Mike de Jong was acclaimed as the B.C. Liberal candidate for the Abbotsford West riding by a boisterous supportive crowd of close to 300 people on Wednesday night.
Heading into his sixth term, the provincial Finance Minister shared the stage in Abbotsford with Premier Christy Clark, who was there to sing de Jong’s praises and to rally the troops.
“He’s a passionate, hard-working MLA who knows in his heart he has to stand up for working people in B.C. Abbotsford is blessed to have Mike de Jong in office,” said Clark.
De Jong said it was an easy decision to run for his sixth term.
“I’m not going anywhere. I am damn proud of the record of this government,” he said. “I’m going to defend the record, which is second to none – we have so much to be proud of B.C.”
After the quick show of hands and cheers was done, the nomination meeting morphed in a campaign rally.
Clark called on the diverse audience members to prepare for the Liberals’ “toughest [political] tournament since 1996.”
And just as dedicated hockey parents do, “I want to you to show up, I want you to show up for free enterprise,” she said.
She noted the Liberals “haven’t been perfect, but we sure have got the big things right.”
Clark said the province has $80 billion in trade, a 25 per cent increase in trade with China, the lowest unemployment and personal income taxes in Canada, the lowest increase in government spending since 2004 and the highest building permits since 2007.
“We’re saying our policies are leading Canada, leading in North America and we want to take them into the future,” de Jong added.
He listed the projects the B.C. government, with local and federal governments, had been able to manifest in the riding – from the $355 million Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre to airport and overpass upgrades to obtaining university status for the local post-secondary facility.
“These are your successes,” he told the partisan gathering. “You gave us the licence to push these projects across the finish line, and you have changed Abbotsford.”
“These things don’t happen by accident, they happen because free enterprise creates a thriving economy,” he continued, adding that despite some detractors, “the free enterprise movement is alive and well.”
In a press scrum later, de Jong defended the party’s claim as the champions of free enterprise, saying there is a “significant difference” between his party and the New Democrats.
“None of this is theoretical anymore. We know on the basis of two misguided experiments, that when the NDP comes to power, the energy sector and the mining sector disappears in British Columbia,” he said. “We know that when the NDP comes in, your taxes are going to go up. We know on the basis of what (New Democrat leader] Mr. Dix has already said, that he’s going to tax your credit union. That’s not a free enterprise solution.”
When asked about the Liberals’ poor showing in the polls, de Jong said the numbers are tightening up as more people “discern those differences” between the two parties.
“If they’re looking for perfection, you’re going to come up wanting,” he said candidly, “but when they compare the free enterprise option to the NDP alternative, I’ve got a pretty good feeling about how this is going to turn out.”
When asked about pipeline expansion in B.C., even if it was endorsed by the federal Conservative government and supported by its newly signed Canada-China Foreign Investment Prosperity and Protection Act, which would allow China to sue the province if it blocked access, Clark was adamant such projects had to meet B.C.’s standards.
“We have five rock solid principles guiding us,” said Clark. These require projects to pass the environmental review, offer the “world’s best spill response in the ocean” and on land, ensure first nations participate in the project, and ensure that B.C. gets “its fair share of fiscal economic benefits.”
The expectations are set out clearly for the private sector so “there’s no mystery about it,” she said. “It’s when you don’t set out the rules, there may be some basis for legal action.”
“It applies to an Enbridge pipeline, it applies to a Kinder Morgan pipeline, it applies to any other new heavy oil pipeline that will come through our province – if they can’t meet those five conditions there will be no pipeline. It’s not going to happen. That’s the bottom line,” she said.
Among the supporters were B.C. Liberal candidate hopefuls Tony Luck, Laurie Throness and John Martin. Luck hopes to take the Liberal nomination for Abbotsford-Mission, Thorness will run for the job in the Chilliwack-Hope riding, while Martin, who defected from the B.C. Conservatives last month, hopes to be the Liberal candidate in Chilliwack. Their nominations should be coming in the next few weeks.
Martin, who left the BCCP after losing confidence with its leader, John Cummins, said he was made to feel welcome in the Liberal camp.
A criminal justice professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, Martin admits the B.C. Liberals have become “fractured” due to some trust issues with the public – he cited HST and BC Rail – but its organizers are working to give people a reason to come back, he said.
The B.C. Liberal Party convention, for example, held in Whistler Oct. 25-27, will be open to people who are not party members on Friday, he said.
“The B.C. Liberal tent is big enough to accommodate small-C conservatives like me,” said Martin.