B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins.

Cummins shrugs off Martin defection

The BC Conservative Party is alive and well in Chilliwack, says party leader John Cummins.

The BC Conservative Party is alive and well in Chilliwack, despite the defection of its only MLA and its star candidate in the recent byelection here, says party leader John Cummins.

Cummins also survived an attack on his leadership Saturday that had its roots here in Chilliwack as party vice-president Ben Besler had urged members to vote for a review in the weeks leading up to the party’s annual general meeting in Langley.

Besler was seeking the presidency of the party, while other dissidents were eyeing executive positions on a new board of directors. Besler was also a former election candidate for the BC Conservatives and an organizer of the anti-HST vote in Chilliwack.

But Cummins told The Progress on Monday that “the people who were pushing for the review didn’t fare well” and neither Besler nor the other members of the dissident faction were elected to board positions.

Over 70 per cent of the membership voted against holding a leadership review, indicating a solid base of support for Cummins’ leadership.

Besler did not return a call from The Progress for comment.

Before the Saturday vote, John Martin, the Conservative candidate in the April byelection in Chilliwack announced he was leaving the party to join the BC Liberals.

After the Saturday vote, MLA John van Dongen, who had left the BC Liberals and joined the Conservative Party during the byelection campaign, announced he was also leaving the party to sit as an independent in the B.C. Legislature.

Cummins said he was “disappointed on a personal level” with Martin’s decision — “I quite liked the man,” he said — but befuddled on a political level. “I don’t quite understand it.”

He said Martin, a criminology professor at UFV, was “adamant during the byelection that the Liberals weren’t doing the job when it came to the criminal justice system.”

“Half a billion in spending cutbacks on crime was a real concern for him,” Cummins said.

Both small-c conservative parties are trying to woo voters with a get-tough-on-crime stance.

Cummins said a number of possible replacements for Martin have come forward, and he’s “confident” the party will run a candidate here in the May 14, 2013 provincial election.

“We’re quite confident we’ll be able to do quite well,” he said.

But Dennis Adamson, who’s running for the NDP nomination in the Chilliwack riding, says he’s not so sure given the hypocrisy both parties have shown in light of the defections.

“I’m totally amazed all the time at what these parties will do,” he said. “There is no integrity.”

He said Martin “defected to the BC Liberals … after he said all those things about them in the byelection … how could a person condemn a party, and then join it?”

“These guys are so afraid of the NDP, they’re trying to do anything they can to stop the NDP – that’s what it’s all about,” Adamson said.

Kirsten Hauge, president of the NDP constituency association in Chilliwack, declined to comment publicly on the Tories’ Troubles.

“We’ve been in tough (political) situations too,” she said. “I’m reluctant to comment on other peoples’ troubles.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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