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British Columbia John Cummins vows to regroup in face of crushing loss for B.C. Conservatives

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins is pictured earlier this month. Mr. Cummins suffered a crushing defeat in his own riding, but vowed to continue leading the party.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

On the heels of a crushing defeat in both his Langley riding and for his party, John Cummins has vowed to continue his fight as leader of the B.C. Conservative Party.

"We will continue to organize and, by 2017, we will be a much stronger party, we'll be better fit and better financed," Mr. Cummins told supporters Tuesday night in his campaign office after news of B.C. Liberal candidate Mary Polak's landslide victory in the riding.

"I want to assure you all that we're here for the long run. This isn't a one shot affair; B.C. Conservatives are here to stay."

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However, the 71-year-old noted that he fully expects a leadership review at a fall convention for the fledgling party.

The failure to win a single seat is a considerable letdown for the Conservative party, which just 14 months ago was tied with the Liberals at 23-per-cent support in an Angus Reid opinion poll.

At that time, British Columbians were increasingly angry over the harmonized sales tax coming that came into effect two years prior, John van Dongen had quit the Liberals to join the Conservatives, and the Conservatives had as supporters a number of political veterans with valuable campaigning experience.

The tide turned that summer. Party weaknesses began to manifest through internal debates about Mr. Cummins' leadership. By fall, Mr. van Dongen had quit the party, saying Mr. Cummins wasn't able to be a good premier. More recently, four Conservative candidates were sent packing – three for inappropriate comments made online and one in light of an impaired-driving allegation. Four others ran as unaffiliated because they failed to file their paperwork on time. By election day, party support had sunk to 7 per cent.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Cummins played down the Liberal victory: "This was not choosing Christy Clark; this was running away from the NDP."

Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid, believes the Conservatives' failings might have boiled down to a leader with whom voters simply couldn't connect.

"The problem lies in not being able to generate a lot of momentum for your leader," he said. "Ultimately, what you need is someone who can at least have one issue that can allow you to say, 'I am the best person for this.'"

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In comparison, Mr. Canseco pointed to Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, who, at 42 per cent, had an approval rating as high as NDP Leader Adrian Dix.

While Mr. Cummins did moderately well in the area of crime and safety – a Conservative legacy issue – "there was no connection on health care, education [or] the economy," Mr. Canseco said.

"People react well to someone who says, 'This is where I stand,' and we didn't have a lot of that from the Conservatives."

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