Conservative meeting will be highly-charged

Saturday's BC Conservative Party AGM in Langley will be a battle between leader's supporters and detractors.

BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins

Langley Events Centre will host the BC Conservative Party annual general meeting on Saturday — and it’s likely to be a highly-charged event.

The party, which laboured in the political wilderness for years, gained a lot of traction after former Delta MP John Cummins became leader in May, 2011, shooting up to as high as 20 per cent in opinion polls. But success seems to have bred discontent among some party members, who want to challenge Cummins’ leadership.

They are running as a slate for party executive positions. The slate is headed by Ben Besler of Chilliwack, who ran for the party in Chilliwack in the 2009 provincial election, when it was led by Wilf Hanni.

A rival slate which is loyal to the leader, headed by director-at-large Al Siebring, who has been vocal in his support of Cummins in recent weeks, was announced Tuesday night. Siebring announced some time ago that he was running for party president, but the slate, known as The A Team, came together  in response to the anti-Cummins slate, known as the Friends of the BC Conservative Party.

Langley resident Linda Bellamy is part of the A Team slate, seeking the secretary position.

Cummins is also a Langley resident. Members of the party are voting on whether his leadership should be reviewed, with ballots sent to all BC Conservative members. Results will be announced on Saturday at the AGM.

The party is hosting a meet and greet with Cummins on Friday night at the banquet room in the Events Centre from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and people interested in finding out more about it are welcome to drop by. Cummins will be on hand to talk to people, and there will also be a speech by Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman, a former Langley Township councillor. Entertainment is also planned.

Those who drop by may also wish to take in a Cops for Cancer charity hockey game, taking place in the arena at LEC. It begins at 7 p.m., with admission by donation. An RCMP team is taking on a team from Canada Border Services Agency.

On Saturday morning, the AGM begins with closed-door sessions. Cummins will  speak at 12:30 p.m., and in the afternoon there will be several break-out sessions on preparing for the upcoming provincial election.

Balloting on whether there should be a leadership review will conclude Saturday morning, with the results announced in the afternoon. The results of the hard-fought battles for executive positions will also be announced Saturday afternoon.

Siebring, a North Cowichan councillor, announced his slate in response to the Besler group. The  “A Team” includes supporters who billed themselves as “Friends of John Cummins” in a series of news releases responding to calls for a leadership review.

Siebring said Wednesday that Cummins’ leadership is being questioned by “a few noisy individuals” who have damaged the party’s credibility at a critical time in preparation for the election next May. Siebring said only four of 26 board members are backing a leadership review, and he expects it to be voted down easily at Saturday’s meeting in Langley.

Cummins told Kamloops radio station CKNL Wednesday he isn’t too concerned about detractors within the party, calling it “the normal course of events” in any organization.

“The job after the weekend is to make sure that everybody’s onside and move forward,” Cummins said.

Party members are voting on whether his leadership should be reviewed, with ballots mailed to all BC Conservative members. Party treasurer Lambert Leung of Richmond, who is standing for re-election with the “A Team” slate, said some members mailed in their ballots and others are bringing them to Saturday’s meeting, where the results will be tabulated and announced.

Cummins is scheduled to address the membership at 12:30, and results of the vote for executive positions will be announced Saturday afternoon.

With Besler running for party president, the dissident slate includes John Crocock, a former regional director for the Burnaby-Coquitlam region, Betty Newton of New Westminster, currently the deputy financial agent, Burnaby North constituency president Ariane Eckardt, Surrey regional director James Ram, Vancouver-Kingsway constituency president Milan Kljajic and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows constituency president Robbie Armstrong.

The pro-Cummins slate is Siebring for president, Jim Sutherland of Kelowna for vice-president, Leung for treasurer, Linda Bellamy of Langley for secretary, and director-at-large candidates Dan Denis of Vancouver, Daniel Brooks of Vanderhoof, Doug Machan of Kelowna and Dennis Belliveau of Parksville-Qualicum.

— with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press