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B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins resigns

B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins during a press conference where he formally announced he wants to lead the BC Conservative Party in Vancouver March 29, 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

John Cummins has stepped down as leader of the B.C. Conservative Party. Mr. Cummins tendered his resignation to the party's board of directors Thursday evening.

The Conservatives, considered a serious threat to the B.C. Liberals during two by-elections last year, imploded before the provincial vote amid infighting and demands for Mr. Cummins's resignation, which Mr. Cummins successfully deflected by winning a confidence vote.

In the May election, the party garnered only 4.8 per cent of the popular vote. Mr. Cummins came a distant third in his own riding.

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In a party news release, Mr. Cummins was praised for taking the party from a fledgling organization with fewer than a thousand members to a membership base of close to 5000 people, acknowledging that "internal dissent last fall led to a drop in support, and the party was unable to recover in time for the recent general election."

Although the party had only two per cent of the popular vote in 2009, the Conservatives received 15 per cent of the vote in the Port Moody by-election and 25 per cent support in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection in 2012.

Afterwards, Premier Christy Clark stepped up her rhetoric in an all-out effort to ensure her coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives hung together.

But after the by-elections, the Conservatives became mired in infighting with several party members calling for Mr. Cummins's resignation.

The party's lone MLA, disaffected former Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen, quit the party to sit as an independent shortly after Mr. Cummins won the confidence vote, ensuring he led the party into the provincial election and to its disappointing results for the party.

"We gave BC voters a true alternative in the recent election," Mr. Cummins said in a statement released Thursday evening. "And when you look at the increase in voter turnout, the fact is that we brought thousands of British Columbians back into the political process; people who had quit voting altogether were re-engaged in democracy. While the ultimate result of the election was not what we were looking for, I'm proud to have been unable to lead a team of credible candidates."

Hamish Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley, said with no seats in the legislature, the Conservatives became "not much more than a fringe party."

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"They have to either fold their tent and realize that the Liberals are the main party of the centre-right, the main conservative party going, or they try and rebuild."

He said rebuilding will be an extraordinarily difficult task.

Telford said it's difficult to run a political party with no seats in the legislature and a leader without name recognition and public stature, which are needed to bring in donations, help campaigns and mobilize and attract supporters.

"I'm not sure that the Conseratives can find another leader of John Cummins' stature to pick up the reigns and carry the party forward."

Telford said he doesn't think Cummins' resignation will have a dramatic effect on B.C. politics.

Party president Dan Denis said in the new release that Mr. Cummins leaves with the full support of the board. "John will be sorely missed," he wrote.

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With a report from Marsha Lederman

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