FOULDS: Van Dongen will be beginning of exodus from B.C. Liberals
Shortly after being elected in a byelection in 1995, dairy farmer-turned-politician John van Dongen was interviewed at his Matsqui Prairie farm in Abbotsford.
The interview took place while van Dongen walked the land with a Vancouver Sun reporter.
The story consisted of a profile of B.C.’s newest MLA, with a focus on van Dongen’s strong pro-life beliefs.
Such a stance may have been enough to create some conversation west of the Port Mann Bridge, but was (and remains) perfectly in line with the deeply conservative beliefs of residents van Dongen represents in the riding of Abbotsford-South, which sits smack on the buckle of the province’s Bible Belt.
So, when the 17-year MLA dropped a bombshell yesterday (Monday, March 26) by standing up in the legislature and announcing he was quitting the B.C. Liberals and joining the B.C. Conservatives, I cannot say I was entirely surprised.
Having covered van Dongen when he was first elected and through two successive election campaigns, the man’s core conservative values are more than evident to even the most-casual observer.
When a solicitor general steps down due to a “scandal” that involves nothing more serious than too many speeding tickets — as van Dongen was forced to do last decade — you know this isn’t a politician on par with Paul Reitsma or Bill Vander Zalm in the controversy league.
Yes, van Dongen did step aside for a time in 2003 following a probe into his passing on information to a fish-farm company that was the subject of an environmental probe; however, he was cleared by a special prosecutor of any wrongdoing and reappointed to cabinet.
When van Dongen rose in the legislature yesterday to announce his decision to switch political teams, he made a point of referencing a lack of integrity within the B.C. Liberal government.
Van Dongen cited the still-stinky issue of his government paying the $6-million legal tab for Dave Basi and Bob Virk, after they had pleaded guilty to amended charges in the fraud case.
Interestingly, van Dongen’s fellow Abbotsford MLA, current Health Minister Mike de Jong (who was elected in a byelection the year before van Dongen entered politics), was attorney general when the deal was reached to have taxpayers foot the legal bill for Basi and Virk.
Van Dongen also mentioned the strange decision by the government to suddenly cancel the $40-million deal with Telus to grant naming rights to B.C. Place Stadium.
“There have been other lapses in proper accountability and I expect more to come,” van Dongen said.
“When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure.”
While van Dongen cited “integrity” five times in his speech, Environment Minister Terry Lake, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, told me van Dongen’s use of the word rang “hollow” to him.
While noting the announcement came as a surprise, Lake argued any issues van Dongen has with the B.C. Liberals should have been brought to the B.C. Liberal team and worked through.
“I knew John was upset with not being in cabinet and maybe he was upset he didn’t have the influence he thought he should have,” Lake said.
“I think some of the comments he made were unfair.”
Unfair they may or may not be, but what cannot be disputed is the B.C. Liberal Party is doing a bang-up job following in the self-destructive footsteps of Social Credit.
It is not a matter of whether the Liberals will collapse during the next election; it is a matter of how bad the fall will be.
While Lake remains committed to the party — “we’ve done some really good things and, yes, we’ve made some mistakes, but all parties do” — a single-digit B.C. Liberal MLA count following the May 16, 2013 election wouldn’t raise either of my eyebrows.
From the HST debacle to the unresolved BC Rail scandal to all sorts of missteps in-between, is there anybody out there who can objectively claim there is any way but down for Christy Clark’s beleaguered party?
Watch for more MLAs to follow van Dongen’s lead in the months to come.