Conservative Party

CONSERVATIVE PARTY was one of BC's two dominant political parties, along with the LIBERALS, until the 1950s. It faded as a political force after the 1952 provincial election, eclipsed by the new SOCIAL CREDIT PARTY, and had become moribund by the late 1990s.

The party emerged formally at a 1902 convention in REVELSTOKE; led by Richard McBRIDE, it came to power in an election the following year. Previously MLAs had not formally identified themselves with parties, instead uniting in shifting legislative factions bound by personal relationships and self-interest rather than principles or policies. This arrangement was highly unstable; MLAs accepted party discipline in an attempt to bring order to government. McBride, a very successful politician, remained PREMIER to 1915, when his attorney general William BOWSER broke with him over railway policy and threatened to divide the party. McBride resigned and Bowser took over as party leader and premier. Bowser led the Conservatives to disastrous defeat in 1916 and remained leader through two more losing elections before retiring in 1926.

Simon Fraser TOLMIE replaced Bowser and led the Tories back to power with a landslide victory in the 1928 election, but he was the province's last Conservative premier in the 20th century. His inadequate response to economic crisis in the Depression squandered Conservative electoral support and badly fractured the party. In 1933 the Conservatives elected only 3 MLAs belonging to splinter groups; 2 were Non-Partisan Independents and one was a Unionist. Dr F.P. Patterson took over a reunited party in 1936 and doubled the popular vote in the next year's election. He was succeeded as leader in 1938 by Royal MAITLAND, a Vancouver lawyer. Following the 1941 election, in which the Conservatives ran a respectable third, Maitland pressed for a COALITION GOVERNMENT of the 3 major parties. The CCF declined, but the Tories and Liberals formed a coalition. Maitland was attorney general in Premier John Hart's cabinet. After he died in 1946, Herbert ANSCOMB, another senior cabinet minister, succeeded him. Anscomb twice fought off challenges to his leadership from W.A.C. BENNETT; these fractured the party. When the coalition broke up, Anscomb led the Conservatives to a disastrous showing in the 1952 election. Reduced to 4 seats in the legislature, the party was never again a serious contender for power, superseded as a right-wing party by the Social Credit Party. Deane Finlayson, a Nanaimo insurance agent, replaced Anscomb in 1953. During the decade of his leadership, the party lostall of its seats in the assembly. In 1963 E. Davie FULTON left federal politics to take over the provincial party leadership but failed to win even his own seat and resigned in 1965. The party had an acting leader for several years and fielded only 3 candidates in the 1966 election.

Subsequent leaders were John DeWolfe, Derril Warren, Scott Wallace, Vic Stevens, Brian Westwood and Peter POLLEN, none of whom re-established the party as a credible alternative to Social Credit. Even when the Socreds faded in the 1990s, their support moved to a resurgent Liberal Party and an emergent REFORM PARTY rather than back to the Conservatives. However the party remained in existence and under leader Wilf Hanni managed to win 2% of the popular vote, though no seats, in the 2009 provincial election. In 2011 former Conservative MP John Cummins took over leadership of the provincial party and led a brief resurgence in the polls. Dissension with Cummins' leadership style, however, caused public support to drain away and the party again fell well back of its main rivals.