VANCOUVER - The B.C. Conservatives have mailed out letters of expulsion or censure to 15 of its members, created a "unity committee" and now hope to move beyond the internal strife that has plagued the organization, says the party's president.

Following several meetings over the weekend, the party's board announced Monday it had mailed out the letters because of ongoing calls from dissidents for a review of John Cummins' leadership in contravention of a party bylaw.

Last week, several constituency association presidents, angered by Cummins' earlier ultimatum that they get in line with his leadership or leave the party, held their own press conference, saying contributions to the party would dry up if Cummins didn't quit.

Party president Al Siebring said the disciplinary letters would arrive Tuesday or Wednesday, but he wouldn't say how many letters were for expulsion and how many were for censure.

"That's between us and our members. That's an internal matter," he said, adding none of the 15 members have been notified in advance of the correspondences.

John Crocock, a party member who was among the first to go public with complaints about Cummins' leadership, said nobody knows what's going on because the decision to send out the letters was made during a closed meeting.

An ironic development considering many in the party want more transparency, he said.

Old and new politics are dividing the party, he said, noting one side is complaining about loyalty and the fact dissidents are not towing the party line, but the dissidents are complaining about a lack of transparency.

"So when you look at the demands, then you see what's going on," he said.

The public challenge to Cummins' leadership followed two disappointing spring byelections, but last month party members gave him a 70.1 per cent leadership endorsement at the annual general meeting.

The party then lost its only sitting MLA John van Dongen, who left the B.C. Liberals to join the Conservatives but then left the Tories to sit as an independent.

Just seven months ago, the party was seriously challenging the governing B.C. Liberals in the public opinion polls.

"We have to carry on," said Siebring. "What are we going to do, fold up our tent? We have to find a way to move forward. This unity committee is certainly a good way to do that, it engages the members."

According to a party news release, Daniel Brooks, a party director, will chair the unity committee, which will include Christine Clarke, vice-president, and Dennis Belliveau, a director and experienced mediator.

The board also announced it had passed a motion, expressing its "full confidence and support" in Cummins.

"You know everybody says it's hurt us. We saw the poll late last week. We're down a little, but we're not down anywhere near as much as people would expect," said Siebring,

"It's not hurting us in our core areas. I maintain that a lot of this is a media echo chamber in the Lower Mainland. When you go to the Okanagan, they're selling memberships like crazy up there."

However, Crocock disagrees, and said he doesn't think the party will be ready for the next provincial election, even though it may make some gains in the Interior and northern Vancouver.

"There's no way that they're going to be a force to be reckoned with. That's for sure," he said.

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