Shortly after B.C. Conservative Party members voted Saturday to retain John Cummins as their leader, Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen said he was quitting the party to sit as an independent.
For the second time in six months, van Dongen cited a lack of confidence in a party leader's abilities as the reason for his leaving, as well as differences in the party's direction.
"The job of the premier of B.C. is an extremely tough job. [Cummins] doesn't have the skill set or the qualities for that tough job," van Dongen said Monday.
"And frankly, I did not have a good response from [Abbotsford] constituents about John Cummins as the leader," he told the Times.
Van Dongen left the B.C. Liberals in March to join the Conservatives because he could no longer support Premier Christy Clark.
At the time, he cited the unexplained cancellation of a $35-million naming rights agreement with Telus as "another example of failed leadership," and also cited the unanswered questions regarding the writing-off of $6 million in legal fees in the B.C. Rail case.
Van Dongen said he joined the BCCP in "good faith with the stated goal of building a credible, broad-based free enterprise party. I enthusiastically applied myself to that."
However, in the past three months it became clear that he and Cummins had differing views on the direction of the party, he said.
"He has not appealed to middle of the road voters and he does not appear to want to do so," said van Dongen.
A faction in the party, calling itself the Friends of the B.C. Conservatives, was also questioning Cummins' leadership abilities.
The group pushed for a vote to get a leadership review at the general meeting held Saturday. In the end,
71 per cent said no to the review - van Dongen noted Cummins was "very dismissive" about the 30 per cent who had concerns.
When asked if Cummins' religious views were a factor, van Dongen said they were a concern, but to a lesser degree than his leadership skills.
Cummins wasn't appealing to a wide range of supporters when he announced this summer that former Abbotsford Reform and Alliance Party MP Randy White and Brian Peckford would be BCCP advisors, van Dongen said.
"Then later [Cummins] made comments that invoked a religious figure . . . Generally speaking, people want to see a separation of church and state - he didn't respect that with his comments," said van Dongen, who added he has no plans to quit politics.
"I will continue to represent my constituency as honestly and as aggressively as I always have. I very much look forward to putting my record to the constituents in the 2013 election," he said Monday.
He acknowledged that "it doesn't look good for me to change parties twice in six months."
"I've taken political risks for what I believe was for the good of the province, and I'm prepared to defend my record on that."
In the view of the Legislature, van Dongen was already an independent MLA as the BCCP does not have enough elected members to have party status.