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British Columbia Conservative party leader John Cummins looks on while waiting for by-election results at Conservative candidate John Martin's campaign office in Chilliwack, B.C., on Thursday April 19, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Pushing back against an internal revolt, senior officials of the B.C. Conservative Party are pleading with members to vote down a challenge to the leadership of John Cummins, saying it is too close to the next provincial election to seek change.

Calling themselves the Friends of John Cummins, the group launched the appeal on Monday, signed by 10 of the party's 18 directors. "I support John," said Don Irwin, the spokesman for the group, "and this is not the time to do a leadership review so close to an election." He said Mr. Cummins should be given a chance to prove himself in the coming election.

Mr. Cummins emerged from a party meeting Saturday declaring he expects to survive a leadership vote this month and take his party into the 2013 election. But questions over his leadership have been welcomed by the troubled B.C. Liberal government, which has been struggling to bring conservative-minded voters back to the coalition that it needs if it is to defeat the B.C. New Democratic Party next May.

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B.C. Conservative Party president Reed Elley said Monday there was "no hint of dissension" at the closed-door party meeting on Saturday and that the leadership questions have been "blown all out of proportion" by the media.

The results will be announced at the party's annual general meeting in Langley on Sept. 22, and if a simple majority votes yes, Mr. Cummins will have to step down and the directors will establish a time-line to conduct a leadership contest, a process that would likely take months.

Both the Liberals and New Democrats elected new leaders last year as a result of their own leadership revolts and are now in pre-election mode – the campaign officially begins in seven months.

The B.C. Conservatives under Mr. Cummins are represented in the legislature by John van Dongen, who quit the B.C. Liberal caucus over disagreement with his party leader, Premier Christy Clark. Mr. van Dongen, who also played a role in forcing out Ms. Clark's predecessor, refuses to endorse his current party leader. "It's internal to the party," he said in an interview Monday. "I"m not going to talk about the issues that caused some to question the leadership. It will resolve itself."

He did say, however, that concerns have been raised about the party's poor showing in two recent by-elections. There has also been grumbling about a party stipend paid to Mr. Cummins.

Mr. Elley said the by-election results may have been disappointing but should not have been a surprise. "We're a new party, my goodness we've only been on the block for three years. I think expectations run high, I think we did as well as could be expected."

B.C. Liberal MLA John Les said the turmoil could help his party. "If there is a real implosion, clearly some of those people who have notionally parked their support with the B.C. Conservatives, maybe it will make it easier for them to come back to the B.C. Liberal Party."

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The Conservative banner has had limited success in B.C.'s provincial legislature in recent years. The party – called the Progressive Conservatives at the time – last elected a candidate in 1978.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More


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