As many as 24 BC Conservative constituency association boards were threatening mass resignation to press for reform, before party leader John Cummins this week issued a public get-in-line-or-quit warning to dissidents.
Allison Patton, president and potential candidate of the Surrey-White Rock BC Conservative constituency association, told Peace Arch News the associations were unhappy with the way certain Cummins aides were running the party, but that they weren’t, at first, seeking the leader’s removal.
Patton said the different association executives were considering resigning one after another – either daily or weekly – over a period of several weeks to generate as much pressure as possible to get the aides removed.
Patton said the associations decided to call for Cummins to quit after he told dissidents they had until noon Wednesday to get on side or resign.
In response, Patton, together with Burnaby North BC Conservative constituency association president Ariane Eckardt, sent a letter to Cummins and party president Al Siebring calling on Cummins himself to resign.
The letter – made public Tuesday – complains Cummins and his aides have been trying to force out executives of constituency associations.
“Individual (associations) operating on their own began to get the feeling that you were disinterested in their concerns and, in many cases, that in fact it was your intent to replace them,” the Patton-Eckardt letter said.
“This has been reinforced by your minions by email. This feeling was intensified by middlemen reported to speak on your behalf.
“We never knew if these confusing, contradictory verbal missives were with your blessing or the articulation of confused and uninformed individuals simply making claims to be representing you… because there was not then or now a clear chain of command that we have been asking for.”
Patton told Peace Arch News the situation within the party was best described as “chaotic” with abrupt policy changes made without consulting the rank and file.
There has been a “huge turnover” of Cummins aides, Patton said, all claiming to speak for the leader. When those aides decided the local association was not going in the proper direction, the message was delivered in a high-handed way, she said.
Patton said the rules governing candidate selection kept changing, forcing her to get nominated twice. (Party head office has not yet set a date to select candidates.)
“It went from a three-page application to a 42-page application and a different group approving it,” Patton said.
The letter from Patton and Eckardt said the internal divisions within the party caused the defection of John Martin, the former Conservative candidate in Chilliwack-Hope, to the BC Liberals last month, and the resignation by the party’s only sitting MLA, John van Dongen.
In his high-noon ultimatum to party dissidents, Cummins said his dedication to the BC Conservatives is “unwavering” and he intends to lead the party into next May’s provincial election – “I’m not going anywhere.”
Cummins said the “few but vocal party members” who are critical of his leadership had until noon Wednesday, “to either get on-side or quit our party…”
Just before PAN press deadline, Cummins extended his ultimatum to after 4 p.m., when Patton and Eckardt were expected to release more information about their side of the internal dispute, including a full list of the unhappy constituency associations, at a news conference in Vancouver.
(UPDATE: At 3:50 p.m., Cummin issued this statement – “The BC Conservative Party today announced that the number of resignations of active party members by the Wednesday October 10, 2012 12:00pm deadline was 14. The BC Conservatives also announced that the number of new memberships received and processed from September 3, 2012 was 381.”)
“Party president Al Siebring said the leadership issue was settled last month when a majority endorsed Cummins at the BC Conservative’s annual general meeting.
“I simply will not allow our party to be distracted by a handful of dissidents who will not abide by the majority’s decision, and personally will take all appropriate measures after noon Wednesday to ensure that we are united behind our leader,” Siebring said.
– with files from Jeff Nagel