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Les Leyne: Retiring MLAs leave on high notes

The next legislature will look significantly different, no matter who wins.
BC United MLA Mike de Jong. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

If it all goes according to his plan, Mike de Jong will bounce back into public view after the next federal election as Pierre Poilievre’s key B.C. lieutenant in a federal Conservative ­government.

(But in 2018 he planned to become leader of the B.C. Liberals and came fifth out of six in the leadership race. So you never know.)

Whether his new federal career path will be as enjoyable as his 30 years in provincial politics is unclear, but he went out laughing this week with a typically witty farewell speech.

He was a young lawyer and school trustee in the Fraser Valley when he took on Social Credit Leader Grace McCarthy in a 1994 byelection and beat her by 42 votes.

He won seven subsequent elections and held eight cabinet posts over the next 30 years, winding it up on Thursday as the longest continuous serving MLA in the house. His career was split almost evenly in and out of power, so one of his key observations was that “no one governs forever.”

The next MLA on the seniority list is the NDP’s Mike Farnworth. De Jong told him: “You are the last link with the 20th century, my friend.”

He told the legislature he got a nice plaque when he hit the 20-year mark. To mark 30, he wants the notorious legislature wood-splitter.

“I don’t know where it is. I don’t think it will be missed.”

After colleague Todd Stone talked about how he volunteered on de Jong’s first campaign, he said: “I remember pushing you around in a stroller.”

Recalling the 2017 NDP-Green confidence agreement that unseated him from the government benches, he said: “The Green Party had to choose a partner with whom to dance. Just like most of my high school career, they didn’t choose me.”

Remembering all the ­arguments over the years: “I think of all the bruising and the cuts and the attacks — and then you leave caucus to come into the chamber …”

De Jong and Farnworth were house leaders for their respective parties for years and developed a mutual respect that turned into friendship. As bad as things occasionally got, they would have been much worse without that relationship.

Farnworth teased him about his frugality — de Jong wore the same suit this week he had as a rookie MLA, and still drives the same car. But being able to trust conversations with his opposite number showed a respect for the institution.

“That’s what makes this place work.”

The last-day-of-school vibe continued with several other farewell speeches, which made for lots of tears and laughs. Two dozen or more incumbents are retiring, and six more seats have been added for the October election.

The next legislature will look significantly different, no matter who wins.

Many other retirees also touched on the collegiality that underlies the constant arguments.

Retiring NDP MLA Doug Routley (Nanaimo-North ­Cowichan) said: “We do have these friendships across the aisle. If we didn’t, this whole enterprise would grind to a halt.

“I have a fear that in politics throughout our world, there’s a meanness and a degree of hate that we haven’t seen in the past. I haven’t seen that here. … I appreciate that. But I fear that is near to our horizon now and I hope deeply that that is not the case.”

The goodwill lasted even partly into debate on the premier’s spending estimates, the traditional windup of the budget approval process.

It was a long, boring trudge through all the previous ­arguments, but Conservative MLA Bruce Banman opened his portion by noting that the NDP and the Edmonton Oilers share the same orange, while the Conservatives and Vancouver Canucks show blue.

So he asked Eby which team he is supporting.

Eby said he’s a true blue Canucks fan and joked the inference was more Conservative misinformation and propaganda.

“He’s lucky the rules of ­defamation don’t apply in the chamber.”

Just So You Know: De Jong’s first win finished off the Social Credit Party as an entity and made the B.C. Liberals the only free enterprise choice.

His last speech came as the successor BC United Party is lagging in the polls, losing many of its standouts to retirement, and talk of some arrangement with the B.C. Conservatives is in the air.

It’s an open question whether that long Liberal run will last much longer than he did.

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