Appeared in the North Shore News – December 9, 2011
THE most terrifying man in British Columbia slipped in and out of West Vancouver last week. Where was our vaunted national security network when we really needed it?
Aw, just funnin’. Gentleman John Cummins is no threat – except to the B.C. Liberal government and its true believers, their ranks thinning. For them every day is Halloween and the Conservative leader is the bogeyman in the shadows of provincial politics, who they contradictorily have to try to ignore and are forced to spread his name whenever they scoff that nobody believes in ghosts anyway – the last lonesome Conservative elected being Scott Wallace in the 1975 election when some Tories and Liberals fled to a Social Credit-branded coalition that defeated Dave Barrett’s New Democratic Party government.
The flesh-and-blood Cummins materialized at the Red Lion Bar and Grill (which has done so much to energize Dundarave) for an informal get-to-know-you meeting, billed as A Pint and Politics. I think Cummins was drinking cranberry juice but it may have been Liberal blood . . . stop, stop, enough Halloween stuff.
Cummins is a study. Has no glowing charisma; Pierre Trudeau’s is safe in memory. No sweeping oratorical gifts; Churchill sleeps undisturbed. No hunky good looks; Gregor Robertson confidently set his jaw on those.
But now turning to Cummins’ negatives. . . .
Little dry humour there. The point being that British Columbians, if they’re like his former federal constituents in Delta-Richmond East, who sent him to Ottawa six times over 18 years, could discover that a non-charismatic, indifferent-speaking, averagelooking politician has a lot more to offer than the bangles in the standard politician’s bag of tricks.
Cummins might just appeal to them as the extraordinary ordinary man. Apparently that’s been his secret weapon in those six elections. One unabashed supporter says Cummins has a natural gift for driving into the “remote” (from the paved-over corner of the province) and meeting “ordinary” (another uncomfortable word) British Columbians as one of them, not a politician carrying an invisible platform from which he can talk down to the unwashed. Angus Reid numbers do show the party is a couple of percentage points higher in the interior and north.
He’s a University of Western Ontario (B.A.) and UBC (M.A.) grad, worked in the pulp and paper industry in Ontario and the Alberta oil fields, taught in the Northwest Territories and B.C., and been a bona-fide commercial fisherman. He is not, repeat not, a lawyer, and not, repeat not, a corporate-type businessman.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that if a stranger to these parts walked into the Red Lion last week, tipped to the fact that a party leader was on the premises, she’d look around, puzzled, and ask: “Where’s this leader?”
The leader was not in the centre of a ring of acolytes, mesmerized by his slick, professionally generated political banalities. That isn’t Cummins’ style-less style. He’d be indistinguishably talking one-on-one with an invitee, or perhaps a walk-up patron in the crowded room. Natural. (Let us, however, in the interests of objectivity and the possibility that I misjudge, note Oscar Wilde’s remark, “Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.”)
Voters may go berserk with delight at discovering Gentleman John. Then again they may feel far more comfortable with familiar, conventional politicians, the Liberal Christy Clark who inherited a deep hole and hasn’t yet dug herself out of it, or the New Democrat Adrian Dix, who reportedly works at politics eight days a week and has won combat ribbons from the astute Vaughn Palmer for his deft handling of a government-in-waiting role without meanness or frightening the horses with his suspected closet far-leftism and union consensual copulation. Having been Glen Clark’s lefthand man isn’t mentioned.
At this writing the latest Angus Reid numbers show that the Conservatives under Cummins have attracted 18 per cent of B.C. voters polled (NDP 40 per cent, Liberals 31 per cent, Greens eight per cent, others three per cent if you’ve forgotten). Obviously a long way from capturing the premier’s office, but if an election were held tomorrow a kingmaker/queenmaker role in determining who does. Old Ottawa colleagues, notably Stockwell Day, denounce Cummins as a centre-right vote-splitter installing a red carpet for Dix into the premier’s office. Everyone likes a mystery, especially the media, and it’s part of Cummins’ complex persona that he voted for the NDP in 2009, while holding personal convictions about abortion, same-sex marriage and assisted suicide that are total anathema to NDP and liberal ideologues.
As Cummins explained in a shouted, brief interview at the noisy Red Lion, the Conservatives envision being two elections away from power. Next one: A minority NDP government. Next after that: Bingo, the Conservatives win.
He’s moving prudently, declining to run in the Port Moody-Coquitlam byelection, thinks he’s better occupied travelling around and growing the party than being the Conservative’s top and only banana in the legislature zoo. He’s right.
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Interesting? COPE/Vision allies (like Vancouver School Teachers Association, Vancouver Fire Fighters Local 18) spent their members’ dollars on Vancouver election advertisements in 24 Hours, apparently the left’s paper of choice.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011