A B.C. MLA who was once applauded for quitting the Liberals in favour of the Conservatives is now being called into question for quitting that party too.
John van Dongen, the Conservatives' only member with a seat in the legislature, quit the party on Saturday, citing his inability to continue with party leader John Cummins at the helm.
"I am turning in my B.C. Conservative party membership," van Dongen told reporters outside the Langley Events Centre, where 200-plus Conservatives were gathered for the party's annual general meeting.
"I could not in good conscience pretend that I could support John Cummins for a future premier. I don't believe he has the capacity to do the job."
Van Dongen will sit as an Independent MLA and said he doesn't regret jumping ship to the provincial Conservatives last March.
"I was prepared to take that risk," he said.
But he also seems to be risking his reputation as a credible politician.
Kamloops-South Thompson constituency vice-president Peter Sharp said he was "surprised" van Dongen chose to walk out so late in the session after voting on numerous items to tell reporters he was quitting the party.
"If he couldn't get along with the Liberals and he couldn't get along with the Conservatives, maybe there was a problem with his perception of leadership," said Sharp. "Maybe he expected to come in and suddenly take over the party - and I'm guessing now - maybe he thought he could do a better job."
Sharp said he doesn't believe van Dongen's move is a blow to the party since any "bloodletting" should occur well before the election.
Van Dongen said his political career is not over, and he is open to working with anyone "who wants to work in what I believe is the right direction for British Columbians."
To that end, the former Liberal cabinet minister said he will likely be at that party's convention this fall.
"Lots of things can happen in eight months," he told reporters.
Terry Lake, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, said although he's always gotten along with van Dongen, it's telling that Cummins is the third leader van Dongen has "turned on."
"When you're part of a team you have to accept that not every decision goes your way," said Lake. "And John had always difficulty with that, whether it was Premier Campbell, Premier Clark and now John Cummins."
Lake said it might also be indicative of a problem within the party itself. Reports have touched on other issues that appear to be dividing the party.
Weeks of leaked accusations, acrimony and innuendo came to a less-than-definitive end for the party as roughly one-third of eligible members cast ballots on a leadership review during the AGM.
Of those, 71 per cent voted against a review for Cummins, while 29 per cent were in favour.
The dispute centred around leadership style and a $4,000-a-month stipend for Cummins, a retired federal Conservative MP.
Cummins described the vote as a procedural issue.
"My name wasn't on the vote. The vote was about process and whether the party thought a leadership review would be essential," he told reporters after a lengthy speech to members. "We're moving on."
Cummins did acknowledge there is some "upset" among those who were pushing for a review but said he didn't know what the issues were.
"I can't make heads nor tails. I'm not going to waste my time trying to. We've got an election to fight in eight months and that's what we're focusing on," he told reporters.
In an unfortunate turn of luck, the Conservative party banner behind him buckled and fell to the floor as he spoke.
Ben Besler, the party vice-president and member of a Friends of B.C. Conservative Party slate that opposed Cummins, said his concerns remain but he accepts the decision of the membership.
"I'm a Conservative and he's the leader of the Conservative party of British Columbia," Besler said in an emotional interview right after the vote results were announced.
THE DAILY NEWS/THE CANADIAN PRESS