Young Tories take aim at BC Liberals

Written By Geoff Russ

The Conservative Party of British Columbia has a chance to permanently alter politics in this province.

Following the party’s annual general meeting (AGM) last weekend, its board of directors is now filled with members of Common Sense BC, a political group started by conservative activist and social media commentator, Aaron Gunn. 

This new board, containing many younger conservative operatives and activists, plans to win over B.C.’s conservative voters, and turn the provincial political scene into a four-party system. 

The BC Liberals could once rely on a combination of the British Columbians who voted both Liberal and Conservative federally, but that coalition is shrinking. It is no secret that behind the BC Liberal mantra of a bipartisan, free enterprise coalition, the party is mostly supported by conservative voters, some fed up with being led by politicians who pretend otherwise. 

Do conservative voters in B.C. need a new home?

Conservative Party of BC has existed in some form since 1900, but hasn’t led a provincial government since 1933. Only 19 candidates were nominated in the 2020 election. 

“To me, and to our group, that is an unacceptable number,” says Angelo Isidorou. “There should be 87 riding associations, there should be 87 candidates, and we should be winning seats.”

Isidorou is one of the Conservative Party of BC’s new directors. A self-described fiscal conservative, social liberal, and free-speech absolutist, Isidorou is a podcaster and writer for the Post Millennial, a right-wing Canadians news site. 

The BC Liberal party’s rejection of Gunn signalled that conservatives had no place in the party. 

Angelo Isidorou

He was a founding member of the People’s Party of Canada in 2018, but publicly left in 2019, condemning its evolution from libertarianism to what he then described as an “utter free for all, hijacked by egomaniacs who aren’t allowed in any other party.” After that, Isidorou worked as a digital strategist on multiple federal Conservative campaigns in Greater Vancouver. 

More recently, Isidorou was head of communications for Aaron Gunn’s bid to become a candidate for the BC Liberal leadership. Like Isidorou, Gunn is an enthusiastic critic of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, political correctness, and fashionably “woke” interpretations of Canadian history. 

The BC Liberals rejected Gunn’s candidacy on the grounds that his views were inconsistent with the party’s commitments to reconciliation and diversity, among others. It may be more likely that Gunn’s goals to make the party an explicitly conservative one frightened Liberal executives who want to keep the bipartisan coalition together. 

Isidorou says the party’s rejection of Gunn signalled that conservatives had no place in the party. 

“Seven hundred thousand people in this province voted federally conservative in the last election, and yet those same people clearly did not vote BC Conservative. So why is that?” he asks.

According to Isidorou, the BC Conservative’s latest AGM was the largest in the party’s history, in terms of the number of people who voted to elect the board. Besides the many Gunn supporters, he says many new members at the AGM were backers of Ellis Ross, the runner-up to now-BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon in the party’s February 2022 leadership race. 

A historic moment?

“There’s clearly something happening here and I think that AGM is going to be an important historical moment,” says Isidorou. 

He says he won the second-highest number of votes in the board election, after fellow director candidate Lindsay Shepherd.

Shepherd is a familiar name for many, having been at the epicentre of controversy in 2017 when she was a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Shepherd gained public attention after she led a class discussion on gender pronouns and played a clip showing Canadian professor Jordan Peterson criticizing the mandatory use of preferred pronouns. 

Although no formal complaint was lodged by any student, the affair led to a reprimand from her supervisor and other faculty members in a meeting Shepherd secretly recorded. Shepherd subsequently gave a copy of the recording to National Post, which ran a story on the incident. What followed was an apology issued to Shepherd by Laurier University, and a storm of lawsuits and debates over free speech and academic freedom. 

Since graduating from Wilfred Laurier, Shepherd chronicled her experiences in a book, and has written for a range of publications from the conservative True North, the Post Millennial, and the Quillette, to the National Post, Maclean’s and others. She has been outspoken on the topics of free speech, identity politics, vaccine passports, and “cancel culture.” 

A B.C. native, Shepherd voted for John Horgan’s NDP in the 2017 provincial election, but more recently, became attracted to the platform of Common Sense BC, which explicitly rejects identity politics and calls for defending Canada’s history.

“I was never inspired enough to get involved in any particular movement until Aaron Gunn formed… Common Sense BC.”

Lindsay Shepherd

“Many people have urged me over the years to enter into the political sphere, but I was never inspired enough to get involved in any particular movement until Aaron Gunn formed the Common Sense BC initiative, which has joined forces with the BC Conservative Party,” Shepherd wrote over email. 

While not explicitly labelling herself conservative, Shepherd outlined her beliefs as protecting freedom of speech and open inquiry, eliminating wasteful spending, and removing radical leftist activists from classrooms, whom Shepherd called pro-censorship. 

“I believe that people deserve to live in communities that are safe, walkable and transit-able, family-oriented, nicely-designed, and affordable,” Shepherd wrote. “Many will scoff and act like that is too much to ask for, but it is not, I want British Columbians to be healthy and thriving, not struggling.” 

Connor Gibson is the party’s newly-elected Vice President. While working at the B.C. legislature in 2019, Gibson made headlines by blowing the whistle on improper expenses of the legislature’s then-sergeant-at-arms, as well as clerk Craig James, the latter of whom was found guilty of fraud last week. 

