Mixed views on van Dongen’s departure from Liberals

Former Liberal cabinet minister's resignation to join B.C. Conservatives has rocked Victoria

Marc Dalton knew John van Dongen had been discussing his future with the Liberal party for several weeks before.

But he wasn’t prepared Monday for the Abbotsford MLA’s blockbuster announcement in the legislature that he was resigning from the Liberal party to join their rivals, the B.C. Conservative Party.

Dalton along with the rest of the Liberals were told shortly before the official speech in the legislature.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” said Dalton, MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission. With van Dongen ditching the Liberals and boosting the Conservatives, and splitting the right-of-centre vote, the path could become easier for the NDP and more difficult for the Liberals as an election approaches next year.

“I can tell you one thing, the NDP is cheering the loudest,” Dalton said. “I’m sure they’re licking their chops.”

Dalton himself ran for the Conservatives federally and said he joined the B.C. Liberals to keep the NDP out of power and because of their track record on the economy.

The government has been doing a good job, Dalton said, particularly in improving employment prospects in B.C. “That’s very important.”

Van Dongen announced his decision Monday after Question Period in the legislature. He said he is concerned about the integrity of the government, and cited the decision to pay $6 million in legal fees for former government staffers Dave Basi and Bobby Virk after they pleaded guilty to breach of trust in the sale of BC Rail operations.

Van Dongen also cited the recent collapse of negotiations to sell naming rights to BC Place stadium to Telus Corp.

“There have been other lapses in proper accountability and I expect more to come,” van Dongen told the legislature.

B.C. Conservative candidate Wendy Cook is trying to get a candidate to contest the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding which will be vacant after NDPer Michael Sather steps down at next spring’s election.

She said news of van Dongen’s resignation was “wonderful,” and wished he’d cross over and sit as a Conservative MLA.

Then she learned that’s exactly what van Dongen did. “That’s fantastic. That’s the best news that I have heard all day. That’s brilliant.

“Maybe we’ll have somebody in the House before we even get cracking.”

Sather said he didn’t know if more Liberal resignations would follow or if a stronger Conservative party would help the NDP.

“I don’t know. It’s in such a state of flux.

“Both parties are in a state of flux. Just have to keep posted on this one.”

But in his riding a Conservative candidate should split the vote on the right and help the NDP. “On the face of it, it looks like it should help us too.”

But you never know, he added.

Former Pitt Meadows mayor Don MacLean ruled out ever returning to politics and running provincially. “The last thing I’m going to do is get into politics again.”

He said it was a mistake for Premier Christy Clark to attack B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins because that just raised the party’s profile.

Van Dongen will sit as an independent MLA, since four members are needed to be a recognized party in the B.C. legislature. His announcement comes as the B.C. Conservatives run in two by-elections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope, vacated by retired B.C. Liberals MLAs Iain Black and Barry Penner.