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Tory Leader John Cummins picks up policy politicos

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins announced his leadership team on Tuesday in preparation for next May’s election.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Guarding against policy errors, the leader of the B.C. Conservatives has recruited supporters Brian Peckford and Randy White, an ex-Newfoundland premier and former Fraser Valley MP, respectively, for quick accessible advice as he campaigns for support.

"They're the first responders, you might say," John Cummins said. "When we have to respond to an issue and do it quickly, you need to be able to reference some people and sound out the position you may be taking. It's important for us to get it right the first time."

To the former Tory MP, the May, 2013, election campaign has already begun, which is why Mr. Peckford and Mr. White are now the issues-management committee who will reach out to other sources in the party as required.

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Their role is distinct from the committee drafting the party's platform.

"They have been through the wars and through fires of campaigns," Mr. Cummins said of the pair, who have long been associated with the party.

The B.C. Conservatives have a seat in the legislature thanks to former B.C. Liberal John van Dongen crossing the floor.

But some are questioning whether Mr. Peckford and Mr. White, both based on Vancouver Island and years out of elected politics, have much to offer in terms of diversity and cutting-edge advice on, say, issues that can help harvest urban voters.

Political scientist Hamish Telford acknowledged the political experience of both men, but noted that governance has changed dramatically since Mr. Peckford was in power.

Prof. Telford, of the University of the Fraser Valley, said Mr. Cummins should be looking for more diversity in age, gender and ethnicity.

"This is something the party, at the moment, is sorely lacking," he said. "If he really wants to make a breakthrough in a province which is really diverse, I think he has to start showing some of that diversity."

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In response, Mr. Cummins noted that the two rapid-response members are being bolstered by insights from others in the party, including Port Moody-Coquitlam by-election candidate Christine Clark on urban issues.

This week, the party also announced Lambert Leung, the Hong Kong-born party treasurer, will be acting campaign manager. The semi-retired businessman has been a member of the party for several years.

"Our tent is fairly wide and we're expanding it," Mr. Cummins said. "We want it to get even bigger and wider. No question about it."

In an interview, Mr. Peckford noted that, as a Vancouver Island resident, he can only offer so much advice on urban affairs. "I wouldn't dare get involved in trying to give advice on mass transit or something like that," he said.

The party faces other challenges. It remains in third place in voter support, according to a pair of polls released last week from Forum Research Inc. and Angus Reid Public Opinion. That's far from the party's professed goals of getting past the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP to form government in the next vote.

"They have no hope, it looks like, of forming the government so all they're doing right now is preventing the Liberals from forming the government," said Forum president Lorne Boizinoff.

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But he noted that it appears voters are now parking their support with various parties, and might reconsider as the election comes closer.

Mario Canseco of Angus Reid said the big challenge for the party remains whether they will be able to find solid candidates for each of B.C.'s 85 ridings to appeal to voters who actually want to vote Conservative. "The biggest challenge is making sure you can run in every riding in the province so that the 19 per cent we're seeing can actually be 19 per cent and not affected by a situation where you don't have candidates in every riding."

Mr. Cummins said the party plans to have candidates in every riding as a result of a nomination process starting within weeks. "We've got some ridings that are ready to go," he said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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