Mike de Jong: the candidate of experience, for better or worse
His time in cabinet defines him, but De Jong is also pitching himself as the education candidate
Some candidates look only to the future. But Mike de Jong's pitch to voters is rooted in his resumé.
"In [my time as finance minister], we became the strongest province in Canada, created more jobs in the private sector than any other in Canada. When the NDP became government this summer, they inherited the strongest set of books in Canada. These are not things that happen by themselves. They require leadership, and I was a big part of that leadership," he said.
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If there is a vote for the status quo in the Liberal leadership race, it's probably De Jong.
The former finance minister has been an MLA in Abbotsford since 1994, was a high-profile house leader under Christy Clark and has been endorsed by interim leader Rich Coleman.
And yet, leadership campaigns are inherently about renewal, which may be why de Jong also takes pains to put caveats on his party's time in office.
"We have to do this: we have to show a little humility. We were good. The record says we were good. We weren't perfect," he said.
"The way we can address that is what we're doing now, which is sitting in coffee shops and community halls right across British Columbia and talking to people."
Investments in education
An examination of de Jong's platform reveals one generally in line with the other candidates in the race: defeating the referendum on electoral reform, balancing the budget, keeping taxes low and increasing housing supply.
But de Jong has put a large focus on education policies. He's pitching all-day kindergarten for four-year-olds and $500 a year for a child's RESP.
"[Education] is the single most important thing we can give to an individual as a society. It is the tool by which young people can ensure, in some cases, they break out of a cycle of poverty ... that's why I've attached such great importance to it," he said.
"Everyone will be able to say, no matter what their financial circumstance of the family, I'm going to go to BCIT. I'm going to SFU. I'm going to UBC or UFV or another post-secondary institution. We'll eliminate any fiscal impediment. That's powerful stuff."
Those who remember the lack of warm feelings between the B.C. Liberal Party and many public education advocates might ask why those investments didn't happen during de Jong's tenure as finance minister.
"I think there's more to be done," he said.
"I think taking the benefits of the economy we created with the private sector, taking the strength of that success and redeploying it into these areas is an opportunity we have."
Focus on the future?
It's the dilemma de Jong faces on virtually every topic: putting forward new policies can remind the public about what was — or wasn't — done when his party was in power.
On housing, he wants to put deadlines on municipalities so they make decisions on residential developments faster. On transparency, he wants full accountability on where party donations go. On ICBC, he criticizes the NDP for not enacting recommendations made in an Ernst & Young report commissioned by the Liberals before they lost power.
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If you're one of the 1.2 million voters who picked a candidate outside the B.C. Liberals last election, the ideas might bring back why they made their choice last May.
But leadership campaigns are fought among partisans. And de Jong knows that when results are announced on Saturday, he'll sink or swim based on his credibility.
"Renewal is about ideas. Renewal is about what we're going to do in the future," he said.
"And you know, a pretty potent combination is experience and the ability to get things done."
Justin McElroy is profiling all six B.C. Liberal leadership candidates as the party prepares to vote for a new leader Feb. 3.