It was less than a year ago that longtime Delta MP John Cummins took the reins of the B.C. Conservative Party.
When the veteran federal politician assumed the mantle last May, there wasn't much to the fledgling party: it had single digit support in public opinion polls, no MLAs in Victoria and had fielded candidates in less than one-third of B.C.'s 85 ridings in the previous election.
There was a growing movement of disaffected right wingers, but with Premier Christy Clark, elected Liberal leader just three months earlier, still enjoying a bit of a honeymoon, it didn't appear Cummins and Co. would amount to much more than spoilers, at least in the short-term.
So much for that line of thinking. An Angus Reid poll done a couple of weeks ago found the upstart Conservatives, who now have former Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen in the fold, are in a virtual tie with the governing Liberals at 23 per cent each. Both are a far cry from the 43 per cent support the poll found for the NDP, but it certainly puts the run up to next spring's provincial election in a different perspective.
When Cummins took over the Conservatives there were many free enterprisers upset that all he was going to accomplish was split the right-of-centre vote and hand the keys to the province over to the New Democrats. That's still the most likely scenario for 2013, but this most recent poll suggests the Conservatives aren't just siphoning votes from the Liberals, but have become a viable option for right wing voters.
It's no longer a case of the Conservatives taking just enough of the right-of-centre vote to allow the NDP to slip by the Liberals, but rather a situation where Cummins' party is being viewed as a legitimate option, one that attracts voters not simply out of protest but because it's capable of winning seats.
I suspect van Dongen won't be the lone defection from the Liberal ranks and the Conservatives could well add another MLA thanks to a pair of byelections being contested next week. If that happens and the provincial Tories continue trending the way they have been, there's a distinct possibility they could be the party of choice on the right side of the spectrum come next spring.
That seemed unimaginable just a year ago when the Conservatives didn't have a leader, a MLA or much of a public profile, but in politics a lot can change in a short period of time.
And there's still another year to go.