With high profile Liberal cabinet ministers announcing they will not be seeking re-election, questions about Abbotsford’s members are raised.
Last week parliamentary secretary John Les (Chilliwack), Finance Minister Kevin Falcon (Surrey-Cloverdale), Education Minister George Abbott (Shuswap) and Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil (Vancouver-False Creek) all announced that they will not be running in the 2013 general election.
In Abbotsford West, MLA Mike de Jong, the health minister in Premier Christy Clark’s government, says he definitely plans to run again.
Speaking to The News on Labour Day, de Jong said he feels a sense of loss in seeing people like Abbott and Falcon leave politics, when they have been key parts of the party and the government.
However, he said when people have been in politics for more than a decade, “nobody should be surprised when they decide to hang up their skates.”
“This is part of the regular ebb and flow of government.”
De Jong has been an MLA going on 19 years, but politics still holds more appeal than returning to a law practice.
“I still enjoy the work. I enjoy interacting with the constituents,” he said. “I think I’ve got the best job in the world.”
In next spring’s provincial election, voters will assess his performance as an MLA and a leading member of a government, he said.
“That’s the essence of democracy, and everything about that continues to excite me.”
De Jong said he has served as an opposition MLA in the past, and is willing to accept that role if the public decides to put the Liberal party there. However, despite plunging poll numbers, he believes the Liberals could still form government.
“Getting there is going to involve a lot of hard work.”
Randy Hawes, MLA for Abbotsford-Mission, told The News he will make a decision whether to run again in the coming week.
“I will either have a new pair of running shoes, or a new pair of golf clubs,” said Hawes.
Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen was among the first in the Liberal caucus to decide he will not stand with the existing government, as he crossed the floor to join the B.C. Conservative party. He became the party’s first MLA, and will run under that banner.
Hawes said people should not read too much into high profile Liberals deciding not to run. He said Falcon has served for 12 years, and his wife is expecting.
“I bet he can make double what he can as an MLA working in the private sector,” added Hawes.
By the time he leaves the legislature after May’s election, Abbott will have served some 17 years, including a bid for premier in which he and Falcon challenged Clark for the job.
“That’s enough for anybody,” said Hawes. “It’s a lot tougher and a lot more pressure than a lot of people think.”
Hamish Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the loss of these veteran politicians from the Liberals is no shock to observers, but he believes the situation should have been managed better by Clark.
“What does surprise me is how poorly this has been handled by the premier’s office,” he said.
Telford said Clark should have given every MLA a deadline of the end of the summer to let her know whether they planned to run again. She could plan the future of the party accordingly, and hold a press conference to introduce new ministers.
“We should have heard about this by way of a cabinet shuffle,” he said.
“The story would be about change, not disintegration.”
The problem for the Liberals is that this negative image will leave free enterprise voters open to considering their support for the B.C. Conservative party he said. The “vote splitting” on the right has seen the NDP rising in the polls.
That allowed New Democrat Gwen O’Mahony to take the Chilliwack-Hope riding, and Telford said similar upsets could be in the offing in other Fraser Valley ridings.
He said the NDP learned lessons in that election, and will be out to increase vote totals, making gains by targeting union supporters, younger voters, and traditional Green Party supporters.
“The NDP played Chilliwack absolutely perfectly,” he said.
Prof. Telford said it all makes for an interesting election season this spring.
“Whenever there’s change blowing in the wind, it revives people’s interest in politics.”
Ross Hill, the Liberal riding association president for Abbotsford West, said more MLAs left during the 2005 and 2009 elections than those who have said they aren’t running so far.
“It’s not abnormal – it’s very normal. It allows for some renewal,” he said.
He pointed out there is still eight months for the picture to change before the May election.
“We’re planning on winning the election, we’re not planning on being second or third. We’ve got a great leader and we’re ready to rock.”