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Cummins just the man B.C. Tories have been waiting for

During his almost 18 years in Ottawa, long-time Conservative MP John Cummins established a reputation as a straight-shooting maverick. It likely prevented him from getting into cabinet, but he didn't seem to care.

In his riding of Delta-Richmond East, Mr. Cummins was always popular. You don't represent a constituency for almost two decades without making some kind of connection with voters. Now he's poised to see if his low-key, plain-spoken style translates on the provincial political stage.

Mr. Cummins is scheduled to announce on Tuesday that he is seeking the leadership of the B.C. Conservative Party. B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark would be foolish to disregard this development's potentially perilous implications for her party's chances in the next election.

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Mr. Cummins is the credible leadership candidate many B.C. Conservatives have been looking for after years of being led into oblivion by various flakes and lightweights with dubious to no game plans for reversing the party's moribund fortunes.

The 69-year-old former teacher and commercial fisherman, who was often an outspoken critic of the policies of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, had been under pressure for more than a year to make the leap. He told his suitors that he would consider it under certain conditions: They needed to build up the party organizationally around the province, and find the money to finance his leadership campaign.

Today, the party is established in 50 constituencies, and a group has pulled together the money to finance Mr. Cummins's leadership bid, although increasingly it appears he will have no competition.

The party reportedly has 2,000 members, a modest number to be sure, but about what Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance party had early on (It's now believed to have almost 12,000). One doesn't have to look much farther than Alberta, then, for the success model Mr. Cummins envisions for his own party.

Several people tried to talk him out of his decision, saying it would damage the Liberals and open the door for the B.C. New Democratic Party. The only time the free enterprise coalition party in B.C. loses an election to the NDP is when its unity fractures. But Mr. Cummins believes the Liberals are destined to lose the next election in any event, and their defeat could allow the next free enterprise coalition to form under the Conservative brand.

Mr. Cummins isn't going to try competing with the federal election for attention over the next four weeks. He'll spend a while clearing out his federal offices in Richmond and Ottawa, and then start to get ready for his party's May 28 leadership vote. After that, he'll hit the road with his Straight Talk Express and start selling the new Conservative Party message everywhere he can.

His pitch, tinged as it will be with his trademark blue-collar sensibilities, should resonate strongly in the Interior and rural parts of the province. The Kootenays, in particular, seems to be an area where the B.C. Conservatives might find a sympathetic ear. It's conceivable that someone like ousted B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Bennett could run for the Conservatives in his Kootenay riding if he doesn't make amends with his old party before the next election.

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Mr. Cummins would like the Conservatives to run a full slate of candidates in the next provincial election. That seems an ambitious goal. He should focus more on the quality of the candidate he attracts, not the quantity.

One loose cannon mumbling extremist views is all it would take to destroy the hard work Mr. Cummins invests in rebuilding his party's somewhat tattered and downtrodden image.

His entry into the provincial political scene could have Ms. Clark thinking even harder now about going to the polls as soon as possible, so as not to give her erstwhile opponent more time to organize and promote his unique and alluring political style. He may not have the glitz and sizzle of Ms. Clark, but he doesn't have to.

Plenty of people would be willing to listen to a political leader in B.C. who has legitimate Conservative bona fides.

The B.C. political scene hasn't been this fascinating and unpredictable in some time.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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