Day One of selection for the new leader of the BC Liberals has begun.
And on the eve of the three-day voting process for the provincial party, a Langley MLA was on home turf last night asking for members to pick him for the job.
Mike de Jong, MLA for the Abbotsford West riding (which includes a small section of the eastern Langley’s Glen Valley neighbourhood), is one of six candidates running for leadership of the BC Liberals.
He ended the campaign at Newlands Golf and Country Club in Langley on Wednesday night, surrounded by a few hundred staunch supporters rallying for him to be leader.
He vowed to work towards ending the cycle of poverty, building the supply of homes in B.C. (including affordable housing), ensuring increased job growth in the province while balancing the budget, expanding the transportation network, decentralizing more government, and investing in the education of B.C.’s youth.
But the promise that drew the most applause during the evening soiree was a specific commitment to transportation.
“I like SkyTrain. I call it my stretch limo,” he said. “And the time has come to bring the SkyTrain to Langley.”
It was a promise to connect SkyTrain from UBC through to Langley – and eventually destinations east including Abbotsford and Chilliwack – he told the jubilant crowd.
But while de Jong stuck to reiterating his key “election” issues, much of his time was spent thanking his supporters.
They included a few Liberal MLAs, past and present, who came out for the last-minute push at Newlands.
Abbotsford-Mission MLA Simon Gibson, Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux, Richmond Centre MLA Teresa Wat, and Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier were among them.
But leading the pack, and actually introducing de Jong, was Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman – who is, for at least a few more days, serving as the interim leader of the opposition.
De Jong, the aspiring leader, gave specific thanks to Coleman for all of his support, recounting how the two first met at a party nomination meeting at the Aldergrove legion back in 1995.
“From that moment on, a bond was created,” de Jong said, thanking his buddy for his “steadfast” support.
He called Coleman a “man who values, creates, and fosters that sense of team.” That commitment to team has never been more apparent than when he “unselfishly stepped forward” when the “unexpected events” of last summer occurred and the Liberals were removed from government, de Jong said.
“We needed someone in a hurry to step forward and, quite frankly, accept a thankless job. There’s nothing fun about shepherding a group who have just unexpectedly lost an election… lost a leader… and faced with the… need to select a new leader.”
When introducing de Jong to the ballroom full of people, Coleman specifically pointed out that de Jong and Bernier were instrumental in helping secure a new $60 million school to replace R.E. Mountain Secondary in Langley, and that he had worked closely together through the years on many other projects key to this community.
Despite drawing some criticism for publicly supporting de Jong’s leadership quest, Coleman said he was “proud” to introduce the man he hopes will lead the party and ultimately the province.
This is a man he’s worked with for 22 years, who was “there in 1995 as the only person who showed up and to congratulated me when I got my first nomination, he took me under his wing and taught me the legislature. When you work on project after project after project together successfully, you build a friendship. You build a trust, and you build a loyalty… to me everything in politics is about loyalty – it’s about being there for each other and being there when each other’s needed, in the tough times and the good times as well.”
Well, Coleman said, he’s there for de Jong, and he’s hoping this is the “good times” as he encouraged Liberal members to pic his friend to lead the party.
“He has been a strong person for us,” reminding the party members present that he was not just the minister who presented five balanced budgets but that he also served the “ungrateful job” of minister of health during the BC Liberal’s 16 year in office.
“I look at one more thing,” Coleman said, describing de Jong as someone who could take power away from the NDP and “take on [Green leader Andrew] Weaver and [NDP Premier Mike] Horgan on province-wide TV and kick their butt in a debate.”
“It can only be one guy,” Coleman said. “He can do the job and is ready for the task.”
“Now it’s over to you,” de Jong told the room of Liberal faithful, reiterating his desire to be the “new captain of the team.”
Continuing the hockey metaphor, he said he’s anxious to be the one to take Horgan and Weaver to the boards.
“The puck is going to drop on the electoral rematch sooner than we think… and we’re going to be the first choice for British Columbians… I can help you make this happen.”
There are six people vying for Christy Clark’s old job, including de Jong, Dianne Watts, Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, Michael Lee, and Sam Sullivan.
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