Special to the News
For the NDP-Green government to even consider walking away from a $4-billion investment in Site C borders on scandalous, former finance minister Mike de Jong said Monday in Port Alberni.
As a B.C. Liberal Party leadership contender — with polls suggesting he is among frontrunners — de Jong stopped at Westwind Pub to meet local members. Only a handful of party faithful attended, giving the Abbotsford West MLA time to speak at length with Alberni Valley News about the campaign and B.C. politics.
The coalition government’s approach to Site C completion typifies the NDP’s record in office, he suggested.
“The politics of No, the politics of division,” de Jong said. “The very fact that we have a government in British Columbia giving serious consideration to writing off $4 billion — $4 billion of the taxpayers’ money — and denying future generations of B.C. clean, green, sustainable electricity security, I think, borders on the scandalous.”
The decision whether to cancel or continue with the energy megaproject — as laid out in the B.C. Utilities Commission report delivered two weeks ago — is a relatively simple one, he added.
“When I used to do this in the 1990s and visit Port Alberni, people were pretty outraged by the folly of building three fast ferries that didn’t work and having to write off $500 million. This is four times that, this is a whole fleet of them. This is (the equivalent of) 24 fast ferries.
“I mean, the mere fact that they are struggling with this decision when it is so self-evident what is in the best interests of the province should be a great concern to British Columbians. And what it says is, they are prepared to put political considerations ahead of sound economics and sound energy policy.”
De Jong is the second among leadership candidates to campaign here after former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts visited last month. The contest, which also includes fellow MLAs Andrew Wilkinson, Todd Stone and Michael Lee along with former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, culminates with a leadership vote Feb. 1-3.
The longtime Liberal cabinet minister feels he has the experience and background to rebuild party support from Day One.
Though he held the pivotal finance portfolio for the last five years of Liberal government, de Jong also headed at various times the ministries of forests, Aboriginal relations and reconciliation, attorney general, public safety, labour and citizen services. For the last dozen years, he was Liberal House Leader.
He pointed to forestry reforms he oversaw when the industry was last hit by U.S. softwood tariffs.
“Here we go again, but we’re much stronger today and much better positioned to resist that protectionist greed from the U.S. than we were 15 years ago because of the work we’ve done to diversify our markets. That was a concerted effort between government and the private sector and it served forest dependent communities very, very well. And we undertook tenure reform for that reason.”
Shortly after the leadership campaign began, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier dropped out and threw his support behind de Jong.
“I think in part because he recognizes the fact that most of the candidates are not just from the Lower Mainland, they’re from Metro Vancouver. I’m not,” de Jong said. “I am from the eastern end of the Fraser Valley where I continue to live on a farm that I grew up on, purchased from my folks. I represent the most rural of candidates. I don’t get to do much farming these days, but I still enjoy it when I’m home on the weekend.
“In terms of bridging what some have described as that urban-rural divide — and I don’t like the term — I think I am pretty well placed because of my unique circumstances,” he said.
While Vancouver Island represents an NDP-Green stronghold, that’s not to be taken for granted.
“The last time a party was wiped out on the Island, it was the NDP. I think Mr. Horgan and his colleagues, as they revert back to the policies they employed in the 1990s, would do well to remember where that led them and British Columbia, to near obliteration at the polls. And here we see them embarking down that same path,” he said, alluding to the Site C issue.
Every B.C. Liberal member has a say in choosing a new leader, de Jong noted, so his North Island tour over the long weekend was a chance to meet with as many as possible and encourage their participation in shaping the party’s future.
“I am also, as someone who participated in the 1990s in building our party, very optimistic about the idea that we can grow our membership on the Island directly. And I’m confident and optimistic about that, because that’s what we did in the 1990s.”
He sees circumstances unfolding that could see history repeat itself, pointing out that the NDP inherited a government with the firmest fiscal footing in the country.
“What did they do with that? Illogically and unfathomably, they raised people’s taxes. Income tax, corporate tax, carbon tax. Why would you do that in a year when the government is receiving even more revenue than they anticipated?
“They will pluck that golden goose that took British Columbia to No. 1 in Canada.”