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Parties get ready for federal election

Conservatives chose Weston in anticipation of confidence vote

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After less than a year of governing with a minority, the Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois will today (May 19) attempt to topple the Liberal government in Ottawa with a vote on the budget. If the budget vote fails, that will be taken as a vote of non-confidence and Parliament will immediately be dissolved. A federal election will be called for six weeks time.

The likelihood of that happening was reduced after Conservative MP Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberal Party on Tuesday morning, but in the end it will be three independent MPs who will decide the fate of this government. With Stronach, the Liberal-NDP coalition has 151 seats, while the Conservatives and Bloc have 152 seats. A tie vote would be broken by the Speaker, who would likely side with the government.

The rancour that has seized Parliament for the last few weeks, sparked by revelations from the Gomery inquiry into the Liberal Party’s involvement in the sponsorship scandal of the 1990s, have prompted Canada’s national parties to get organized at the local level in a short period of time.

This past weekend the Conservative Party of Canada’s riding association for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky held a series of four meetings to elect a new candidate for the region, with voting in Powell River, Sechelt, Squamish and West Vancouver. John Reynolds, the current Conservative Party MP and a former opposition leader, is stepping down whenever Parliament is dissolved.

John Weston, a West Vancouver lawyer who campaigned for former cabinet minister John Fraser in past years, won the Conservative nomination. Weston defeated three other candidates: Doug Lang, a former police officer; children’s care advocate Gean Lewis, and former Whistler councillor Ted Milner.

According to riding association president Alan Hackett, the turnout was strong with more than 500 of 1,500 members voting at the four events using preferential ballot. Weston won after the first count.

Milner was a late entry, joining the race less than two weeks prior to the vote. He said his goal wasn’t to win, but to try and change the course of the debate.

"I was pretty unhappy with what’s going on in Ottawa, and a lot of people encouraged me to give it a try," said Milner. "I got into the race late, so I knew it was really a long shot to achieve any success, but I thought what I could do is to push it along.

"The other candidates were talking about what they believed on the big national issues, and I tried to focus on what the federal government could do for the individuals and communities within our riding. I think a lot of people heard me on that, so I achieved what I set out to do."

Weston, the winner of the nomination, was considered a frontrunner from the beginning. In the field of politics, Weston was a secretary for the Vancouver South riding under former MP John Fraser, as well as a legal advisor to John Reynolds. Professionally, Weston is a graduate of Harvard and Osgood law schools, and speaks three languages – English, French and Mandarin Chinese, after spending 10 years in business and law in Taiwan.

He also exemplifies the outdoor spirit of the region as an avid runner and cyclist, and is a father of three.

"It’s been wonderful," said Weston of his successful campaign. "I’m getting cascades of phone calls and e-mails, and I think it bodes well for the… riding. There’s a sense of communities coming together."

Weston is ready to start campaigning immediately if an election is called, and has been busy getting to know party members and local governments throughout the riding, and getting to know the issues.

He is in favour of reducing federal gas taxes, giving provinces and communities more room to leverage their own gas taxes without hurting consumers.

He is also in favour of creating tax incentives and funding programs for all levels of amateur sports. The Olympics are also key to this riding.

"From what I’ve seen there are tremendous opportunities for the Olympics to promote our riding on the international stage as a place where people can do business and invest," said Weston.

Other issues of concern are housing, education and crime, which he says he will have some power to address in the federal government, as well as by supporting provincial and municipal governments.

He also believes the decision of Stronach to defect to the Liberal Party will hurt all parties.

"I was disgusted by what happened this morning – not just for Belinda, but for all Canadians. It only brings down the level of politics in the eyes of Canadians as far as the ability to follow through on commitments," Weston said. "Having been in a room with hundreds of Conservative supporters on Sunday, I could only imagine how betrayed those people would feel if I did something as treacherous as Belinda Stronach.

"Paul Martin did himself and the Liberals a huge disservice by currying favour with an opposition leader… promising her whatever he did to encourage her… and it affects all Canadians. It’s all about public service and trust, and she damaged that."