Provincial politics certainly changed this week.
With John van Dongen leaving the Liberals for the fledgling BC Conservative Party, all is not well in the halls of power. The halls of opposition, on the other hand, are probably doing handsprings … or even paying for their bus fare.
Van Dongen announced his decision Monday after question period in the legislature. He said he is concerned about the integrity of the government, and cited the decision to pay $6 million in legal fees for former government staffers Dave Basi and Bobby Virk after they pleaded guilty to breach of trust in the sale of BC Rail assets.
Van Dongen also cited the recent collapse of negotiations to sell naming rights to BC Place stadium to Telus Corp.
“There have been other lapses in proper accountability and I expect more to come,” van Dongen told the legislature. “When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure.”
Van Dongen was first elected in 1995, and re-elected as a B.C. Liberal in 1996, 2001, 2005 and 2009. He has held cabinet positions responsible for agriculture and public safety.
B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins issued a statement immediately after the announcement, welcoming Van Dongen to the party.
“I am excited to work with John as we reach out to British Columbians and share our message of fiscal responsibility, ending the catch-and-release justice system, and reducing the influence of special interests in the political process,” Cummins said. “John’s experience in the legislature will be invaluable in holding the government to account.”
Van Dongen will sit as an independent MLA, since four members are needed to be a recognized party in the B.C. legislature. His announcement comes as the B.C. Conservatives run in two by-elections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack Hope, vacated by retired B.C. Liberals MLAs Iain Black and Barry Penner.
Van Dongen’s defection to the Conservatives gives the party more legitimacy, even though it’s not yet an official party in the Legislature. However, it spells trouble for Premier Christy Clark.
The premier has gone out of her way to court federal Conservatives. It’s a move that, despite it’s intentions, may have been doomed from the start. She might have been better off sticking to her more liberal roots.
At any rate, van Dongen’s move shows that the right-of-centre vote is as fractured as it has always been. The challenge of any right-of-centre leader is to coalesce that vote. Gordon Campbell, for all his misgivings, was a master at it. There was no talk of splitting the right-of-centre vote when Campbell was at the helm.
And that’s what is now happening. Splitting the right-of-centre vote is the easiest way for the NDP to gain power.
The two upcoming by-elections will be the litmus test for Clark’s Liberals and the surging Conservatives. Will it be a precursor to next May? Or will Clark toy with the fixed election date legislation and put off next May’s election to a later date, as have many, many governments sensing an impending shellacking at the polls?
We’ll have a better sense of what will happen after the April by-elections.
May 2014 election anyone?
– Prince George Free Press