De Jong dips his toes in federal politics, irks his provincial leader
Opinion: The longtime Liberal MLA probably will keep his mouth shut now, but is unlikely to walk back his endorsement of Pierre Poilievre
VICTORIA — B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon has rebuked one of his party’s veteran MLAs, Mike de Jong, for endorsing Pierre Poilievre in the federal Conservative leadership race.
Falcon says de Jong “should have known better” than to depart from the provincial party’s long-standing hands-off policy toward federal political parties.
The party leader spoke to the MLA by phone on Wednesday to remind him that “we have been successful because we don’t get involved in federal politics.”
Falcon told me that he made it clear that “we want to go back to what we’ve always done, which is staying out of federal politics.”
The distancing is critical to party unity, says Falcon.
His provincial party includes members and supporters of both the federal Conservative and federal Liberal parties.
Previous B.C. Liberal leaders Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark discouraged elected members and staffers from getting involved in federal leadership races and elections.
Falcon likewise wants the provincial party to be “the best of friends” with both major federal parties.
De Jong conceded the point, according to Falcon, and apologized for not consulting him before posting an endorsement of Poilievre on social media this week.
The provincial leader says just last week he asked members of the B.C. Liberal caucus to stay out of the Conservative leadership race.
De Jong was not present for the meeting.
“But he’s a veteran,” Falcon told me. “He should have known better.”
De Jong and Falcon served together in the cabinets of premiers Campbell and Clark and know very well the fault lines in the provincial party over support for federal parties.
De Jong entered provincial politics in 1994, proclaiming roots in the federal Liberal party and narrowly winning a byelection.
Falcon’s roots are federal Conservative, a history that played out in the 2010 B.C. Liberal leadership race when he lost to Christy Clark, whose history was with the federal Liberals.
Despite Falcon’s dismay that de Jong risked opening up the party unity issue with his endorsement of Poilievre, he’s confident that the MLA got the message.
“I don’t think he would do it again if he got the opportunity.”
I put in a call to de Jong on Thursday but did not hear back.
But de Jong was unabashed in his endorsement of Poilievre before his phone conversation with Falcon on Wednesday.
“I have been pretty concerned about some economic matters, the perpetual deficits that seem to be embraced now at the national and provincial levels, spiralling debt, increased inflation, rising interest rates,” he told Mike Smyth during an interview on CKNW radio Wednesday morning.
“I’ve been waiting for a national leader to come along who’s prepared to talk about those things, talk about their importance and talk about what the longer-term implications are for Canadians. Poilievre is the only guy that’s been prepared to do it and has the courage to do it.
“I’ve been in public life a long time,” said the 28-year veteran MLA, who represents Abbotsford West in the provincial legislature.
“I’ve not seen that kind of energy, that kind of youthful presence in a crowd before. I really haven’t.
“I think he’s resonating because of the things he’s saying and the issues he’s prepared to deal with.”
During the same radio interview, de Jong fielded an accusation from NDP MLA Grace Lore that the Poilievre endorsement had tied him to “extremist views that are out of step with most British Columbians.”
“We’ve got a senior B.C. Liberal MLA endorsing a candidate for the Conservatives, who has had extreme view to have supported the anti-vaxx convoy, where we know that many of the leaders hold white supremacist views,” said Lore.
De Jong fired back that he took “great exception” to the accusation that he’d endorsed “white supremacist” views.
“I don’t think Grace Lore and I share the same economic views, but that’s OK,” he told Smyth. “I’m not going to vilify her or attack her because she has different views on some important public policy issues. I had hoped she would extend the same courtesy, but apparently not.”
He scoffed at Lore’s complaint that by endorsing Poilievre, he was lining up with the candidate’s call to scrap the carbon tax.
De Jong pointed out that in targeting the federal carbon tax, Poilievre has pledged not to interfere with provincial carbon taxes like the one the B.C. Liberal government introduced back in 2008.
“It’s interesting to hear that criticism from the member of a party, the NDP, that ran an entire campaign against the carbon tax that we created,” said de Jong, referring to how the issue played out in the 2009 provincial election.
“That’s probably an inconvenient fact for someone like Grace Lore, but she is a member of the only party in this country that has actually run an entire campaign against the carbon tax.”
Given de Jong’s enthusiasm for Poilievre, Smyth asked if it were a prelude to him switching to the federal arena and running as a Conservative if his candidate wins the leadership.
“The short answer is I don’t know,” replied de Jong.
But he has already taken out a membership in the federal Conservative party.
“I’m on my third day,” he said Wednesday.
Out of respect for Falcon, de Jong may have agreed to say no more about Poilievre.
But I doubt he’ll be tearing up his Conservative membership card or taking back his endorsement.