A showdown Wednesday failed to close the fracture in the BC Conservative party between leader John Cummins and a sizable faction of internal critics publicly calling on him to quit.
Cummins said Wednesday he has no plans to resign and said just 14 party members quit before his deadline of noon that day for detractors to leave or unite behind him.
Dissidents meanwhile set their own deadline of Friday for Cummins to step down, saying he has to go if the party is to recover from its recent slide and pose a viable alternative to the BC Liberals and NDP in next May’s provincial election.
But just as Cummins has been unable to silence the dissenters, it’s not clear how they can force the leader out if he doesn’t leave voluntarily.
Anti-Cummins Conservatives who held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to press the leader to quit claimed support of at least 20 constituency association presidents.
Among them was Allison Patton, president of the Surrey-White Rock BC Conservative constituency association, who co-authored a letter leaked earlier in the week that demanded Cummins resign, citing an ongoing effort by his aides to drum critics out of the party.
Patton told Black Press one option under consideration is for constituency executives around the province to resign one at a time to put increasing public pressure on Cummins to change his leadership style or leave.
Also there was Rick Peterson, a former Conservative candidate, who said the party has been spinning its wheels since the Sept. 22 AGM where Cummins got only 70 per cent support to avoid a leadership review.
He credited Cummins for helping rebuild the party, but said it’s now stalled and new leadership is needed.
Peterson, asked by reporters if he wanted the leadership, wouldn’t answer, saying the question was “irrelevant.”
He and others are also angry about what they consider the shabby treatment of MLA John van Dongen at the AGM, who promptly quit the party.
Cummins likened his internal critics to a pebble in a can that does little but make a lot of noise.
He said more than 380 new members have signed up to the Conservatives since Sept. 3.
The dispute took a new twist Thursday morning when Patton and Burnaby North constituency president Ariane Eckardt claimed Cummins reneged on a tentative deal that was to have seen him resign.
They said the arrangement brokered by Vancouver-Quilchena constituency president David Wilder was to have seen Peterson take over as interim leader and for Cummins to be paid $4,000 per month for six months.
The Patton-Eckardt news release said they believed Cummins was going to resign Wednesday afternoon, particularly after he twice delayed making a statement.
“According to further reports from Mr. Wilder, we discovered Mr. Cummins did not want Mr. Peterson to assume the position but that he wanted one of the women as Deputy Leader until he resigned by Friday,” the news release said.
“We accepted the terms of his resignation via Mr. Wilder. To our surprise by 4 p.m. when our press conferences took place, Mr. Cummins had made no indication of this arrangement.”
Cummins called the Patton-Eckardt statement an “absolute fabrication” that has also incensed Wilder and said his possible resignation was “absolutely not” discussed at the Wednesday meeting.
He said his continued leadership of the party was a precondition for the meeting.
“The only reason we met was that they agreed that I would be leading the party into the next provincial election,” he told Black Press.
Cummins said dissidents opposing him had about a week earlier, through an intermediary, raised the idea of Peterson replacing him, but added he never gave any signal he might step aside for anyone.
The BC Conservative party board meets tonight where it’s expected to consider how to respond to the challenge to Cummins’ leadership.
Cummins wouldn’t say what he is recommending or how he sees the leadership question being resolved.
“I don’t know what other fabrications, what other accusations these folks are going to want to make,” Cummins said.
“As far as I’m concerned we’re working to try to build a party, to prepare for the next election and get our message out to British Columbians.
“We’ve got to get beyond the static and the airwaves right now that’s emananting with this group.”