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B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins survived a leadership vote last month, picking up 71-per-cent support. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins survived a leadership vote last month, picking up 71-per-cent support. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

POLITICS

Tory infighting saga takes another turn Add to ...

When he attended a meeting with a few other members of the B.C. Conservative Party brain trust this week, David Wilder hoped to find a way to bridge the gap between Leader John Cummins’s supporters and a vocal group of dissidents.

His plan … well, it didn’t quite work.

Mr. Wilder, president of the Vancouver-Quilchena constituency association, was thrust into the spotlight Thursday when the dissidents issued a statement alleging Mr. Cummins had agreed to resign, then reneged. The group attributed the claim to Mr. Wilder.

But in what has become the latest twist in the party’s infighting saga, Mr. Wilder said the claim was untrue – a point reinforced by both Mr. Cummins and the party’s president.

“It’s very sad, but it’s a complete misrepresentation of what actually transpired [Wednesday],” Mr. Wilder said of the allegations. “It’s mixed in with what I think their hopes were, as opposed to what actually transpired.”

Mr. Cummins won the party leadership in May, 2011, though the race was uncontested. He survived a leadership vote last month, picking up 71-per-cent support, but that result did not end the debate. In fact, it prompted the B.C. Conservatives’ only sitting MLA, John van Dongen, to quit the party.

Mr. Cummins had declared Wednesday to be the “drop dead day” for party members who don’t support his leadership. He was, however, ultimately forced to concede he could not simply fire the dissidents. The dissidents, in turn, gave Mr. Cummins until Friday to resign, all the while admitting they, too, couldn’t technically force him out.

The infighting does not appear to be helping the party at the polls. Earlier this year, the Conservatives were neck-and-neck with the B.C. Liberals (although the New Democratic Party sat well ahead). A poll last month indicated the Conservatives had dropped several points.

Mr. Wilder said he had believed Wednesday’s meeting would prove helpful. Among the items discussed, he said, was a plan for Mr. Cummins to appoint a deputy leader in the near future.

But when he relayed that message to the dissidents Wednesday night, he said, he was castigated for not securing Mr. Cummins’s resignation.

Allison Patton and Ariane Eckart, also constituency presidents, wrote in their statement that Mr. Wilder had told them Mr. Cummins was ready to resign until he learned he would be replaced by former Conservative candidate Rick Peterson. They alleged Mr. Cummins had agreed to be paid $4,000 a month for six months.

When reached by phone Thursday, Mr. Cummins disputed the claim. “There’s absolutely no truth to any of that,” he said, adding that he plans to guide the party through the May provincial election.

Al Siebring, the party’s president, echoed Mr. Cummins. “It absolutely didn’t happen,” he said in an interview.

The party’s board was scheduled to hold a conference call Thursday evening to discuss its next steps. An update is expected Friday.

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