With just days left until the Chilliwack-Hope by-election, Conservative candidate John Martin spent Tuesday visiting key areas within the riding.
Voters will go to the polls on April 19 to elect a new MLA, a by-election triggered when Barry Penner resigned early this year. Martin announced his intention to run under the B.C. Conservative banner early on, and has been hitting the streets to spread the message that the party has been re-vamped and is ready to take a place in the legislature.
“The Conservatives haven’t elected an MLA in 34 years,” Martin said. “The party has been dormant for that long. But the time is right. There’s an opportunity there, and we’ve now eclipsed the Liberals.”
A recent Angus Reid poll, representing 800 B.C. residents, confirmed that the BC Liberals are slipping in popularity. And on March 31, Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen crossed the floor from the Liberal party to join the Conservatives.
“We got the crossover from John van Dongen,” Martin said, which was a coup for his party. But it takes four seats to have official party status, meaning van Dongen will sit as an independent for now.
“I’m confident,” Martin said, of both his party and his chances at the polls next Saturday.
“There’s a wind of change in the air.”
While the 2001 provincial election gave the Liberals 77 of the 79 seats, that strong hold is slipping. Today, just 46 MLAs are aligned with the Liberals.
“The Liberals are in free fall,” Martin said. “And we’re increasing (in popularity) all the time. Today they don’t have a safe seat in the province.”
The new Conservatives are promising a leaner budget and a tighter financial ship, Martin said. On Tuesday, he took aim at a few initiatives recently created by the provincial government, including a rebate program that rewards new car buyers for purchasing hybrids.
“Anyone who can afford a hybrid vehicle doesn’t need a rebate cheque,” he said. “Not when we have people who can’t afford to eat.”
The steps the province has made to cutback expenses don’t align with communities’ most urgent needs, he said. Community Living executives were given cash bonuses to evict people “literally separating families,” Martin said, rather than cutting out redundant or unnecessary bureaucratic offices.
“We want to look at everything the government is doing,” Martin said.
“We want to know, is this program providing economic benefit to the province? Is this program making it safer to live? Is this program helping to help those who can’t help themselves?”
“Nobody (in the Upper Fraser Valley) has taken one less car trip because of the carbon tax,” he asserted, saying cars are a necessity to move around in the area.
Martin was joined by party leader John Cummins throughout the day, as they met with constituents.
The Conservatives are the oldest party in the province, starting in 1903 with Premier Sir Richard McBride. The last time they held power was in the 1920s. The party’s resurgence within this by-election has attracted media attention across the country.
While by-elections generally go unnoticed by national media outlets, Cummins has been doing interviews with big dailies over the past few weeks.
“We have the chance to elect an MLA for the first time in years,” Cummins said, “and that creates a lot of drama that wouldn’t normally exist in a by-election.”
And it could mean one less Liberal in the legislature, he underlines.
“There’s a lot on the line.”