With platinum blond hair and pierced ears, environmentalist and software developer Duane Nickull doesn’t look like your typical Conservative.
“What does a Conservative really look like?” he asks. “We come from all walks of life, the same as the NDP.”
As far as his own first impressions of people go, Nickull admits to surprises.
“When I look at some one and think I know how they’re voting, my perceptions aren’t even close. A musician with dreadlocks and hemp fiber clothes. Green Party, right? Nope. Conservative. On the other hand I run into people in suits with briefcases who are Green Party supporters.”
One of the biggest changes he has noticed personally since announcing his candidacy is how he interacts with people in public. Before running for office, like all of us, he’d get impatient in the grocery store lineup.
“It’s amazing the metamorphosis when you become a politician,” says Nickull.
“You’re in the news. You have to be 100% on your best behavior. Everyone recognizes you. Before, it felt like everybody was in my way. Now I say hello. I slow down to walk with people. I want to interact. And it’s not just a superficial thing. It’s genuine. I’m actually seeing these people now. It’s a profound shift.”
Part of what inspired Nickull to run for office is the state of his children’s school in Kitsilano. Bayview Community School was built before World War I, and Nickull says, “It’s not in good shape generally, never mind earthquake ready. In fact, it’s a high risk, which is interesting because the school doubles as a refugee centre in the event of an earthquake. And yet the chances of the school surviving a major earthquake are next to nil.”
One day Nickull heard an ad on the radio. The BC Conservative Party was looking for a candidate to run in his riding. He decided to jump into the race.
Which almost broke his mother’s heart since both his parents—in fact pretty much his whole family—had been traditionally NDP. His great Uncle Olaf Turnbull worked along side Tommy Douglas Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan.
Chances are if Vision Vancouver had a provincial counterpart, Nickull would have chosen to run with them. But of BC’s four main parties, it was the Conservative Party’s 2012 document that best reflected Duane’s values which he describes as “decidedly libertarian” in the sense that he believes government has no business in the personal lives of citizens. He believes in the sort of free enterprise that “enhances and cultivates small businesses, including the mom-and-pop store on the corner” as well as high-tech start-ups. He’s also an environmentalist who fears that most people are focusing too much on short-term issues and losing sight of the much larger long-range issues.
“It’s beyond biking and having a green house in the back yard,” he says. “It’s about re-thinking the public policy about how to plan for a transition from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy. If you have options to use in your arsenal to meet green house gases directives—you need to have money to invest in alternatives—and build infrastructure options”
Which points to what he sees as the most important issue: B.C.’s debt.
“According to polls,” says Nickull, “the economy is the number one issue.”
There’s a disconnect, he explains, between how we see our personal and household finances and how we view the deficit.
“When a household spends beyond its means every month, sooner or later, you have to add another percentage into the pie—interest payments on the debt which eats into what you can spend on other things. At the government level, a larger percentage of money starts to be diverted from social programs to paying the debt. Government cutbacks may directly impact people at the most risk. What we’re paying to service our debt, my daughter’s school could’ve been rebuilt.”
Along with providing older schools with seismic upgrades more quickly, Nickull wants the province to be able to invest in higher education, the alternative energy industry, and high-tech companies that will provide British Columbians with well paying jobs.
Among his friends Nickull has always been known as someone who can bring people together. When he lived in Victoria in the early 80s, Nickull and his fellow rockers discovered the Fraternal Order of Eagles Club, which was dying.
“Culturally, we were losers at every other bar,” he explains. So Nickull and his band members would go over to the FOE.
“We had long hair, but we played pool and the old guys loved us. They needed to raise money, so we started putting on gigs. It was an acoustically beautiful hall with a great stage, great power, and the beer at the bar was a dollar a glass.
“The official capacity was 212, but by the time the fire department arrived, we had 400 people in there, and we had to kick people out.”
And the crowd included an unlikely mix of heavy metal fans, punk rockers, and veterans of both World Wars, full of what Nickull remembers as “riotous enthusiasm.”
It's a response Nickull hopes to inspire in Point Grey voters on Tuesday.