PORT HARDY—As thick snowflakes swirled outside the windows of the Quarterdeck Pub patio, inside the room Dan Brooks tried to generate a little warmth for his bid for leadership of the B.C. Conservative Party Sunday.
Stopping on the North Island during a province-wide tour of mostly rural communities, Brooks addressed a small but attentive audience of 10 people as he readied for the Conservatives’ April 11-12 leadership selection in Richmond.
“There are three things I need from you,” Brooks said in closing remarks that followed a back-and-forth with participants. “Money, members and momentum. We need to build an organization in every community.”
The proprietor of a tourism and hunting lodge in Vanderhoof, Brooks was spurred to enter politics in part due to government policies that he said cost the business 40 per cent of its potential income one year. And he insists the party must be build from the grassroots as it tries to gain a foothold against the prevailing power of the provincial Liberals and the opposition New Democratic Party.
“Boardroom, snobby, elitist conservatives don’t get elected,” he said. “We have to embrace grassroots democracy.”
Brooks spent part of his presentation highlighting his conservative bona fides — unwavering support of personal property rights, support of the resource sector and fiscal responsibility centred on governmental belt-tightening — and took a couple of obligatory swipes at the ruling Liberals.
But most of the meeting was tailored around his vision for B.C.’s rural communities, and it included the introduction of some ideas not necessarily found in the Conservative mainstream.
Rather than dictate to citizens his plan or his party’s, Brooks said, he plans to go to those citizens and let them set the agenda.
“We want to go into our communities to get their platform ideas, and build our platform from that,” said Brooks, who said the Enbridge pipeline and BC Ferries consultations would have been more honest and better received had they used the same approach rather than determining their course of action before “consulting” with residents.
He also called for elimination of corporate and union campaign donations and caps on individual donations, decentralizing government bureaucracy, instituting “fair” tax reform and making land available for purchase — land like that upon which his lodge sits.
“For years, we’ve been leasing that land from the province at a pittance,” Brooks said. “I’d be glad to pay $500,000 to own it.”
He drew his biggest push-back when he insisted government must settle treaties with First Nations, freeing up contested land for everybody to benefit.
“We can’t keep on with consultation and accommodation, with no end game in sight,” he said. “It’s going to take concessions on both sides; they will get benefits for their communities as well.”
Brooks said rural B.C. is the key to the province’s economic future. Currently, he said, the economy flows from rural communities toward Vancouver. Yet at the same time, rural B.C.’s workforce is bleeding away, with 58,000 people out-migrating in the last 15 years. Just last year, 11,000 of them moved to Alberta alone.
“We must rebuild our rural resource economy for the benefit of all British Columbians,” he said.