The conservative vote is already split, MLA John van Dongen told byelection volunteers at the opening of the BC Conservative campaign office Saturday in Chilliwack.
“A lot of the free-enterprise vote has already left the BC Liberal party,” he said. “The horse is out of the barn, if you want to put it in agricultural terms.”
The BC Liberals have been warning voters that a ballot cast for the BC Conservatives will split the vote and lead to an NDP victory in the byelection, and in next year’s provincial election.
But van Dongen suggested small-c conservatives voters need not fear splitting the vote because the BC Conservative Party is about to replace the BC Liberals as the free-enterprise coalition in B.C.
“The polls show it, but more importantly, the people are saying that,” van Dongen said, as he exhorted volunteers to work hard for the party’s candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection.
“There’s a hunger for change,” he said. “Our job is to give them a credible option to vote for, and I believe John Martin is the guy in Chilliwack-Hope.”
Last week, van Dongen rocked the B.C. political world when he quit the BC Liberal party after 16 years and joined the BC Conservative party.
However, he did not resign his seat as the MLA for Abbotsford South, which would have triggered a byelection there.
It’s been an issue van Dongen’s critics pounced on, especially since BC Conservative Leader John Cummins has also said byelections should be held when a politician crosses the floor to join another political party.
But van Dongen said what most people outside his riding don’t know is that the BC Liberal party was working to take away his nomination as the riding’s candidate in the next provincial election.
“Within my own party, there was a movement to try and unseat me, to take away my nomination,” van Dongen said. “That has generated a lot of discussion in my riding that hasn’t existed in other ridings.”
And he said the residents of Abbotsford South “have said very clearly they want me on the job” no matter to which party he belongs.
“I take the view that I got elected to represent the constituency of Abbotsford South,” van Dongen said. “I’m not a different person today, and I don’t take different policy positions today than when I was elected.”
Cummins said van Dongen’s reputation and his decision to join the BC Conservatives “solidifies” the growing support for the party among B.C. voters.
“We have certainly risen in the polls, but having John come over solidifies that support,” he said. “People realize just how credible we are, we are a real option.”
Martin told his supporters at the campaign office opening that “we’re on the verge of dramatic change in this province.”
“There is a government in free-fall that has lost its way, that has lost its purpose, and, mercifully, there’s somebody else to come and pick up the slack and make sure the NDP doesn’t return us to an era of destruction like they did in the 1990s,” he said.
“The BC Conservatives are going to have a profound impact in 2013, and it’s going to start right here in Chilliwack-Hope,” he said. “We’re going to win this riding.”