents first ahead of the party drew applause from the crowd. He mentioned a Fraser Institute study that sets BC as having the lowest average family income of all provinces west of Quebec. He went on to add that we pay higher taxes than any province west of Quebec and pointed out that his party would scrap the Carbon Tax as a means restoring balance. He also mentioned the transfer of funds from ICBC to provincial coffers while raising ICBC rates.
After the speech, which lasted about 30 minutes and was delivered in a very casual, straight-forward manner, the floor was opened to questions. The most popular items of discussion during the question period were the Enbridge pipeline and the HST issue.
Over 80 people attended the meeting, and at least 71 people cast ballots for the Regional Director position. Just an hour or so earlier, only 35 members of the BCNDP cast ballots in the election of their candidate to run as MLA in Chilliwack-Hope.
This whole event was a first for me in so many ways: first time live-tweeting something, first time going somewhere specifically to write about it, and first time attending a meeting for a political party.
O Canada, OMG. Completely aside from the meeting itself – OMG – they started off “O, Canada” in a terribly key for public singing!
Approachability. I found the whole affair to be fairly comfortable and casual: the party and the speakers, including Cummins came off as being approachable rather than slick. I happen to know that Cummins stayed at an economical local hotel rather than a four-star resort. The choice of Travelodge as a venue for the meeting was also an economical choice without appearing to be “cheap”. (The Parksville Travelodge is a nice facility with a modern meeting space, but it isn’t the same as resorts like Tigh-na-Mara or The Beach Club or like the Parksville Conference Centre.) To be fair, the fact that I’m so familiar with the facility (I work at the hotel), probably added to this “comfortable” feeling, but over-all, the procedural parts of the meeting did not feel formal. I think this was appealing to the local audience. Government needs to make themselves approachable, and I did like what I saw here, although since running for civic office last fall, I have discovered that politicians in general are more approachable once you make a personal connection with them.
John Sherry. I expect to see John Sherry nominated to run for MLA in the future. He’s very extroverted and has a natural public-speaking ability. He already has a personal website/blog (he uses WordPress!) that shows his BC Conservative Party stripes. He hasn’t blogged a great deal, and certainly not lately (but then, who am I to criticize?), but what he has said is very opinionated. He also has a Facebook Page that even indicates which riding he’ll likely seek a nomination in, though again, it hasn’t been updated since the civic election. (Come to think of it, neither has my political page. It’s going to need a conversion just like this blog).
The “Apathetic Youth”. At some point, John Sherry mentioned that there were a lot of “apathetic youth” out there. This comment really made me bristle because the fact is that there are a lot of apathetic PEOPLE out there. Apathy is not restricted to young people, and there are young people getting informed and getting involved. Occupy, anyone? Just because young people don’t vote doesn’t mean they’re apathetic. Cynicism plays a huge role in this: people don’t vote because they think that the system is broken, and they want to see reform. STV was rejected by the province in 2005 and 2009. The province has clearly rejected that KIND of electoral reform, but there are lots of other ideas out there. I favour something simpler, like an instant run-off within the existing electoral area structure. Perhaps giving MLAs more freedom is the first step.
About that website. While collecting hyperlinks for this blog, I noticed that John Cummins’ personal website is in DIRE need of updating. The events listed are from summer 2011. That said, Cummins came off appearing younger than I had anticipated. I will admit that I have a fear of aging politicians because of a problem locally. Cummins does look good-to-go for the time being, though.
Fact-Check: Under-Funded Legal System. There were a few items that came up during Cummins’ speech that felt like they required fact-checking. When he mentioned the recent sentence of house arrest for a child sexual predator in Nanaimo, he indicated there were five children were victims in this case, but the article I found mentions only four. This is a minor detail. However, his conclusion that the weak sentence was a result of insufficient funding for the legal system, that the Crown accepted a plea-bargain because they might not be able to get a conviction otherwise due to procedural delays, seemed like a fairly big assumption to make. The man was only arrested in January, 2011. I haven’t been able to find any reports that the plea bargain was linked to an underfunded legal system, but perhaps someone could point me in the right direction.
