The BC Conservatives are licking their political chops over the idea of a possible by-election victory in the Chilliwack-Hope riding.
The riding has been a “small-c conservative” strong-hold for many years, BC Conservative vice-president Ben Besler said Monday.
“I think that puts us in a really good position,” he added, to take the riding in a by-election to fill the seat vacated by BC Liberal MLA Barry Penner.
Besler said a nomination meeting is expected early in the new year, and he suggested that a candidate already considering a bid would be “a happy surprise” to party members.
Local New Democratic Party officials were not available Monday to comment on the possible impact of a split in the conservative vote here.
In 2009, Penner won the riding with more than 53 percent of the vote, followed by NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony with 33.4 percent. The BC Conservatives did not run a candidate in the riding.
BC Liberal Diane Janzen, who declared her intention to run for the party’s nomination before Penner’s unexpected announcement last week, said Monday that a by-election win in the riding held by the party since 1996 could not be taken for granted.
But she believed the pro-HST vote in Chilliwack-Hope and in the Chilliwack riding, which bucked the province-wide results, is a sign the BC Liberals have a strong base of support here.
“BC Liberal values are what resonates with the public, particularly in these two ridings,” she said.
But Besler pointed out that a narrow one percent of voters in the two ridings supported the BC Liberal government’s position to keep the HST, not exactly a show of overwhelming support.
Besler said winning the Chilliwack-Hope by-election and another in Port Moody-Coquitlam triggered by the resignation of BC Liberal MLA Iain Black are “at the very front and centre of our priorities.”
No date has been set for either by-election.
Penner told The Progress Monday that his decision to resume his career in law, which followed his earlier announcement that he would not be running for re-election, should not have been a surprise to party officials.
“I’ve been pretty upfront that my plans were to start looking to my future,” he said, and party officials were aware he was considering a position as senior counsel at Davis LLP, a Vancouver law firm, starting in January.
No date has been set for the BC Liberal nomination meeting.