Vaughn Palmer: B.C. legislature a poorer place without Mike de Jong

Opinion: Longtime MLA dispenses advice, gag lines and reflections as he leaves provincial politics for a federal run

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VICTORIA — One of the longest serving members of the legislature, Mike de Jong, took his leave of the place Thursday, providing a note of grace in a week of partisan recriminations and pre-election speculation.

The usual rough fare of the last day of the sitting was set aside while De Jong delivered his valediction.

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Premier David Eby was at his seat in the chamber, nodding in agreement and joining in the laugh lines from one of the wittiest MLAs.

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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth delivered a warm introduction to de Jong, his friend and for years his coequal in managing the business of the chamber.

Farnworth joked about de Jong’s reputation frugality. There was the time when the linoleum was showing the wear in the family farmhouse in the Fraser Valley. The stuff was decades old, but de Jong still had a copy of the lifetime guarantee issued back in 1964. So he persuaded the supplier to replace it free of charge.

De Jong riffed on the same theme, suggesting what the legislature might give him as a possible farewell present after his 30 years of service: “I have my eye on that wood splitter. I don’t think it would be missed.”

Looking on as de Jong spoke were his brother, sister, his wife, Isabelle, and his 96-year-old mother. Along with the usual tributes to family, staffers and colleagues, the departing MLA offered shrewd assessments of the premiers he served opposite and under since entering the legislature in a 1994 byelection.

Mike Harcourt. “Dignity. Though I disagreed with many of the things his government advanced, a leader who was ultimately undone by a scandal that was beyond his control.

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Glen Clark. “A young man who became premier as a young man and then went on to display an affinity for capitalism that none of us really knew existed — and to achieve great results in that regard.”

Dan Miller: “He taught me something that I never forgot around this place. In the cut and thrust of debates, when you’ve got a pair of twos, don’t pretend you have a full house. You might get away with it once, but you won’t get away with it a second time.”

Ujjal Dosanjh. “I think of the courage he demonstrated before he was in politics and while he was in politics. It could not have been easy going into the 2001 election campaign.”

Gordon Campbell. “A driven individual who had a vision. Many people agreed with the vision, many people didn’t.”

Christy Clark: “Possessed this irrepressible optimism and affection for people — who could light up a room and can still light up a room.”

John Horgan: “He drew on a humanity that helped British Columbia through a very difficult time.”

David Eby: “The present premier, on whose shoulders the weight of responsibility now rests. Anyone who has been involved in government understands that governing is hard and that old adage about pick your poison reveals itself often on a daily basis.”

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A good word for the Greens: “In 2017, the party had to choose a partner with whom to dance. Just like most of my high school career, they didn’t choose me. But they have grown to become very respected members of this chamber, parliamentarians worthy of respect”

De Jong acknowledged the two Conservative MLAs who used to be in his party.

“The worst battles in history tend to be civil wars. I don’t know if there’s a negotiation or what that would look like, and I won’t be involved. Well, who knows. Who knows what will emerge in the weeks and months ahead, but one can speculate and remain hopeful.”

For the colleagues he is leaving behind in B.C. United, he had some consoling remarks on the job of Opposition.

“It is inherently negative. It is by definition negative. And when you’re not a negative person, that’s difficult. But we serve a vitally important purpose and role in this parliamentary democracy. And I know we say that, and we go: ‘Well, that’s fine; I wish we didn’t have to serve the role for as long.’”

Then an aside to the New Democrats: “Even our friends across the way will, in their quiet moments, concede that no one governs forever. Maybe I’ve worked with another premier. We will know when the people decide to tell us later this year.”

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One more thing: “To the people who heap derision on governments, I have no hesitation in telling them: Yeah, but someone has got to do it. And we have a process for selecting who is going to do it.”

He’s resubmitted to the selection process himself, seeking the nomination to run for the federal Conservatives in Abbotsford-South Langley.

If he makes it all the way to Ottawa, I expect he will struggle to establish a profile and have an impact, like many British Columbians who’ve gone down there before him.

But as his friend across the aisle, Mike Farnworth said Thursday, he’s already made a lengthy contribution to public life in this province and the B.C. legislature will be poorer for his absence.

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