The Conservative Party under Erin O’Toole is being attacked as too left-leaning and beholden to Ontario and Quebec by a pair of new parties hoping to gain ground in northeastern British Columbia.
For five decades, the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding in northeastern B.C. has been a conservative stronghold, reliably electing right-leaning candidates. But now the Conservative Party under Erin O’Toole is being attacked as too left-leaning and beholden to Ontario and Quebec by a pair of new parties hoping to gain ground in the area they hope will be friendly to their respective ideologies.
“In almost any way that matters to conservative voters, [the Conservatives] aren’t conservative any more,” said Ryan Dyck, a Fort St. John businessman running for the People’s Party of Canada in the riding, which includes a portion of Prince George and extends east to Alberta and north to Yukon.
Dyck cited O’Toole’s support for reproductive rights as well as his reverse course on a promise to repeal Liberal gun laws as two key reasons he can no longer support the party he’s voted for in years past.
Dyck is one of two candidates in the riding trying to poach right-leaning voters away from the Conservatives. The other is Dave Jeffers, a businessman who also feels the O’Toole Conservatives have lost their way and is pitching the new Maverick Party as a better alternative.
Unlike the People’s Party, which is running candidates across the country, the Mavericks are taking a cue from the Bloc Québécois and the defunct Reform Party by honing in on western provinces who they feel aren’t adequately represented in Ottawa.
“The problem with having a national party is that every party has to placate Ontario and Quebec to win, which means you have to sacrifice the values of the west every time,” Jeffers said. “The Maverick Party will not run a candidate east of Manitoba.”
There are differences between the People’s Party and the Mavericks: while Dyck helped organize a protest outside the Prince George hospital and has spoken out against COVID-19 vaccinations, Jeffers has consistently encouraged people to get vaccinated. Both candidates, however, say they are opposed to B.C.’s vaccine card program.
Likewise, both parties oppose a price on carbon. But while the People’s Party disagrees with decades of research indicating climate change is human-caused, the Mavericks believe in the need to reduce carbon emissions through other means.
And while the PPC falsely scapegoats immigrants as a burden on the Canadian economy, the Mavericks view newcomers as a net benefit to the Canadian economy and society, while pushing for more provincial control over immigration policy.
Jeffers hopes the idea of a centre-right, western-oriented party will appeal to a region that in 1993 turfed its two-decade relationship with the Progressive Conservatives in favour of Reform Party candidate Jay Hill. Hill went on to represent the riding under both the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives before retiring in 2010.
But now Hill is back on the political scene, as the leader of the Maverick Party and campaigning on behalf of Jeffers in his old riding, as well as throughout Conservative strongholds in Alberta. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has also visited the riding several times, trying to drum up support for his party which failed to elect a single candidate in 2019.
Both parties will have a long way to go, however, if they want to unseat incumbent Bob Zimmer. First elected in 2011, the Conservative candidate fielded 70 per cent of the popular vote in the 2019 election, far outshining the second-place Liberals who received just 12 per cent.
When asked to respond to criticisms the Conservatives are no longer representing western conservative values, Zimmer cast back to 2004 when Stephen Harper, leading a united conservative movement, started making headway against the Liberals and eventually became Prime Minister from 2006 to 2015.
“It was only when conservatives were united that we had the chance to form government and make a difference for western Canadians and Canadians across the country.”
Daybreak North10:55Two new parties try to attract voters in B.C.’s Peace River riding
The CBC’s Andrew Kurjata tells us about the election race in the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding where both the Maverick Party and PPC are making a pitch to right-leaning voters. 10:55