VICTORIA - The civil war inside British Columbia's Conservative party has escalated to the point where the party's rulers are preparing to issue a take-no-prisoners decree to wipe out a group of determined dissidents who want leader John Cummins to resign.
The Conservative party's board of directors is meeting Thursday night to deal with the rebellious dissidents during a conference call one campaign official said will be brief, but decisive.
The upstart Conservatives, who seven months ago were seriously challenging the governing B.C. Liberals in the public opinion polls, have been feuding publicly over Cummins' leadership since their disappointing third-place finishes in two spring byelections.
Last month, party members gave Cummins' a 70.1 per cent leadership endorsement at the party's annual general meeting, but that didn't stop the infighting, with the defections of high-profile party officials and highly-regarded byelection candidate John Martin to the Liberals.
John van Dongen, who left the B.C. Liberals to join the Conservatives and give the party its only seat in the legislature, announced he couldn't work with Cummins and left the party to sit as an independent.
"We've been fighting phantoms for the last little while and the board of directors tonight is going to take action to hopefully once and for all put an end to this rather delusional defence (by the dissidents)," said the campaign official who asked not to be named.
Cummins could not be immediately reached for comment, but the campaign official said Cummins will stay on as leader.
He denied statements by the dissidents that there was a negotiated agreement that paved the way for Cummins to resign on Wednesday.
"Cummins is committed and dedicated to leading the party into the election on May 14," he said. "Categorically, all these assertions by the so-called dissidents that there are negotiations or that Cummins will leave are totally false."
Dissident spokeswoman Allison Patton, the party's Surrey-White Rock constituency association president, said Thursday Cummins hoodwinked the dissidents when he didn't resign.
She said those opposed to Cummins' leadership were told that a deal had been reached where Cummins would quit, but keep his $4,000 per month salary for six months.
Instead, Cummins did a round a media interviews saying he wouldn't quit and that the party's financial coffers were filling up in time for the spring election.
"I'm pumped, I think that things are going remarkable well," said Cummins Wednesday in an interview with The Canadian Press. He called the dissidents a small minority, who were making noises similar to a few pebbles in a tin can.
Former B.C. Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant, who writes a political blog and serves as the government's legal adviser on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, said the public battle within Conservative party ranks is difficult to watch.
"The B.C. Conservative party is clearly in turmoil and it's painful to watch a political party self-immolate in public," he said. "Clearly, this is a situation that is unfolding day by day and hour by hour, and who knows where we'll be next week."
Plant said the Conservatives are showing they are not able to earn the trust of voters as a free enterprise vote alternative to Premier Christy Clark's Liberals.
Patton said in an interview the B.C. Conservative Party — which was challenging the governing B.C. Liberals in public polling numbers six months ago — is now in destruction mode under Cummins' continued leadership.
She said she went to a press conference Wednesday prepared to discuss Cummins' resignation, but that didn't happen.
"It felt like in a sense we were totally set up," she said.
Patton's email Thursday outlined what she said were the details of Cummins' resignation.
"We were made aware that the terms negotiated with Mr. Cummins were that he resigns by Friday with $4,000 per month for six months and that Mr. Rick Peterson (a former Liberal volunteer) would become interim leader," stated the email. "To our surprise by 4 p.m. when our press conferences took place, Mr. Cummins had made no indication of this arrangement."
Her dissident group has given Cummins until Friday to resign.