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Former Conservative MLA John Van Dongen said Monday that his criticism of party leader John Cummins was never part of a bid to replace him. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail/Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Former Conservative MLA John Van Dongen said Monday that his criticism of party leader John Cummins was never part of a bid to replace him.

(Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail/Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Van Dongen plays down leadership bid in split from Conservatives Add to ...

John van Dongen, the sole B.C. Conservative MLA, who has left the party over differences with its leadership, says he never had any interest in trying to lead the party itself.

The former B.C. Liberal solicitor-general insisted in an interview on Monday that his blunt criticism of party leader John Cummins behind closed doors and before the media was never part of a bid to replace him.

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“I hadn’t aspired to leadership,” said the Abbotsford-South MLA, who walked out of the party’s annual general meeting on Saturday and said he would sit as an independent.

“I was there to work to work with John,” he said. “I wanted to work with John to build a new free-enterprise, middle-of-the-road coalition. I found it extremely difficult.”

Mr. van Dongen’s departure is a blow to the Conservatives because it denies them a foothold in the legislature.

First elected in 1995, Mr. van Dongen said he was mindful of suggestions that he encouraged and orchestrated questions about Mr. Cummins’ leadership revealed in leaked e-mails of party meetings. “It’s not true,” he said.

Mr. van Dongen said he never saw himself as having all the skills to be a leader. “You have to be comfortable in the media. I just feel there are probably more qualified people overall to take a leadership position,” he said.

Mr. Cummins, who got a 71 per cent endorsement in a leadership vote, has said he could have done little to keep Mr. van Dongen in the party. Mr. van Dongen said some of Mr. Cummins’ critics were looking to recruit someone to challenge Mr. Cummins, but ran into a key hurdle. “Unless there is an opening, there is no credible candidate who is going to put their name forward,” he said.

“I acknowledge it’s a relatively limited number of people who would have the qualifications to take on such an assignment, such a role, but they’re out there. People are talking to them and have been talking to them for a significant period of time. There’s not going to be a peep from any one of them until it’s clear there’s a possibility there.”

He declined to be more specific.

Mr. van Dongen conceded he faces a challenging political path. He is aiming for re-election, but the centre-right vote in his riding is likely to be split among himself, the B.C. Liberal candidate and the B.C. Conservative candidate.

“I know that making two moves in six months doesn’t look good on me,” he said, but added that he will lay out his record over 15 years to appeal for support.

“My ability to get re-elected will be more difficult as an independent MLA.”

Mr. van Dongen has ruled out returning to the B.C. Liberals while Premier Christy Clark is leader, but plans to attend the party’s coming convention in Whistler next month .

He declined to say if he has heard from senior Liberals since he walked out of the Conservatives.

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