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Former B.C. Conservative MLA mulls return to Liberals

09/23/2012 06:23 EDT | Updated 11/23/2012 05:12 EST
The former B.C. Conservative MLA who quit the party yesterday says he plans to attend the B.C. Liberal's fall convention, but not as a supporter of Premier Christy Clark.

John van Dongen quit the Conservative party Saturday, after members voted against a leadership review for their leader John Cummins. He joined the party in March after a bitter departure from the B.C. Liberals over the leadership of Clark.

"I am turning in my B.C. Conservative party membership," van Dongen told reporters shortly after about 70 per cent of party members who cast ballots voted against a review of Cummins' leadership.

The MLA for Abbotsford South cited the party's third-place finishes in two recent byelections as examples of Cummins inability to lead.

"I could not in good conscience pretend that I could support John Cummins for a future premier. I don't believe he has the capacity to do the job."

"I want to emphasize I came to the party in good faith," he told reporters.

"But I cannot carry on with a leader who probably really doesn’t care whether I stay or go, and so I’ve got to do what I believe is right for my constituents and what I believe is right for British Columbians."

The most recent poll by Angus Reid put the Conservatives in third place with 19 per cent voter support, behind the governing Liberals at 25 per cent and the opposition NDP at 46 per cent.

"I just don't think that John Cummins has the right stuff to be leader of a party, and in fact, I believe that public opinion and their assessment supports that view."

Unwelcome return?

It is the second time the outspoken MLA has quit a party this year. In March van Dongen bolted from the governing Liberals to the Conservatives after lambasting Christy Clark's leadership in a bitter resignation speech.

He now says he will sit as an independent in the legislature, but told The Canadian Press he also plans to go to the Liberal party's convention next month in Whistler and left the door open to rejoining the party, although not under Clark's leadership.

"I don't believe that the B.C. Liberal Party at this point has made the decisions it need to make. I continue to pursue issues there in terms of terms of accountability for its past conduct," he said.

"I continue to pledge today to British Columbian that I will work with anybody that I think is prepared to make the kind of tough decisions to build the kind of coalition we need on the centre to right part of the political spectrum."

It is far from clear that the Premier Clark and the rest of the B.C. Liberals will welcome the maverick MLA who stunned the provincial legislature last March when he stood to announce he was quitting the Liberals after representing the party for 17 years as MLA for Abbotsford South.

Since his bitter departure, van Dongen has been extremely critical of the Liberal government's handling of the BC Rail case and recently applied to the B.C. Supreme Court for intervener status in the court action by the province's auditor general for access to legal records in the BC Rail case.

But van Dongen's departure from the Conservatives will still be welcome news to the Liberals, who are hoping to turn around their slide in the polls by winning back voters from the upstart B.C. Conservative party and stop a split of the right wing vote in the upcoming May election.

On Friday the party announced former Conservative candidate John Martin would be seeking the Liberal party's nomination in the Chilliwack riding.

Cummins survives leadership vote

Van Dongen announced his resignation from the B.C. Conservative Party after members voted against a leadership review for leader John Cummins at the party's annual general meeting on Saturday.

The party announced that 71 per cent of about 1,000 members who cast ballots voted against a leadership review, and 29 per cent in favour.

The leadership dispute centred around the leadership style and a $4,000 a month stipend for Cummins, a former Conservative MP federally.

Cummins described the vote as procedural, and said nonetheless he was pleased with the results.

"My name wasn't on the vote. The vote was about process and whether the party thought a leadership review would be essential," he told reporters after a lengthy speech to about 200 party members who gathered at the Langley Events Centre for the annual general meeting.

"We're moving on."

Cummins did acknowledge there is some "upset" among those who were pushing for a review but said he said he didn't know what the issues are.

"I can't make heads nor tails. I'm not going to waste my time trying to. We've got an election to fight in eight months and that's what we're focusing on," he told reporters.

Cummins said no leader can expect to get 100 per cent support, and that he's satisfied with the 71 per cent vote.

"It's been tough, it hasn't been positive. There's no question about it. "

The push to oust Cummins as party leader was led by the party's vice-president Ben Besler.

Prior to the announcement of the vote results, van Dongen had not expressed support for or against Cummins' leadership.

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