Fact-Check: Lowest Average Income? I also couldn’t find the Fraser Institute study that shows BC’s average family income is the lowest west of Quebec. What I did find was this Stats Canada report that shows that BC was ahead of Manitoba in 2009. Cummins had specifically claimed that NDP-lead Manitoba was ahead of BC. My Google-Fu is failing me.
Constituents first. Talk of putting the constituency before the party is all good, and after reading about Cummins’ background as an MP, I think that he may actually mean it. This is in stark contrast the Premier Christy Clark, who has said in the past that cabinet members “serve at the premier’s pleasure” (on air on CKNW, prior to her leadership bid). Having to stick to party lines is why I don’t think that I could ever serve as an MP or MLA, and I think that it is a huge reason for a lot of cynicism about politics. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder how it would work. What does it look like? More free votes on non-confidence issues? What happens when an MLA breaks rank over something that is a confidence issue?
Donations from unions or business. One of the party’s pledges is that they would like to eliminate corporate and union donations to political parties. This is all well and fine to say, but I didn’t hear them pledging to refuse donations from these sources. They may not in a position to refuse them given that other parties will be receiving funds from these sources, but that is the kind of integrity and initiative that I would expect them to show if they’re serious about the issue. If they do intend to refuse these kinds of donations, you’d think that they would say so, right?
Fact Check: ICBC. When Cummins mentioned the transfer of surplus funds from ICBC to the provincial government while they were at the same time raising insurance rates, I remembered hearing that because the surplus funds come from optional insurance premiums, and ICBC cannot legally use those surplus funds to reduce basic insurance. Again, if someone could point me to more information on this subject, I would be so very grateful.
Fact Check: Pipeline. From his comments on the Enbridge/Northern Gateway pipeline, it seemed pretty obvious that Cummins’ is in favour of it, though he isn’t trying to say that we should skip the environmental review process. Quite the opposite, actually: he thinks more people should be involved so that it can be done more quickly. I completely agree with his sentiment that it is government’s job to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people they represent, and that it is their job to weigh the risks versus the benefits when it comes to development projects like this. We elect government officials to make these tough decisions, not appointed panels or outside parties. There was also absolutely no mention of what kind of role First Nations should have in the decision making process, which I found distressing. Cummins was fairly articulate on the role he thought that the provincial government should play, so why didn’t he offer information on what kind of influence our First Nations should have?
I got the feeling that top-level party officials aren’t fully informed on this issue. One of the audience members today, I have asked, “Why can’t we just refine the oil here in BC?” I asked myself the same question, and someone finally told me that gasoline has a shelf-life, so it isn’t practical to refine oil here and then ship it to China (although, I don’t know why we can’t refine it here and then sell it in North America; is the demand simply not great enough?). No one from the BCCP came up with that answer, though another member of the public did suggest that it was because our environmental protection laws are too stringent to allow refineries to be built in BC. So we should be shipping it to China where there laws are even more lax?! Pollution does not observe political boundaries, folks.
Related to the pipeline issue, I would have been more interested in hearing him comment on the coal mine proposed for Comox Valley. I think it is easier to support an environmentally risky project that is geographically removed from us than it is to support one that can have a direct impact on us locally.
Sales Tax Reform. People wanted to talk about the HST. How worse off is our province because of the abysmal, deceptive introduction of the HST? If only it had been properly introduced and debated. So many people voted in the referendum out of anger about the process rather than the tax itself. Cummins didn’t have a clear answer on how to deal with the mess, except to take the questions as an opportunity to poke a stick at the BC Liberal Party, criticizing them for they delays and uncertainty created in the reversion process. Frankly, I think that any claim that the BC Liberal Party is intentionally dragging the process out is absurd: no one wants this problem to go away faster than they do.
On Blogging & Live Tweeting. Will I do this again? Oh yes! I think that as I write more, I will gain confidence, and I will eventually figure out what the right amount of information to live-tweet is (I think I tweeted way too much today). Once I have more posts up on the site, too, I can feel more confident in introducing myself as a “blogger” rather than a “wanna-be blogger”. This is the new media, and I like it.Disclaimer: I am not a member or adherent to any provincial or federal political party. I have never financially supported a political party. I am employed at the venue where the meeting was held, though I certainly wasn’t working the day of the meeting. All photos are my own work, and all opinions expressed in this article are my own.