De Jong stopped by the News Bulletin office on Tuesday in advance of the third B.C. Liberals leadership debate coming up Sunday, Nov. 19 at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

De Jong talks jobs and economy leading up to debate in Nanaimo

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates will be at the conference centre Sunday, Nov. 19

Mike de Jong sees a new NDP government getting away from what was working in B.C., and it provides extra motivation in his bid to lead the Liberal party.

De Jong stopped by the News Bulletin office on Tuesday in advance of the third B.C. Liberals leadership debate coming up Sunday, Nov. 19 at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

The former finance minister said the economy has been producing jobs and attracting people who want to live in B.C. He said the Liberal government’s fiscal management helped to create a budget surplus inherited by the NDP.

“They actually had more money, more money than I thought we were going to have and I was the finance minister,” de Jong said. “That’s not a bad position to be in if you’re an incoming government. So what’s the first thing they did? They raised taxes.”

He’s worried that the current provincial government is “saying no to project after project and saying no to the jobs that come with those projects … Instead of what we have today, which is jobs looking for people, we are going to have people looking for jobs again, which was the legacy of the last NDP government.”

De Jong said in his leadership campaign, he’s making fiscal responsibility his priority. He wants to balance the books, respect taxpayers and recognize that the private sector powers the economy, not government, he said.RELATED: B.C. Liberal leadership hopeful Mike de Jong stops in Nanaimo RELATED: Dianne Watts visits city for a Nanaimo bar and to talk politics

A former forests minister, de Jong said he would push back on softwood lumber against a “protectionist American lumber lobby [that] wants to force us into a bad deal.”

He said U.S. interests want to cap Canadian exports to limit competition and said it would force impositions of quotas at B.C. mills.

Housing affordability has been another topic of discussion on the campaign trail, and de Jong said “before you can even talk about affordability, you have to talk about availability.”

He’s proposed ways the province could support cities, through funding training and recruitment in municipal planning departments, and legislating timelines for city councils to make decisions on development projects.

Another issue de Jong brought up was next year’s referendum on voting reform. He’s concerned that a proportional representation system would take away geographic considerations and said the question of electoral reform must be asked in an unbiased way, free from political manipulation.

“The fix is in,” he said. “The government has decided, in concert with the Green Party, that they want to change the way elections occur. They have decided that their electoral prospects would be enhanced by a proportional representation system.”

The debate in Nanaimo on Sunday will be the third B.C. Liberal leadership debate; the first was held last month in Surrey and the second was earlier this month in Prince George. De Jong said since five of the candidates are sitting MLAs, there isn’t necessarily a lot of “acrimony or adversarialism” to the debates, but said there are different ideas and approaches that do come across.

“Our success as [a party] is ultimately, I believe, going to be tied to the degree to which we select a leader who can bring our free enterprise coalition together, strengthen it, re-energize it and re-invigorate it,” de Jong said.

Other candidates include Liberal MLAs Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan and Michael Lee, as well as former Conservative MPs Dianne Watts and Gurmant Grewal.

Sunday’s debate starts at noon, with doors at 11:30 a.m. The event is open to the public, but registration is recommended at this link.

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