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News

John Cummins Resigns 'With Head Held High'

BC Conservative leader quits after two tumultuous years; ex-Liberal Rick Peterson a possible successor.

By Bob Mackin 19 Jul 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

John Cummins has officially resigned as leader of the BC Conservative Party.

A statement released by the party last night said Cummins was "leaving with his head held high" and quoted the former leader saying he was "proud to have been able to lead a team of credible candidates who re-engaged voters in a way that allowed them to express themselves and cast a ballot for a common-sense alternative."

Under John Cummins, the BC Conservatives quintupled membership to almost 5,000, but the rest of the party's numbers are decidedly less impressive.

The retired federal Reform MP led the party to fourth place in the May 14 election, with only 85,784 votes, or 4.76 per cent of the provincial total, and no seats won.

Cummins was third place in the Langley riding, won handily by incumbent BC Liberal Mary Polak. The party entered the election with a depleted war chest, counting a $131,196 deficit from 2012's financial report that was filed with Elections BC.

After a year of resisting calls for his resignation, the 71-year-old made it official on July 18.

Brief boost from anti-Lib sentiment

The party was riding the wave of anti-Liberal sentiment in the first half of 2012, but questions were raised about Cummins's leadership after candidates finished third place, behind the Liberals, in April 2012 byelections won by the NDP in Chilliwack and the Tri-cities.

The Chilliwack candidate, John Martin, had even called Premier Christy Clark's Liberals corrupt, but defected to the Liberals in a news conference the day the annual Conservative convention began in Langley on Sept. 21, 2012. The next day, former Liberal MLA John van Dongen spectacularly walked out of the convention and announced he was quitting the party. Van Dongen joined the Conservative party when he quit the Liberals to sit as an independent on March 26, giving the party a sudden presence in Victoria.

Only 29 per cent of members wanted a leadership review and Cummins supporters won a majority of the provincial council seats. But fundraising was in shambles. Cummins had a generous federal Member of Parliament pension, but raised the ire of many members for his $4,000 monthly stipend.

The party was showing signs of cockiness in August 2012, when party director Al Siebring responded to the five-page missive from Liberal bagman Peter Brown.

"It is critical that those on the centre-right remain committed, coherent and robust and that those who contribute to fragmentation of the centre right vote come to realize that they are an unintended political ally of the left," wrote Brown to the Conservative provincial council.

Responded Siebring: "I certainly appreciate Mr. Brown's point that, from his perspective, the goal is to keep the NDP out of power. However, if we in the BC Conservatives were to fold our tent tomorrow, it's clear the Liberals would lose the next election in any event."

Successor: Peterson?

An Angus Reid public opinion poll found the NDP's Adrian Dix was the most favoured leader. Overall, 45 per cent of respondents were decided on or leaning towards NDP, 23 per cent supporting the Liberals and 22 per cent for Conservatives. The B.C. Green Party had only eight per cent support.

By the end of July, the party will announce the leadership convention date, but the jockeying to succeed Cummins has already begun. A prominent ex-Liberal is expected to be the first to declare a run.

Investment banker Rick Peterson was poised to take over as interim leader last fall and even acted the part at an Oct. 10 news conference in Vancouver held by party dissidents. Peterson is a director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and Junior Achievement of B.C., who chaired the Conservatives' election campaign in Vancouver. He founded the Burgundy Luncheon Club.

"I will not accept the status quo. John (Cummins) has the mandate to make change. I side with the CA presidents who are looking for change," Peterson said at the news conference, looking straight into the TV cameras.

He warned of the oncoming, NDP "orange wave" led by Adrian Dix, "a tax and spend wolf in sheep's clothing... from the left wing of a left-wing party."  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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