Whoever becomes the next leader of the B.C. Liberal party, they had better ready for a political battle with the NDP and Green Party.
That’s the message from B.C. Liberal Mike de Jong, the province’s former finance minister and current MLA for Abbotsford West.
“When the puck drops on the next general election rematch the other guys are going to be carrying their sticks and elbows high. We better have a leader who can go into the corner with them,” de Jong told the News Bulletin following a campaign stop at Nanaimo’s Tandoori Junction restaurant on Friday.
De Jong is one of a handful of people vying for leadership of the B.C. Liberals after Christy Clark stepped down earlier this year. He’s currently up against B.C. MLAs Andrew Wilkinson (Vancouver-Quilchena), Michael Lee (Vancouver-Langara), Mike Bernier (Peace River South), Sam Sullivan (Vancouver-False Creek) as well as Dianne Watts, former Surrey mayor and current Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock and Lucy Sager, a businesswoman from Terrace.
“As we select a new captain for our team we are going to have to select someone who can fulfill that role in leading us and holding the government to account,” de Jong said.
De Jong, who was first elected as an MLA back in 1994 after defeating Social Credit Party leader Grace McCarthy by 42 votes, said this year’s provincial election result was disappointing. He said it was also a slight adjustment to return to Victoria as the official opposition after years of being a part of the government.
“I was elected as an opposition MLA, there are only three [B.C. Liberals] left who had that experience. It is a significant change and it is an entirely different change. For the first week or two I had to make sure I was walking in the right doors,” he said.
This is not the first time de Jong has run for leadership of the party, having run an unsuccessful campaign back in 2010. He said a lot has changed since then and that five years of experience as finance minister has helped prepared him for leadership of the party.
“We led the country in consumer confidence and business confidence and small business confidence. If people want someone whose objective is to outspend the NDP, I am not their guy,” he said. “I think we should spend smarter. I think that we should ensure that we are taking the strength of our economy and deploying it to help those in need.”
De Jong said the issues he’s heard the most from people he’s spoken with in Nanaimo and on Vancouver Island revolve around transportation. He said if he were elected as leader he would continue to pursue a strategy of economic diversity for the province.
“As leader and hopefully one day as premier, I would continue to emphasize that is an essential ingredient in the recipe for success in British Columbia so that we are not overly dependent on any one trade partner,” he said.
De Jong said while the Liberals had plenty of success during their time in power, what ultimately hurt them this past election was not having a clear vision for the future.
“I think people acknowledge the success we have had as a province. I think they respect the fact that we were well managed,” de Jong said. “At the end of the day, in addition to whatever baggage we picked up over 16 years in government – and there is undoubtably baggage that you pick up – the missing ingredient this time was a clearly enunciated vision for how we want to lever and deploy that success going forward.”