A fiscal conservative, Gibson is no fan of Premier Horgan’s recent commitment to spend nearly $1 billion dollars to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.

“We saw the almost $1 billion announcement, the replacement of the museum, which at this time, do we really need to be investing in things like that?” asks Gibson.

He believes the BC Liberal coalition of federal Liberals and Tories ended when Andew Wilkinson, who has a record of involvement with the federal Liberals, became the party leader in 2018. During the disastrous 2020 provincial election campaign, Wilkinson promised 5 years of deficit spending, a promise very similar to Justin Trudeau’s promise of 3 years of deficit spending in his successful bid to become Prime Minister of Canada in 2015. 

Gibson met Gunn last summer, leading to the pair co-founding Common Sense BC. 

“We were exploring different opportunities to bring some sort of political change to the province of British Columbia, and we formed our Common Sense BC committee,” says Gibson. “In the end, the committee decided that the best route for a true conservative alternative was the Conservative Party of British Columbia.” 

Tories of British Columbia

“I’m a Tory at the federal level and I’m a Tory at the provincial, so absolutely we’re Tories,” says Isidorou, who is open to possible future affiliation with the federal Conservatives. 

Isidorou says federal Tory MP Brad Vis, and former MP Stockwell Day, made digital appearances at the BC Conservatives’ AGM. Vis could not be reached for comment. His office stated it would be inappropriate for Vis to comment on a provincial party’s internal affairs. 

Both Isidorou and Gunn have interviewed federal Conservative leadership race frontrunner Pierre Poilievre. Gunn was recently photographed in Quebec with Poilievre, with the two embracing like old friends. 

“There evidently is a kinsmanship between the federal conservatives and provincial conservatives.”

Angelo Isidorou

“There evidently is a kinsmanship between the federal conservatives and provincial conservatives,” says Isidorou, while acknowledging their federal counterparts will want to see the provincial party demonstrate structure and professionalism before an affiliation can be discussed. 

Furthermore, many connections still exist between the right-wing of the BC Liberals and the federal Tories. The provincial Conservatives will almost certainly have to show they can unseat BC Liberals to earn the affiliation. 

The Conservative Party of BC has tried reviving itself in recent decades, but failed to win a seat. However, party leader Trevor Bolin won an impressive 34 per cent in the Peace River North riding in the 2020 provincial election. On the same night, the Conservative candidate for Vernon-Monashee won nearly 13 per cent of the vote, costing the BC Liberal incumbent his seat, which was won by the NDP challenger by less than two per cent. 

New BC Liberal leader Falcon just won a byelection in Vancouver-Quilchena, one of the party’s safest seats. The BC Conservative candidate won almost seven per cent of the vote. While nothing close to imperiling Falcon’s victory, it was a percentage that could split the anti-NDP vote in other close ridings across the province in the next election, if the Conservatives succeed in running 87 candidates.

Falcon spent his first week since the byelection promising to cut expensive projects like the proposed $789 million Royal BC Museum, and the planned $3.5 billion Massey Tunnel replacement in Richmond. 

Many of Falcon’s critics allege he remains the ferocious slasher of budgets and taxes of the BC Liberal glory years from 2001 to 2013. Cutting megaprojects aside, Falcon isn’t talking like a conservative in 2022. Likely because he needs to win back provincial ridings in the Lower Mainland represented in Ottawa by the centre-left federal Liberals. However, regaining a seat in Richmond during the next election will be for nothing if they concurrently lose seats in the Interior to the BC Conservatives, or the NDP via vote splitting.

As Isidorou pointed out, over 700,000 British Columbians voted Tory in the 2021 federal election. Aaron Gunn is a popular figure among conservatives in BC. With almost 100,000 followers on Facebook alone, Gunn’s social media following is impressive by provincial standards, even if it’s unclear how many live in B.C.

Either way, the BC Conservatives are due for a leadership review next year, and Isidorou has nothing but praise for current leader Trevor Bolin. However, expect Aaron Gunn to enter the scene before long. As the leader and public face of Common Sense BC, it would make little sense for Gunn to want his people managing the BC Conservatives unless he planned to become leader. 

Political parties have collapsed in BC before 

As mighty as the BC Liberals once were, political parties have collapsed hard, fast, and permanently in this province.

With the exception of a short period from 1972-1975, the right-wing Social Credit Party governed BC from 1952 to 1991. Then in 1991, the ascendant BC Liberals split the anti-NDP vote, costing the Socreds 40 of their 47 seats, and ending the dynasty. 

By the 1996 election, the Socreds effectively disappeared when their conservative former supporters closed ranks with the federal Liberals to compete with the NDP. The Socreds exist now solely in history books and Hansard transcripts. 

It has been three decades since the unravelling of the Socreds began in 1991. Are the BC Liberals and their aging free enterprise coalition next to fall? This time at the hands of a young, outspoken coalition of free-speech activists and fiscal hawks leading the provincial Conservatives? 

Falcon’s challenge in the next election may not just be defeating the NDP, but also convincing his party’s frustrated conservative voters to not vote Conservative.