BC Liberal leadership candidate Mike DeJong is interviewed by 103.5 The Bridge news director Glenn Hicks on Tuesday during a stop in Nelson.

BC Liberal leadership candidate Mike DeJong is interviewed by 103.5 The Bridge news director Glenn Hicks on Tuesday during a stop in Nelson.

DeJong unfazed by lack of caucus support

Although he doesn’t have the same support of fellow caucus members as a couple of other BC Liberal leadership candidates, Mike DeJong insists it doesn’t matter.

“I’m interested in and a bit mystified by the amount of attention that is focused on efforts to attract the political elite,” the former attorney general said during a stop in Nelson this week. “This is not a decision that should or will be left to backroom politicians.”

Meeting with reporters at the Chamber of Commerce, DeJong said 60,000 to 70,000 party members will choose the next leader and premier, and he is “enjoying thoroughly and having great success in bolstering that number.”

Shuswap MLA George Abbott now counts the support of 17 fellow MLAs, while Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon has the backing of 15. So far none are behind DeJong’s bid.

However, he places greater value on the party’s rank-and-file. “We’ll see how important that kind of establishment support is versus what I think really matters, which is the support of people,” he says.

DeJong sees the premier’s job as primarily being B.C.’s chief salesperson to generate jobs and investment. But he says many communities are reluctant to get behind large-scale development projects because they have to endure the negative side while most of the benefits leave the community.

He says he wants to change that.

“Let’s look at a revenue sharing scheme that will help local leaders acquire the support necessary to see a project become a reality,” he says. “Redesigning the social contract in a way that ensures the benefits remain in the region is probably the recipe we can use to move ahead.”

DeJong says he instituted such schemes with First Nations while he was forests minister, and believe it’s time to expand that concept.

“What we cannot do, and we see too much of, is allow people to be opposed to everything. You ask them about electricity, and they’re opposed to hydro, run-of-the-river, gas, coal, sun, wind, nuclear — everything. We have to say what we’re for.”

While the Abbotsford West MLA admits “it’s no secret this hasn’t been a region that has exactly embraced the BC Liberals,” he says the leadership race is a momentum building exercise that gives them a chance to “re-establish our credentials and trust with British Columbians.”

He says he has been to Nelson frequently since he was first elected MLA, often in his capacity as forests minister, but “I actually sneak into town privately fairly regularly too, just because I like to come.”

DeJong is the third Liberal leadership candidate to visit West Kootenay, after Christy Clark and George Abbott. Clark was scheduled to return to Nelson this week, but postponed her trip due to weather.

The Liberals pick their new leader February 26.