Senior B.C. Liberals, in the wake of the latest defection from the provincial Conservative party, have proclaimed that the tide is turning in their favour.
For more than a year, the embattled governing party has been consumed with the loss of support to its fledgling competitor for right-of-centre votes. B.C. Conservatives Leader John Cummins survived a leadership challenge on Saturday – with a 71-per-cent endorsement from party members – but two high-profile departures deflated his victory.
Mr. Cummins, having secured his job, used his party meeting on Saturday to lay out his vision to transform B.C.'s legislature. But his proposal garnered scant attention when his party's only MLA, John van Dongen, walked out on him, saying the party cannot win under Mr. Cummins's leadership.
Mr. van Dongen's departure, on the heels of B.C. Conservative candidate John Martin's defection to the Liberals, buoyed the party, although it remains far behind the B.C. New Democrats in popular support.
"It's another sign the tide is turning," said Bill Bennett, a senior cabinet minister who is helping craft the Liberal election platform. It has been a frustratingly slow development for a party that believed last year's change in leadership would help secure a fourth consecutive term in office.
"We had hoped we would see signs of the tide turning months ago with the number of jobs created, we thought that would start to make a difference in the minds of voters, and it didn't seem to," Mr. Bennett said in an interview. But the turbulence for Mr. Cummins's Conservatives has dampened expectations that his party might usurp the B.C. Liberals as the vehicle for centre-right votes in British Columbia.
Mr. Cummins, in an interview on Sunday, maintained his difficulties are now behind him. "If the tide was turning for anybody, it's for the B.C. Conservatives," he said. He said the results of the mail-in leadership review have vindicated him, and he can now turn his attention to building the party before the May, 2013, election.
Political scientist Hamish Telford painted a less rosy picture. "The loser here is the B.C. Conservatives," he said Sunday. At one point earlier this year, the polls had the Conservatives and the Liberals neck-in-neck in the polls. Since Mr. Cummins's party failed to make a much-needed breakthrough in a Fraser Valley by-election in the spring, however, the Liberals have been pulling ahead.
"The tide is turning. NDP will lose in 2013," asserted Rich Coleman, Premier Christy Clark's senior cabinet minister, on Twitter after Mr. van Dongen's departure. But Mr. Telford cautioned that the tide is still far out for the government Liberals.
"The Liberals still have a lot of ground to make up," said Mr. Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
"Even with less than 20-per-cent support, the Conservatives can still be spoilers and allow the NDP to win more seats than they would have."
While the Liberals expressed delight over Mr. van Dongen's splashy exit from the Conservatives, it's unlikely he will be welcomed back to the fold any time soon. Mr. van Dongen quit the B.C. Liberals to join Mr. Cummins's team because he rejected Ms. Clark's leadership – and he repeated his concerns on Sunday.
"The Liberals might be encouraged but I would still say to them, 'You have got a problem with your leader and everybody knows it,'" Mr. van Dongen said in an interview.
"It would be folly to carry on into the next election with Christy Clark as leader."