Peter Brown’s words carry a lot of weight. After all, he’s one of the most powerful businessmen in the province. In political circles, he’s been a generous donor to former and present ruling parties, namely the old B.C. Social Credit and the current B.C. Liberals.
So when Brown tells board members of the B.C. Conservative Party that they’re playing a dangerous game by dividing the vote on the right, one might expect them to toe the line. But his words appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Party policy chair Al Siebring was one of those who received a letter dated July 5. In it, Brown, the founder and chair of Canaccord Financial Inc., calls for unity among the “free enterprise forces”. This comes as the left-wing B.C. NDP carries a significant lead in opinion polls over the ruling B.C. Liberal Party.
“Mr. Brown lays out a good case for fiscal conservatism and a lot of the kinds of positions that we as a party have been advocating for,” Siebring told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “But where he loses me is with the line where he says it’s critical that those who contribute to the fragmentation of centre-right come to realize that they are the unintended ally of the left. Left unsaid there—the intent is clear, of course—is the notion that we somehow are responsible for the fragmentation. From my perspective, to the degree that centre-right is being fragmented in B.C., it’s not the B.C. Conservative Party that’s responsible for the problem.”
According to Siebring, a two-term North Cowichan councillor, the B.C. Liberals would lose the May 2013 election even if his party were to fold its tent. “I think the die is cast for next May,” he said.
Siebring added that talks about uniting the right may have to wait until after next year’s election.
In his letter, Brown lays out what needs to be done. “It should be obvious that it is very important to keep the free enterprise forces in B.C. aligned under one political umbrella going into the next election as political fragmentation, in my view, will serve to aggravate the negative business community and investor reaction to a possible NDP win in 2013,” he wrote.
Brown did not respond to a Straight request for interview.
Philip Hochstein, president of the nonunionized Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., has given up hoping for unity between the right-wing parties.
“I think it’s clear that we’re going to go on to the next election with two right-of-centre parties,” Hochstein told the Straight by phone. “The B.C. Liberals and B.C. Conservatives are committed to running separately, despite people’s wishes to bring them together. It’s just not going to happen.”
According to B.C. Liberal spokesperson Sam Oliphant, a committee within the party may recommend a new name for the organization when members gather for a convention in the fall. Results of an online survey conducted by Angus Reid between July 3 and 5 show that Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal Party has sunk to 23 percent in voter support, losing half of the 46-percent level it garnered in the 2009 election.
New Democrats gained three points, rising from 42 percent in the last election to 45 percent in the new poll. The John Cummins–led B.C. Conservatives made great strides from a mere two percent in May 2009 to 22 percent. The Angus Reid survey of 801 respondents has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.