by Neil Corbett and Kevin Mills
Citing a lack of confidence in party leader John Cummins, Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen has stepped down from the Conservative party and will now sit as an independent in the legislature.
He made the announcement right after a vote on whether John Cummins should remain as leader of the BC Conservatives, at the party AGM in Langley on Saturday. Approximately 70 per cent of Conservative members voted against holding a leadership review.
Van Dongen crossed the floor from the B.C. Liberal Party to the Conservatives last spring, citing problems with Premier Chrisy Clark's leadership.
On Saturday evening Van Dongen told The News he wants to be part of a free enterprise party that is an alternative to the NDP, and "the bottom line is, I simply don't believe John Cummins is the right person to lead that coalition – to lead that party."
He said Cummins has had the best opportunity in a decade to capitalize on the failures of the Liberal Party, and has not shown that he will be able to do so. He pointed to the Chilliwack-Hope byelection, where he said the Conservatives were convinced they would win. After their candidate finished third, van Dongen said there was no "energy or drive" from the leadership to analyze the byelection failure.
What's more, he said polls results for the past six months or longer show that British Columbians will reject both Christy Clark and John Cummins.
Van Dongen said Cummins knew of his concerns, and that a significant portion of the party was questioning his leadership, but he did not acknowledge them, and made no effort to address their concerns.
"It was: 'My way or the highway.' So I chose the highway."
As things stand, van Dongen would ran as an independent in the next election, but said he is willing work with anyone who has an interest in "developing a credible free enterprise option."