Politics is never dull – especially, it seems, in British Columbia. The past few weeks have been no different, and the biggest story was Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen leaving the BC Liberal caucus.
In my role as Government Whip and as a caucus colleague, I knew John reasonably well – or thought I did. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. Not just because he called our integrity into question, but also because John’s actions damaged the free enterprise coalition in B.C.
As Premier Clark said, “all John did was make it a little easier for Adrian Dix to become Premier.” Whatever your personal politics, that’s an accurate assessment. At the risk of oversimplification, there are two large and distinct voting blocs in British Columbia. Well over half (roughly 60 per cent) of voters believe in free enterprise, and vote for parties that support it. Around 40 per cent have tended to support the NDP.
History shows the NDP have only won elections when the centre-right vote is split. And again, whatever your personal politics, there’s a substantial difference of philosophy between the NDP and we who believe in free enterprise. It’s not alarmist to state an NDP government would raise taxes and spend that revenue very differently.
John’s reasons for leaving caucus are his own, but no keen observer of B.C. politics could fail to see the irony: by joining a party that professes to be further to the right, his actions increase the chance of B.C. moving to the left. A shift that would not be gentle or gradual, but seismic.
The ‘90s saw almost no investment in infrastructure, but unrestrained and unsustainable spending on social programs. We have chosen to make invesments; in the Okanagan alone, this government has invested hundreds of millions into improving and upgrading transportation infrastructure, a new university, housing developments, and massive upgrades to Kelowna General Hospital.
I remember what it was like trying to start a business in the ‘90s under a provincial government that didn’t support business, or seem to understand economics at all. You often hear Premier Clark say that government doesn’t create jobs, and that’s true: the vast majority of British Columbians work for private companies. But a misguided government can kill jobs.
It’s not just higher taxes for business, but individuals and families. B.C. families generally have one of the lowest overall tax burdens in Canada, including income taxes, consumption taxes, property taxes, health care premiums and payroll taxes. We have reduced provincial personal income taxes for most taxpayers by 37 per cent or more since 2001, and today an additional 325,000 people no longer pay any B.C. income tax.
I am extraordinarily proud of this government’s record. It’s strange that John chose to make his move so soon after Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s budget, praised across the country for maintaining a commitment to fiscal discipline, and maintaining B.C.’s well-deserved reputation as a safe harbour for investment.
That’s why I am so disappointed. Not because I was a colleague, but because I am a concerned British Columbian.
Visit Ben’s website at www.benstewartmla.bc.ca