Once again hoping to quell dissent within party ranks, the BC Conservatives have sent discipline letters to 15 people who called for the ouster of John Cummins – though at least one of the leader's most vocal critics has vowed to fight any potential punishment.
The party announced Monday that its board voted to send disciplinary letters ranging from censure to terminations of membership. The party would not disclose to whom the letters were sent, or even how many people received reprimands and how many terminations.
The discipline comes less than a month after Mr. Cummins – fresh off a leadership vote in which he earned 71-per-cent support – claimed to have put the leadership question to rest. When the dissent continued, he issued an ultimatum – get on side, or quit. The ultimatum passed Wednesday without a resolution. That appeared to embolden the dissidents who, in turn, set a Friday deadline for Mr. Cummins to resign.
Mr. Cummins, a long-time federal MP who took over the provincial party last year, has said he plans to guide the party through the May election.
Al Siebring, the party's president, said Monday that discipline is being meted out to the 15 individuals because their ongoing and public calls for a leadership review violated the party's bylaws. He said affected members would receive notifications in the mail this week.
But Allison Patton, constituency association president for Surrey-White Rock and one of the dissidents, said she won't go quietly.
Ms. Patton, who spoke at the news conference last week in which the dissidents urged Mr. Cummins to resign, said a legal challenge is one possibility.
She said she would wait to read the letter before she decides on her next move. Ms. Patton said though she has not yet received the document, she certainly expects to.
Mr. Cummins, in a written statement, said the party recognizes "there are things which can be done to improve our internal processes."
To that end, the board passed a motion to create a new "unity committee."
Mr. Cummins said the committee will look for ways to engage with members, constituency association presidents and boards, and to improve communications within the party.
The board passed a second motion to express its confidence in Mr. Cummins to lead the party through the May election.
The public infighting appears to have hurt the BC Conservatives in the polls. Earlier this year, the party was running neck-and-neck with the BC Liberals for second place, behind the NDP. However, a poll released by Angus Reid Public Opinion last week said the Conservatives have dropped three points in the last month. The poll said 56 per cent of respondents disapprove of Mr. Cummins's performance as party leader, an 11-point swing since September.