Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen is the subject of sharp words from members of the party he left, including the past president of the Abbotsford South riding association.
Ron Gladiuk said van Dongen’s shocking announcement and criticism of Premier Christy Clark and the party are a betrayal.
“He’s lost his political compass,” said Gladiuk, who has worked with van Dongen since 1994, and was co-manager on all of his election campaigns.
Gladiuk and the rest of the Liberal party were shocked when van Dongen told the legislature on Monday afternoon that he was leaving the party and joining the Conservatives.
He said in the past year and a half, van Dongen has been too concerned with his own political career, and was “disillusioned and angry” that he had been dropped from cabinet. He was forced to resign from cabinet and the post of solicitor general in 2009, after his driver’s licence was suspended for twice having been ticketed for exceeding the speed limit by more than 41 km/h.
“He did this to serve his own political ends,” said Gladiuk. “He has betrayed us as B.C. Liberals. He says it’s about integrity and honesty – he should look at himself in the mirror.”
Gladiuk asserts that van Dongen could have taken a high road, rather than try to embarrass the Liberals and foist a new party on his constituents.
“If he had issues, he should have resigned, and then forced a byelection,” he said. “The constituents have no idea who the BC Conservative Party is.”
Gladiuk said van Dongen failed in a bid to recruit him to the Conservative party.
He said van Dongen’s relationship with Abbotsford South MLA Michael de Jong, the health minister, is already “pretty much non-existent.” Van Dongen did not support de Jong in his bid for premier, instead putting his name behind leadership candidate George Abbott.
“He has changed. He has been more concerned with his own political future, than being a team player,” accused Gladiuk.
Backbench MLAs earn approximately $102,000 per year, while a cabinet member gets an extra payment of approximately $50,000, as well as an office and staff in Victoria.
“He coveted the (cabinet) position. He liked the prestige and the presence that position brought to him,” said Gladiuk.
Another prominent Liberal in Abbotsford, Dave Holmberg, said he has had numerous conversations with van Dongen about his discontent with the Liberals.
“John is a good man. It’s just unfortunate he chose not to be a team player,” said Holmberg.
He pointed out that in addition to his driving record, other elements of van Dongen’s personal life would have left him open to attacks from the opposition if he were a cabinet minister. He had left his wife years ago, and now lives common-law with his constituency assistant and fiancee. Van Dongen has two legal opinions that maintain he is not in a position of conflict, but Holmberg said such a situation had potential to be used to embarrass the government, and may have kept him on the backbenches.
Holmberg said the trio of MLAs representing Abbotsford, including Randy Hawes, have brought the community unprecedented government contributions in the past 10 years, including the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and now the Holmberg House and Canuck Place hospice facilities.
Van Dongen attended Holmberg’s retirement roast at the Ramada Plaza and Conference Centre last Friday, along with de Jong and the premier. Holmberg still considers him a friend.
“He spoke very kindly of me on Friday night,” he said. “And there’s no doubt he’ll be at my door sometime in the next 72 hours, trying to convince me he’s right.
“Politics is interesting, and B.C. is the place for controversy.”
Gladiuk is confident the Liberal brand will defeat the veteran MLA in an election. He said the party will look for leaders in the community to run in Abbotsford South.
“We’ll take John on in the next general election, and we will win.”
Start of ‘exodus’?
UFV political science department head Hamis Telford suggested van Dongen’s departure may be the start of an “exodus” of backbench Liberals unhappy with the leadership of Premier Christy 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,” said Telford, was van Dongen’s timing, just days after byelections in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam had been 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 reassess 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 Abbotsford South in the next provincial election.
– with files from the Chilliwack Progress