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Police would have power to lay charges if he were premier, Conservative leader Cummins says

BC Conservative leader John Cummins in Vancouver March 29, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins, decrying the absence of charges after the Stanley Cup riots, says he would give the right to lay charges to police in the province if he becomes premier.

The former Tory MP, in a speech to the party's annual general meeting in Nanaimo on Saturday, blamed the current routines for a "catch and release" justice system in B.C.

Police now recommend charges to Crown prosecutors who decide whether to actually lay them, and take the matter to court.

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"It's not hard to see the consequences of this policy," Mr. Cummins said, in remarks prepared for delivery Saturday at the first AGM since he was acclaimed as party leader in May.

"Prosecutors, who we all know are overworked, choose only the cases with the best chance of convictions, cases that fit into their already heavily booked schedules. Lesser charges are often dropped, and many criminals go free."

Mr. Cummins said he would combine charge rights for police with more prosecutors, but did not say how he would pay for the additional prosecutors.

In making the proposal, Mr. Cummins noted that there have been no criminal charges laid in the four months since the riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins.

"Justice delayed is justice denied to the many victims of the riot and to the embarrassed citizens of B.C. and with each passing day, the message goes out that you can break the law in British Columbia and get away with it," he said.

Mr. Cummins also criticized Premier Christy Clark's jobs agenda,

released this week, as a "stale, half-baked loaf of already existing

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programs and an expansion of government in an effort to create jobs"

though Ms. Clark has suggested she is averse to big spending for job

creation.

"This hodgepodge effort is already falling on deaf ears by those in

business. The media have seen through this charade as have the people

of British Columbia," he said.

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Hours before Mr. Cummins' speech, the B.C. Liberals responded in a

statement to his criticism, earlier this week, of the jobs plan.

"Protecting and creating jobs shouldn't be a partisan issue,"

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak, who has been speaking for

the government in recent attacks on Mr. Cummins.

Ms. Polak noted that his former federal constituents in Delta-Richmond

East will benefit from a $50-million investment to fund a connection

between Deltaport terminals and Canada's rail network, creating 600 to

800 new jobs.

Ms. Polak suggested Mr. Cummins had, this week, judged the plan ahead

of its release.

"John seems like the kind of guy who walks out halfway through the

movie and then writes a bad review," Ms Polak said in her statement.

The Conservatives have no seats in the legislature, but are attempting to gain political traction with a message that they offer a free-enterprise alternative to the Liberals and NDP, who are merging on some issues.

"The Liberals and the NDP are growing closer and closer together while common sense, centre right conservative-minded people are not being represented," he said.

The Liberals have said the Conservatives could split the centre-right vote in B.C., allowing the NDP to win the next election in May, 2013. Mr. Cummins has rejected that view.

The meeting comes as the Conservatives have drawn the ire of the B.C. Liberals, who have targeted Mr. Cummins with attack ads.

The Liberals have noted that the provincial Conservatives could s "We are getting under the Liberals' skin," he said. "The Liberals are desperate and see us a threat and take us seriously. Of course, they are right. We are a threat."

Mr. Cummins says the party has constituency associations in about 60 of the province's 85 ridings, and noted former fellow MPs Jim Hart and Paul Forseth are planning to run for the Conservatives.

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