At noon today, if you're a card-carrying member of the B.C. Conservative Party, you're obligated to either swear undying fealty to leader John Cummins or take the scissors to your card.
Cummins gave thanks to his party members over the Thanksgiving weekend by issuing a "my way or the highway" ultimatum.
"Get onside or quit our party and join another," were his exact words in a news release.
There are two problems with ultimatums.
First, they are the sign of a bully and they -- by their very nature -- beg to be challenged. It's the classic boss threatening staff with "shape up or you're fired!"
Well, in that case, you can't fire me because I just quit is the response of anyone with pride and options.
Conservative Party members have both.
Cummins is not talking this way to employees, he's talking this way to people who pay to be a member of the party and donate money for party operations. Not exactly a respectful way of speaking to the folks who pay the bills and volunteer their time at the riding level.
The second problem with ultimatums is they show weakness. They are the act of last resort for someone unable to rectify a situation any other way. The truly powerful never need to give ultimatums because they have the strength and smarts to use other methods to get what they want.
In particular, political leaders giving ultimatums are not only showing their weakness but their lack of faith in diplomacy and politics itself.
The only time politicians should ever give ultimatums is if they're prepared to send men and women to war.
Proper politics is the art of persuasion and working with individuals you don't like or agree with to reach common goals. Proper politics is also about fighting within the system to correct wrongs.
Internal disagreement and discussion is good for a political party, so long as that discussion doesn't linger too long on the fitness of the leader to lead. In the case of Cummins, that discussion hasn't gone away, even after the party's convention last month.
So what does Cummins do?
Confirm he's unworthy of political party leadership by behaving exactly like how a political leader shouldn't.
A more sophisticated political operative listens to his critics, addresses the easiest concerns to deal with, appeases the larger, more moderate group of critics and marginalizes the folks who will never be happy. Meanwhile, he or she works on keeping the group focussed on the core objective, in this case, convincing the electorate that the Conservatives are a legitimate alternative to the B.C. Liberals and worthy of elected office.
More than 70 per cent of the voting party members rejected a leadership review during the convention at the end of the last month and the result of that vote led to several defections, including John Van Dongen, who originally left the B.C. Liberals and now sits as an Independent in the legislature, and party vice-president Ben Besler, who is now ensconced with the B.C. Liberals.
Strangely, Cummins is interpreting last month's rejection of a leadership review as a personal endorsement of his leadership. They are not one and the same.
There could be many of the 4,000 card-carrying B.C. Conservatives who can't stand Cummins but decided that choosing a new leader so close to next May's election would be even worse for the party.
In poker terms, Cummins is overplaying his hand. While some poker players will immediately fold when better cards land on the table, recognizing the danger to their chips, others will still bet, trying to represent a stronger hand than they actually have and hoping they can bully their opponents into folding.
Sometimes betting in that situation works, more often it doesn't.
But, in the end, politics isn't poker.
And politicians who give ultimatums aren't fit to lead a party, never mind a province.