It remains to be seen if it will help or hurt his political career, but regardless, Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen was front and centre for a number of political bombshells in 2012.
Van Dongen first sparked a political furor this year when he tendered his surprise resignation from the BC Liberal Party in the Legislature on March 26, and immediately announced he was joining the BC Conservative Party.
He said he could no longer in good conscience stay with the party – of which he’d been a member for 17 years – and serve under Premier Christy Clark.
For a short while, van Dongen became the only B.C. Conservative member in the Legislature, although he technically sat as an independent.
“I’ve lost confidence in the leadership in the BC Liberal Party,” van Dongen told the Times moments after his resignation.
Van Dongen cited two issues as the reasons he left the Liberals.
The first matter was the unanswered questions regarding the Liberals’ write-off of $6 million in legal fees for the two men convicted of leaking and benefiting from government secrets in the controversial BC Rail case.
The second was the unexplained cancellation of a $35-million naming rights agreement with Telus for BC Place, an incident he said was “another example of failed leadership” and “lapse in proper accountability.”
With his leap to the Conservatives, van Dongen became the party’s sole elected representative and its most prominent member.
The BC Conservatives were “the best free-enterprise option in the 2013 election . . . one that will make a strong, ethical government,” he said.
Van Dongen then took his concerns about the Liberals’ conduct a step further and secured intervener status on June 1 as part of the auditor general’s inquiry into the controversial BC Rail legal bill.
However, just six months after joining the BCCP, van Dongen stepped out of the party’s annual general meeting in September to say he was quitting the party to sit as an independent. Again, he cited a lack of confidence in a party leader’s abilities as the reason for his leaving, as well as differences with the leader, John Cummins, about 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, adding Cummins didn’t appeal to middle of the road voters.
His decision to abandon the BCCP followed a public inter-party rift of support for Cummins as party leader.
Van Dongen made clear he had no plans to withdraw from politics. Though he conceded his shifting allegiances might be of some concern, he was prepared to defend his record on his past political performance, he said.
“I will continue to represent my constituency as honestly and as aggressively as I always have.”
Just when things quieted down, in November van Dongen released a raft of documents that he says indicate Premier Christy Clark was in conflict of interest around the BC Rail deal. Van Dongen also submitted the information package to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser for investigation.
Van Dongen alleged Clark shared confidential details of the BC Rail bidding process.
“She was leaking like a sieve, in my humble opinion,” van Dongen told the Times. Clark denied any wrongdoing and has pledged full cooperation with the commissioner.
With the May provincial election fast approaching, it will soon be apparent if voters will reward van Dongen in the new year for being at the centre of political news in 2012, or punish him for it.