No one can accuse B.C. Liberal MLA and leadership candidate Mike DeJong of treating the current political climate in this province like a political football—but a hockey puck, well, maybe.
DeJong, the province’s former finance minister and long-time Abbotsford West MLA, used a hockey analogy Wednesday morning in Kelowna when describing what his party needs in a new leader.
He told the small group who turned out to hear him speak the governing NDP will “go into the corners with their sticks up,” so the Liberals need a captain who is not afraid to enter the fray and fight.
And, with his political track record, he said he’s the guy to do just that.
“We are a free-enterprise team,” said DeJong. “We need to work together to win, as we have in the past. We delivered the goods for 16 years.”
On paper, DeJong is by far the most politically experienced candidate in the eight-person field running to succeed Christy Clark as Liberal leader. Prior to his nearly five-year stint as finance minister that ended in July when the Liberals were defeated in a vote of non-confidence by the NDP and the B.C Greens, he held a number of high-profile cabinet posts in the governments of both Clark and her predecessor, former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.
During his 16 years years in government, DeJong also held the health, attorney general, labour and citizen services, forests, public safety and aboriginal relations and reconciliation posts in cabinet.
And he said his track record and experience is what differentiates him from the other seven in the race.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” he said.
Despite the fact the Liberals lost 11 seats last May’s election, and saw their majority reduced to just one seat, DeJong still believes the balanced budgets and strong fiscal management delivered by the Liberals over the years helped make life better for British Columbians.
And he predicted his party will return to power one day.
“But we will have to work to earn it,” he said, adding: “We‘ll be called upon again to repair the damage,” taking a swipe at the current fledgling NDP government.
But while just like one of his strongest opponents in the race, former Surrey mayor and former Conservative MP Dianne Watts, DeJong said a strong, new vision is needed by the Liberals going forward, he did not talk about the Throne Speech presented by his party earlier this year was it tried to cling to power. That speech contained several flip-flops of long-held positions and reversals of election platform promises. It did not stave off the vote of non-confidence.
On Tuesday night, Watts was critical of the Throne Speech.
But DeJong did agree with both Watts and former advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson, who is also running for the leadership and who also appeared in Kelowna Wednesday, that the NDP’s planned referendum on proportional representation as a way of electing future B.C. governments will hurt rural B.C. He added having taxpayers subsidize political parties instead of letting them fundraise on their own is also wrong in his opinion. That’s also a position held by both Watts and Wilkinson.
“It is your choice whether you want to support a political party or not,” said DeJong.
He called the proportional representation referendum the NDP is planning for next fall, a vote that will basically be decided by metro Vancouver and a “fundamental betrayal of the rest of the province.”
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