A longtime Burnaby resident and devoted Conservative is at the heart of an internal squabble that could threaten the future of the B.C. Conservative Party - and she's not about to back down.
Ariane Eckardt, president of the Burnaby North constituency association for the B.C. Conservatives, and her Surrey-Whiterock counterpart, Allison Patton, are two of the figures calling for the party's leader, John Cummins, to resign. Cummins issued an Oct. 7 ultimatum insisting that party dissidents get in line or quit by Wednesday, Oct. 10 at noon, and Eckardt and Patton penned a letter in response criticizing Cummins.
"And while you may argue that we have no right to challenge your legitimacy as head of the party, you have no right to challenge our legitimacy as heads of the (constituency associations) and call us 'dissidents' and then ask us to leave the party. We are the party," the letter reads.
Cummins' noon deadline rolled by, but there were no real changes in the standoff.
"There was nothing earth shattering," Eckardt said. "We had been led to believe Mr. Cummins was going to announce his resignation."
Eckardt, who held a press conference with Patton Wednesday after the noon deadline, is digging her heels in and still calling for Cummins to resign.
"There's no other way. Mr. Cummins is divisive, and the way they want to reconcile us all is kick us out," she said.
Cummins, a former federal MP, was acclaimed as leader of the B.C. Conservative Party in May of 2011.
According to Eckardt, the trouble became apparent at the party's Sept. 22 annual general meeting held in Langley. Eckardt said she witnessed a split with Cummins on one side and John van Dongen on the other. Van Dongen, who had left the B.C. Liberals to join the Conservatives only a few months prior, was their only sitting MLA, but he resigned from the B.C. Conservatives after the meeting, citing "differences of opinion" with Cummins "regarding the direction and operations of the party."
Eckardt's not sure if it was a personality clash or ideological split, but she was upset nonetheless, and said Cummins, who was "clearly not a team player," was not onside with van Dongen, who could have bolstered the party's status at a time when the Liberals are not faring well in public opinion polls.
"We know for a fact there were some MLAs who would have liked to join us, and Mr. Cummins made it quite clear he wasn't interested," Eckardt said. "That's when we realized we were in trouble."
According to Eckardt, many constituency association presidents were also upset following the AGM, so they decided to put their concerns on paper, but someone prematurely leaked their letter to the media, and that's when Cummins replied with the ultimatum to get in line or quit the party.
Eckardt said the party has about 54 constituency associations in B.C., and presidents from more than 21 of those have signed the letter.
Eckardt also said Cummins has surrounded himself with "dinosaurs" as advisors.
"Their attitudes and their advice (are) just not conducive to today's political parties," she said.
In a statement posted on the party website, Cummins pointed out that 70 per cent chose not to review his leadership at the last AGM.
"I am unwavering in my dedication to the B.C. Conservatives, and fully intend to lead my party into the next general election," he said in the statement, describing his detractors as "few but vocal."
But Eckardt, a lifetime party member, has no intention of backing down.
"He is digging in his heels as are we," she said. "We actually see it the other way. With Mr. Cummins, we don't stand a chance in the next election."
No one from the B.C. Conservative Party returned calls from the NOW by press time.
For more on this story, see Jennifer Moreau's blog at www.burnabynow.com.