Byelection not behind defection, says van Dongen

MLA John van Dongen says decision to leave the BC Liberals was made before the Chilliwack-Hope byelection call

The BC Conservative campaign in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection got a boost Monday with the defection of Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen from the BC Liberal Party.

But the MLA told The Progress that the byelection had nothing to do with his decision to leave the BC Liberal government.

“That isn’t why I did it,” van Dongen said in a telephone interview. “That’s not why the timing of it happened when it did.”

He said the decision, which rocked B.C.’s political landscape, was made after a series of government decisions, most recently Premier Christy Clark’s “inexplicable” cancellation of the $35-million naming rights agreement with Telus.

“That’s when I decided I couldn’t defend this (government) any more,” he said. “I made my decision before the byelection was called.”

van Dongen said he would consider campaigning with the BC Conservative candidate in Chilliwack-Hope, but his “first duty” right now is to the residents of his Abbotsford South riding.

“It’s great news,” crowed John Martin, the BC Conservative candidate in Chilliwack-Hope. “It’s a boost to our party and to our campaign in Chilliwack-Hope.”

“The Liberals are in free-fall and fading fast,” he added. “There has to be someone credible to keep the NDP away, and the Liberals aren’t going to be able to do it.”

UFV political science department head Hamish Telford said there is talk that van Dongen’s departure may be the start of an “exodus” of backbench Liberals unhappy with the leadership of Premier Clark.

“It’s not terribly surprising Mr. van Dongen has jumped … he was unable to conceal his dislike for Premier Clark,” Telford said.

“More surprising,” he added, was van Dongen’s timing, just days after the byelection was called.

“I think (van Dongen) may well have been looking to give (the BC Conservatives) a boost,” Telford said.

When Clark won the party’s leadership, van Dongen told reporters that he would have to re-assess his future with the party.

Since then, there have been rumours that a push was underway to challenge van Dongen’s nomination to run as the BC Liberal candidate in the Abbotsford South riding in the next provincial election.

Chilliwack MLA John Les said van Dongen should have resigned when he made his comments to the media after Clark’s leadership victory.

He said van Dongen, who’s been a political friend for 35 years, was “never on side” with the BC Liberal caucus after that.

“In reality, he should have resigned then,” Les said.

But Les dismissed the idea of van Dongen’s departure signalling an “exodus” of BC Liberal MLAs.

“Our caucus is solid,” he said, adding that Clark is “working hard every day in the interest of free enterprise.”

“I’m one of those people who are not interested in being at fault in opening up an opportunity for the NDP,” he said.

The BC Conservative party is described by BC Liberals as a “spoiler” that can split the conservative vote and open the door to an NDP victory.

van Dongen said his reasons for leaving the party included questions about integrity and “unanswered questions” about legal fees paid by government in the BC Rail court case.

“When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure,” he said.