After a week of controversy, Liberals in Abbotsford South acclaimed criminology guru Darryl Plecas as their candidate on Nov. 22, and now look forward to a more positive climate among their ranks.
Teamwork, togetherness and renewal were themes that were brought up repeatedly through the night, by local candidates, acting riding association president Ron Gladiuk and Finance Minister Mike de Jong.
"I think what I can bring is a strong and determined voice. I will not quit until it's done, and I will do that in the most respectful of ways. I think you can make that happen . . . by saying, we're going to that by consensus and we're going to do it together," Plecas told those who came out to support him.
The anticipated celebration of Plecas' acclamation was marred on Tuesday when six members of the Abbotsford South riding association quit, saying the Liberal campaign team's appointment of Plecas had been done without their input and was "undemocratic." The position was left open after MLA John van Dongen left the Liberals in March.
The party maintains Abbotsford city Coun. Moe Gill, the man the board had been backing, signed papers for the Abbotsford-Mission riding, but Gill says he was bullied into it.
In an e-mail circulated Friday, provincial campaign manager Mike McDonald said the resigned board had "stacked the riding AGM in May with the sole purpose of electing an executive that supported one candidate. They did not put the interests of the community or the party first . . . Their candidate ultimately decided to contest another riding, then he changed his mind."
Plecas also told the Times he thought he was the only candidate in the riding.
With that issue hanging in the air Thursday evening, local Liberals said was time to heal and move forward in a unified manner.
"This is Abbotsford South, this is positive," said Gladiuk to the audience of about 140, some with signs reading 'we support Darryl.'
Gladiuk made the effort to point out several longtime party stalwarts in the audience "who unselfishly give of their time and effort for and on behalf of the community. This is how we do things, we do it right."
Chilliwack-area candidates John Martin and Laurie Throness warmed up the crowd, with Martin offering contrition for running as the B.C. Conservative against Throness, and undermining his chances in an April 19 by-election in Chilliwack-Hope. New Democrat Gwen Mahoney won the contest. Martin left the Conservatives and will run for the Liberals in Chilliwack.
Martin said Throness would make an "excellent MLA, and I am well aware of the role I played in denying that. I'm committed . . . to undoing a big mistake that I played a part in."
Throness boosted the crowd by listing B.C.'s fiscal success, from its triple-A credit rating and plans to balance its budget as other governments run up deficits, to its successes in child poverty, affordable housing and health care.
Plecas, too, acknowledged the nomination controversy when he thanked supporters for attending, "especially since the last few days have been somewhat difficult."
Like Throness, the University of the Fraser Valley criminologist praised the Liberals' track record and zeroed in on criminal justice, his area of expertise.
"Just as we have a very proud record of economics to look at, it's also true in the area of public safety. Nobody has crushed crime to the degree we have here in British Columbia - that's not an opinion, that is an absolute fact," said Plecas.
Eight years ago, the Liberals established the Crime Reduction Secretariat, which led to the "single best track record of any government in the western world in terms of reducing crime . . . a spectacular success," he said.
Results are particularly apparent in Abbotsford, "where the crime reduction rate is literally twice the national average, and more than twice national average in the United States," he added.
His comments emphasized a "can do" attitude to bringing about renewal and improvements to both government and the party.
"Yes, there's things that are wrong in the Liberal Party . . . but let's fix those things and make the whole damn thing that much better."
Speaking last, de Jong said politics is a "tough business," and leaders have to make tough decisions for the good of the party.
"On a night of celebration, we're also aware there are members of the family who could be hurting . . . It's our job to lift those people up, to bring them back in. What links us as free enterprisers is more important than the obstacles . . . that temporarily drive us apart. The goal we share is bigger than any one of us individuals."
De Jong later said later that as finance minister, he wasn't aware of what was happening with Gill in the riding, but he said he'd be privately reaching out to Gill "in my own quiet way."