‘Someone who cares’: MLAs now wait to see Clark’s new cabinet

Out in the first count Saturday night, Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong was stressing party unit and confidence in B.C.’s premier elect, Christy Clark, on Monday morning.

Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong (left) joins premier-elect Christy Clark and Liberal leadership race contenders George Abbott and Kevin Falcon on stage Saturday night at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong (left) joins premier-elect Christy Clark and Liberal leadership race contenders George Abbott and Kevin Falcon on stage Saturday night at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Out in the first count Saturday night, Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong was stressing party unit and confidence in B.C.’s premier elect, Christy Clark, on Monday morning.“She is energetic, and she is someone who cares about the province and the people of the province,” said de Jong, Abbotsford West MLA. “She certainly represents change, and it will be for her and the cabinet to determine the extent of that change.”Like other MLAs, de Jong now waits to find out whether Clark welcomes him back into cabinet, or he joins the ranks of the legislature’s backbenchers.He wouldn’t speculate on his role in Clark’s remade government.“Cabinet making is an art, not a science,” said de Jong, adding the premier is undoubtedly already working on “the appropriate mix,” as she meets with MLAs this week.De Jong resigned from the attorney general’s post to run for the Liberal leadership and he has also served on cabinet as minister of forests, labour, aboriginal affairs and as solicitor general.“I am ready, willing and able to serve, at the premier’s discretion,” said de Jong, adding that selecting a cabinet is “one of the toughest things for a premier – especially a new premier.”De Jong said he worked with Clark in the mid-1990s, and she can do the job.He  lost on the first count on Saturday night at the Vancouver Convention Centre, with just 789 votes. He watched as George Abbott went out in the second count of the preferential ballot system, with Clark earning a close third-count victory over Kevin Falcon, 4,420 to 4080.After a sometimes divisive leadership race, all four of the candidates were stressing party unity, and de Jong was no exception.“I’m entirely confident that the party will rally around Christy Clark,” he said. Unity was a major theme on Saturday night.“I grabbed Kevin and George and said ‘Let’s go,’ ” and they joined Clark on the stage.Clark was a former cabinet minister who left government in 2004, saying she was going to focus more on raising her son. She was an open-line radio host and newspaper columnist.De Jong remained a high-profile cabinet minister in Gordon Campbell’s government. Campbell’s popularity plummeted, his approval rating sinking to just nine per cent in the wake of the HST’s announcement. De Jong acknowledged that being a key player in that cabinet may have cost him votes on Saturday. “There may have been an element of that,” he said.He may also have been hurt by the unpopular $6-million payment the government made to cover the legal fees in the Basi-Virk corruption case, which he was widely reported as approving as attorney general. He said it was not his decision alone to pay the legal fees, but he received the political fallout.“I was the attorney general when the case concluded,” he said. “You can complain about the fairness, but I’ve been in politics a long time, and I’m not complaining.”Almost from the outset, he was painted as a long shot in the media, which placed attention on the fact that he did not have any caucus support. MLAs lined up behind Falcon and Abbott, but Clark won with only one MLA’s endorsement.“A tremendous amount of attention was placed on something that was not determinative,” he said.But de Jong said he will not remember Saturday night as a defeat.“I think of how lucky I have been to have been one of four people who was even being considered as a possible premier of British Columbia.”MLAs John van Dongen (Abbotsford South) and Randy Hawes (Abbotsford-Mission) were both in the Abbott camp, but expressed their support for Clark.“I congratulate Christy Clark and look forward to working with her,” said van Dongen. “The people sent a message they want someone from outside of caucus, and I respect that.”Both men said her strength is communication skills, and Hawes said she is a great public speaker with voter appeal.“We’re all in the same family here, and at the end of the day we all pull together,” said Hawes.