Liberal leadership contender Mike de Jong brought his Open Mike series to Smithers recently to promote his campaign to be the new premier of B.C.
Born and raised on a small farm in Abbotsford, Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong first started public service as a school trustee before becoming an MLA in 1994. Now a senior member of the caucus, he’s held down the titles of Solicitor General, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Minister of Labour and Citizen Services and as the Minister of Forests.
He decided to run for leader of the Liberals to rebuild the party as one that people see as being open to the public, that welcomes people’s participation, an ideology that has been damaged recently, he said, most strongly by the implementation of the HST.
“We angered a lot of people,” de Jong said, who supported the HST decision when implemented and still does today. “We surprised virtually everyone and in politics, you always surprise people at your peril. We have relearned that lesson.”
It may have been this decision that lost Premier Gordon Campbell his job, de Jong said, but there is a silver lining to this leadership race. Now, it’s getting those candidates who have thrown their name in out and about the province, speaking with the public, a key focus of his own campaign.
“I think we can do more to be inclusive as a government,” de Jong said.
With that in mind, these Open Mike discussions have been critical, he said, in rebuilding a relationship with the people of this province, and to get a clear sense of what the public would like to see as political objectives. Designed to be open conversations where he’s asking the people questions, and not the other way around, 20, maybe 25 people in attendance in these meetings is perfect.
“As a government and as a party, it’s absolutely essential,” de Jong said. “It gets you talking to people, talking about their lives, what’s challenging, troubling, or what’s going well. It is ultimately why I decided to get involved politically, because it’s the most enjoyable part of the job.”
To date, the biggest concern he’s heard from these Open Mike discussions has been the need for economic development, particularly along the Hwy. 16 corridor. For a community to be sustainable, you need to continue two aspects: education opportunities and economic opportunities. The forest sector is one major player in providing family-sustaining jobs to the people of B.C., one that he’s pleased to see expand into the Indian market last week, not to mention the growing demand for B.C. lumber from China, now our second largest market.
“There are people working today in Smithers because of how we, together, industry and government, were able to develop that Chinese market,” de Jong said.
For several years he’s been concerned with the lack of participation in the electoral process, he said. It’s not healthy to have a majority government elected by less than one-quarter of the population, a truth in B.C. due to the low voter turnout in the last provincial election. One of his ideas has been to lower the legal voting age to allow Grade 12 students a chance to vote. Not only would it entice the younger generation to vote, but once they do there’s a stronger chance that they’ll continue to do so, he said.
“’We accept you as a full member of society’: that’s what we tell them as they come across the stage,” de Jong said. “Let’s put our money where our mouth is and let’s let them vote in that year.”
Another goal of his is to see a reduced cabinet and Premier’s Office in the province. At a time like this it doesn’t make sense to have the largest cabinet in history when our economy is so fragile, he said.
Back to the HST, he thinks the vote should be soon but added that he asks people to familiarize themselves with the pros and cons before making a decision.