For 4 decades, the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding in northeastern British Columbia has been a conservative stronghold, reliably electing right-leaning candidates.
However, 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 region they hope will be friendly to their respective ideas.
“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 constitutes a portion of Prince George and extends east to Alberta and north to Yukon.
Dyck cited O’Toole’s support for reproductive rights and his reverse course on a promise to repeal Liberal gun laws as two key reasons he can no longer back the party he has voted for in prior years.
Dyck is among the candidates in the riding trying to poach right-leaning voters away from the Conversatives. The other is Dave Jeffers, a businessman who additionally feels the O’Toole Conservatives have lost their way and is pitching the fresh Maverick Party as a better option.
Unlike the People’s Party, which is running candidates across the nation, the Mavericks are taking a cue from the Bloc Québécois and the defunct Reform Party by honing in on western provinces who they feel are not 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 Mavericks and the People’s Party: whereas Dyck helped organize a protest outside the Prince George hospital and has spoken out against COVID-19 vaccinations, Jeffers has consistently encouraged persons to get vaccinated. Both candidates, however, say they are opposed to British Columbia’s vaccine card program.
Likewise, both parties oppose a price on carbon. However, whereas the People’s Party disagrees with decades of research showing climate change is human-caused, the Mavericks in the need to reduce carbon emissions via other means.
And whereas the PPC falsely scapegoats immigrants as a burden on the Canadian economy, the Mavericks view newcomers as a net benefit to the Canadian economy as well as society, whereas pushing for more provincial control over immigration policy.
Jeffers hopes the idea of a centre-right, western-oriented party will be proper to a region that in 1993 turfed its 20-year relationship with the Progressive Conservatives in favor of Reform Party candidate Jay Hill.
Hill went on to represent the riding under both the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives before going home in 2010.
Today, however, Hill is back on the political arena, as the leader of the Maverick Party and campaigning on behalf of Jeffers in his old riding, and throughout Conservative strongholds in Alberta. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has additionally visited the riding multiple times, trying to drum up to support for his party which failed to elect a single candidate in 2019.
Both parties will have a long way to go, though, if they want to unseat incumbent Bob Zimmer. First elected in 2011, the Conservative candidate fielded 70% of the popular vote in the 2019 election, far outshining the second-place Liberals who received only 12%.
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, began making moves 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.”