EDITORIAL: Unstatesmanlike departure

The latest act on the stage of political theatre in this province should be viewed with some dismay.

The latest act on the stage of political theatre in this province should be viewed with some dismay.

On Monday, long-serving Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen stood in the legislature, lambasted his party and its leader, announced his resignation from the Liberal party, and his new membership with the BC Conservatives.

It was a bombshell, designed to cause maximum discomfort and damage to the Liberals, much to the delight of the NDP party and the upstart Tories.

It was no great secret that van Dongen was deeply disgruntled after being dropped from cabinet as solicitor general three years ago, following a pair of excessive speeding tickets. Insiders are now suggesting that’s the primary reason behind his highly public defection, rather than the party integrity issues he claimed during his speech in the legislature.

Among the reasons he gave for his dramatic departure was the government’s payment of $6 million in legal fees for the two men who pleaded guilty in the BC Rail corruption case.

Really? That was 18 months ago.

What was the breaking point? The cancellation of the $35-million B.C. Place naming deal with Telus? Confounding perhaps, but hardly heinous.

The leadership of Christy Clark? Compared to the wobbly-wheeled chariot of Gordon Campbell in his final year?

“Standing on principle” seems to be politically expedient here, which is surprising, given van Dongen’s reputation as a straight-shooting, sincere individual.

The most honourable approach would have been for van Dongen to resign his seat, and run again in a byelection. He could have also simply quit the Liberals and sat as an independent.

While he’s certainly not the first politician to jump ship in mid-term, it undermines the trust of those who voted for someone who carried the banner of one party, and suddenly defects to another.

Van Dongen was elected as a Liberal, not a Conservative.

A statesman would have stepped back quietly, reserving comment and a shift in political affiliation for the next election. But then again, politics in British Columbia is hardly known for statesmanship.