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B.C. Conservatives' sole MLA quits, citing difficulties with leader Cummins

Departing B.C. Conservative MP John Van Dongen speaks to reporters in Langley on Saturday.

Ian Bailey/The Globe and Mail

The lone MLA for the B.C Conservatives has quit the party, saying leader John Cummins was difficult to work with and lacked the ability to be a good premier.

Hours after 71 per cent of voting party members ruled out a leadership review, John van Dongen walked out of the annual general meeting at the Langley Events Centre and said he wouldn't be going back.

Moments later, the Abbotford-South MLA got into a car and left the venue and party he joined this year after departing the B.C Liberals due to concerns about Premier Christy Clark's leadership.

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"I just don't believe that John Cummins has the right stuff to be premier and leader of the party," said Mr van Dongen.

Mr. Van Dongen said he doubted whether Mr. Cummins would care if he stayed or left, giving life to leaked e-mails that suggested the two were at odds.

Moments after Mr. Van Dongen left, Mr. Cummins shrugged off the departure of his sole MLA. "Some days folks are with you and some days they're not," he told reporters. Mr. Cummins said it appeared Mr. Van Dongen had issues with party leadership, whether it was B.C Liberal or B.C Conservative. "I wish it had have worked out differently."

Mr. Cummins told reporters he genuinely tried to get along with Mr van Dongen. "We tried to work with him. It wasn't easy."

But he said he took heart from effectively winning the leadership issue earlier Saturday as members voted against a leadership review.

"This is just a great day," said the former Tory MP. "I'm not going to be distracted by minor issues and I would describe Mr van Dongen's leave-taking as a minor issue."

Mr. Van Dongen said that, under Mr. Cummins, the B.C Conservatives did little more than ride a protest vote, but were not able to hold it.

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One recent poll had the party at 12 per cent, down from about 20 per cent in other polls. "In the face of tremendous falling political fortunes of the B.C Liberal Party and a great thirst in British Columbia for a credible, middle-of-the road, free-enterprise option, John Cummins was not able to move that needle."

The Abbotsford-area MLA said he had no regrets about about leaving the Liberals, where his cabinet portfolios included solicitor-general, because he thought the risk worthwhile.

"I knew at the time I was taking a risk going to the Conservative party and joining John Cummins. I was prepared to take that risk because there was a base we could build from."

Mr van Dongen said he didn't warn Mr. Cummins explicitly about his exit plan, but it shouldn't have been a surprise.

"He has know clearly my level of concern, my level of dissatisfaction and he has, outright, ignored it," he said.

Mr. Van Dongen said he will attend a Liberal convention in Whistler next month but wouldn't return to the party while it was led by Ms. Clark. He said he will sit as an independent.

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Saturday's blow to the party came about 24 hours after John Martin, the Conservative candidate in a Chilliwack-Hope by-election earlier this year, said he was joining the B.C Liberals to run in next year's election due to his disappointment with the Conservatives.

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