This week is turning into a very turbulent one for Premier Christy Clark.
While she will likely hold onto her leadership of the BC Liberal Party and the provincial government, Monday’s defection of Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen to the BC Conservatives is a body blow.
Not only did he leave the government caucus and switch parties, he took several shots at Clark’s leadership. In particular, he took issue with her approach to paying the legal fees of two former government staffers in the long-running BC Rail case, and the furore over the naming rights for BC Place.
Van Dongen may have some very speciific personal reasons for leaving, as his longtime friend Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman indicated, shortly after van Dongen made his announcement in the Legislature. However, he has some very specific policy differences with the government. The issues he brought up are issues that many British Columbians wonder about.
The BC Rail case, in particular, is a mystery. Clark was at least peripherally involved in the sale of the Crown corporation back in 2003, and definitely had very strong ties to several of the central figures. The extent of her involvement in the sale remains a mystery,and denials aren’t the same as actual proof.
What adds intrigue to the BC Rail case was the government decision to pay the legal fees of the two former aides, Dave Basi and Bob Virk, part way through a trial, if they pleaded guilty. This was just as former finance minister Gary Collins was about to testify. As of yet, the auditor-general has not been able to get to the bottom of why the payments were made, van Dongen points out.
Van Dongen has merely stated what many others are thinking. Many are longtime BC Liberal voters, and are seriously pondering how to vote in the next election. They may have doubts about the BC Conservatives, but van Dongen has just given them a good reason to at least take another look.
Clark needs to respond in a substantive way to van Dongen’s statement, and not simply fall back on the line that B.C. voters have no choice but to vote for the “coalition.” That line of defence isn’t strong enough to bring voters back to her party.
Her party also needs to stop making personal attacks on those who disagree with it.