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Liberals, Conservatives set sights on 2013

Conservative politicos in B.C. are still sifting the tea leaves of two byelection losses last week in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam.

So far, they seem to be finding nothing but a mess of soggy tea leaves.

All agree something must be done to pull the centre-right vote together or face the election of an NDP government in May next year.

“The story isn’t how much (the NDP) have grown, they really haven’t,” Chilliwack MLA John Les insisted in a post-byelection interview.

“The story is we need to repair our free-enterprise tent,” he said. “The question is, what’s it going to take?”

BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark wants to start talks with BC Conservative Leader John Cummins about a merger, about a name change, about whatever it takes to stop the conservative vote from splitting and allowing the NDP to win.

But to date, Cummins is scoffing at the idea, saying the conservative vote is not splitting, but the BC Liberal vote has “disintegrated” while his party’s support is “solid.”

Former Conservative MP Chuck Strahl, no stranger to conservative in-fighting, told The Progress that the NDP victory in Chilliwack-Hope should send a “serious” message to voters everywhere in B.C.

“If (NDP support) is at 40-some per cent in Chilliwack, they’re knocking on a door near you too,” he said.

The BC Liberals are “throwing the door wide open” to the BC Conservatives, he said, and “that’s still the right message” to send.

But Strahl, who supported the BC Liberal candidate in Chilliwack-Hope, also said he did not believe the BC Conservatives were ready to form government, despite Cummins’ assertions.

“It’s not like the BC Conservatives are on a roll ... they came in third (in Chilliwack-Hope) — there’s a message there,” he said.

Les also said the BC Conservatives should have made a stronger showing in Chilliwack.

“If there ever was a riding where they should have done really well, I would think it would likely be Chilliwack,” he said.

“(BC Liberals) had a chance to pull out a win in Chilliwack-Hope, but the third-party thing got us,” he said.

Conservative voters are clearly sending a message to the BC Liberals, he agreed, and the party needs to start listening “to figure out what that is.”

“For some it’s the HST, for some it’s gravel, for some it’s Gordon Campbell or John Les ... but we need to understand really clearly what the driver was for the angst and try to resolve it,” he said.

Former Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner, whose resignation sparked the byelection, warned that “there needs to be a lot of thought given to the potential consequences of a continued lack of consensus about which party is the best vehicle to bring fiscally responsible government to B.C.”

“The (byelection) results demonstrated very clearly what happens when the centre-right vote is divided ... the consequence is the NDP gets elected.”

He pointed out that the voter turnout in Chilliwack-Hope was down from 2009, possibly because “some decided they didn’t need to vote because ‘No way (an NDP victory) could happen here.”

More voters cast ballots in the 2009 election, the turnout reaching 51.85 per cent compared to the 40.76 per cent in Thursday’s byelection.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

twitter.com/paperboy2

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