There are eight people vying for leadership of the B.C. Liberal party and so far, three of them have already visited Penticton to make their case to the party faithful.
Mike de Jong, the former finance minister is the latest to visit, holding an event at Painted Rock Winery, high above Penticton, on Oct. 11.
De Jong said the party needs a new captain that can bring the free enterprise coalition together and strengthen it along with providing a vision for B.C.
“Thirdly, we need a captain that can stand up to the NDP effectively,” said de Jong who also tried for party leader in 2011, coming in fourth to Christy Clarke.
According to de Jong, five years as finance minister, “demonstrating the discipline necessary to responsibly manage the people’s money and get B.C. to No. 1 in Canada,” has made him a better leadership candidate.
At the time the Liberal’s minority government collapsed this spring, de Jong said B.C. was topping all the categories that matter most: job creation, strongest economy and balanced books.
“I tabled five budgets, each one of them was balanced and showed a surplus. Today, as a province, we have way more choices than any other province because of the relative strength of our economy and balance sheet,” said de Jong. “As finance minister, I obviously played a pretty significant role along with the rest of the team in achieving that.”
De Jong said having so many people entering the leadership race bodes well for the B.C. Liberals.
“The number of candidates, the quality of those candidates, tells me that people continue to see the B.C. Liberal party as the vehicle by which free enterprisers in B.C. can acquire the right to govern,” said de Jong. “We do have to earn that right, it won’t happen automatically. We musn’t take it for granted.”
MLA Dan Ashton, who has been on hand to present all three leadership candidates on their Penticton visits, said he isn’t giving public support to any particular candidate.
“Right now I am on the sidelines and will probably stay there,” said Ashton, noting that as a mayor he worked closely with Dianne Watts when she was Surrey mayor and established the provincial mayor’s council.
He also worked with de Jong as parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, as well as a member of the treasury board.
Along with Michael Lee and Dianne Watts, both of whom already visited Penticton, Ashton said he had strong working relationships with Andrew Wilkinson and Todd Stone.
“They are people I work with and they are all people that I admire,” said Ashton. “I want to hear what the policies are, and what direction everybody wants to go.”
De Jong said there is a need to bridge the B.C. Interior and the more densely populated areas of the province.
“People in the Lower Mainland and metro Vancouver need to be reminded where the resources are that generate much of the wealth that we have in this province,” said de Jong, falling back on the Liberals record in Penticton.
“I hope people will look at the work Dan Ashton and I did with respect to the hospital,” he said. “The NDP has become a very urban-based party, almost exclusively so. We, at least, have MLAs and representation everywhere in the province and we need to use that to bridge whatever kind of divide has occurred.”
But de Jong said that like Watts, he doesn’t support the NDP and Green Party referendum on proportional representation, citing the B.C. Liberal stance that it would give rural B.C. less of a voice.
“What we should not do and will not do is support an electoral reform process that will make those feelings of alienation even worse,” said de Jong. “I think the fix is in. I think they have decided, along with their junior partners in the Green Party, to impose a form of proportional representation that will not serve the interests of rural B.C.”
De Jong said his leadership run is also motivated by having served in senior roles under two premiers,
“I have my own ideas. They didn’t always carry the day with other leaders that had other priorities, but I would like the chance to work with our team and British Columbians to advance their priorities,” said de Jong, listing education and decentralizing government as key areas.
“It has always struck me as odd that the Ministry of Forests would be located in Victoria. I tried to do something about that as forest minister, but it was quickly undone,” said de Jong. “It makes a whole lot more sense, in my view, to have the chief forester for B.C. located somewhere where there are actual trees and commercial forest activity than on Vancouver Island in Victoria.”