Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Five thoughts on Van Dongen's leap

First, I don't buy the criticism John Van Dongen is just trying to keep a job in politics and thinks he would lose as a Liberal in his riding. My experience had been that he is an ethical person and I accept his explanation for sitting as a Conservative at face value. (That doesn't mean that he's right, of course.)
Second, the Liberal strategists' decision to have Rich Coleman stop just short of suggesting Van Dongen is emotionally and mentally unstable and hint at dark things to come out in the months ahead was sleazy and destructive. Criticize him for not staying to seek change in the party, or accuse him of betraying the people who elected a Liberal MLA. But don't launch a personal attack on someone you worked beside for 16 years. I can't imagine other Liberals were happy with the lack of decency.
In the same way, attacking Van Dongen for living with - and setting the pay - of his constituency assistant looked bad. The Liberals, apparently, considered it fine as long as he was with them, but a potential scandal once he wasn't. It smells of hypocrisy. (Van Dongen was anticipating the attack and had legal opinions saying he had done nothing wrong.)
Third, in the same vein, how can it have seemed a wise idea to keep Christy Clark unavailable for 24 hours? She's the premier, a senior MLA quits and challenges her government's integrity and she can't be found.
Fourth, I'd like to know more about Liberal constituency assistants, the hiring practices, rates of pay and who sets them. Van Dongen's assistant and partner is paid $78,000, a lot of money. The appearance of conflict of interest in setting the pay, at taxpayer's expense, for the person you live with, is obvious. So is the conflict in managing job performance.
What are other Liberal CAs paid? Who sets the amount, and what are the hiring practices to ensure the best candidates are in the jobs? (The NDP CAs are covered by a collective agreement; the last time I checked the top pay was about $47,000.)
It's time to lift the secrecy around MLA spending.
And fifth, Kevin Falcon's comments in The Tyee were a noteworthy contrast to Coleman's over-the-top attack.
"I can't say it's a total surprise to be honest," said Falcon. "John's been indicating he's been upset about a few issues for a long time."
"I like John, I respected John, I still do," Falcon said. "That's obviously a decision he's made after some thought and he'll have to live with the consequences good or bad."
Those sound like the comments of a person who might see a leadership change, and rebuilding job, in the near future for the Liberals.


Anonymous said...

It is against Legislative Assembly policy for MLAs to have a personal relationship with his or her CA. Shane Simpson's wife was Joy MacPhail's CA, and the day after the 2005 election she resigned to avoid a conflict. You say van Dongen has integrity, but this isn't integrity to me.

John Twigg said...

Good analysis - the type of stuff we should see more of in the MSM. My own analysis can be seen at http://thedailytwigg.blogspot.com .

Rod Smelser said...

Paul, your last paragraph or two seems to pull up about one inch short of suggesting that Van Dongen's defection is part of a Kevin Falcon master plan to seize the leadership.

Is that where this is going? Mix in some by-election losses, a defection or two, then a Cabinet revolt, and Falcon is then chosen as the new Premier?

paul said...

Didn't mean to suggest any plan. It's just interesting that Falcon chose a different approach than the apparently planned effort to discredit Van Dongen.

Fair enough.

I'll take a look.

kootcoot said...

You can see things more clearly from Central America than our local media excuses can from here. BTW, $78,000 is chump change compared to what Gordo's equivalent "aide" pulled down and then as I recall some years her expense/travel account topped all functionaries of government!

As far as I'm concerned the more BC Libs join the BC Cons, the more tainted become the Cons. Besides with Scary Sara McIntyre, Ken Boosenkool et. al. inhabiting the secret bunker where Christy hangs out, who are the REAL Cons anyhoo?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that concerns expressed about conflicts of interest between an aide and a cabinet minister are incomplete if there's no mention of CBC's provincial political bureau manager Stephen Smart being married to Rebecca Scott, Christy Clark's deputy communications director. Indeed on a conceptual level, it would be hard to find a more egregious or direct conflict of interest.

As commentors and Paul himself have noted, it's a no-brainer that such relationships between people holding such positions (aides/ministers and media/political communications director) should never be permitted.

Yet the CBC management & board continue to thumb their noses, as do Smart, Scott and Clark, at this obvious conflict of interest that everyone else (except MSM) seem to understand perfectly well.

wstander said...

The Stephen Smart thing really is mind boggling. At the very least each time he comments on provincial political matters there should be a disclaimer saying he is married to the Liberal's Deputy Communications Director. Which, if it was done, would make it so obvious that there was a conflict, he would have to change jobs.

Bernard said...

John Van Dongen leaving the Liberals is not a surprise. I think he was the accepted consensus as the MLA that would jump ship.

I think it will give the BC Conservatives a media boost, but I am not sure that this will be a bad thing for the Liberals. John Cummins makes Christy Clark look like she is left wing.

I think the BC Conservatives are the most right wing major party we have seen in BC. My take is to the right of even Vander Zalm, that is if you think you can put the Zalm on the political spectrum

Here is the list of all the BC Conservative MLAs in the last 60 years


and the history of floor crossing in BC since 1951


paul said...

Useful posts, Bernard, thanks. And interesting observations on the right-wing nature of the provincial Conservatives. I still think the Conservatives are a problem for the Liberals. Their social conservatism will be seen as extreme by a lot of voters, but will also appeal to some. And they give non-NDP people who are irked with the Liberals an option - a protest vote, rather than voting Liberal or staying home. It does seem that the Liberals need to ease up on the attacks and start showing competence. (And be prepared to change leaders.)
It's also notable, of course, that if the Liberals had supported STV in the referendum, they would likely be looking, at worst, at being the lead partner in a coalition government after the next election.

James King said...

One tiny, or maybe not so tiny, point about those six words in parentheses in your response to Bernard...there are - whether you've heard them or not - some rumblings about the BC Liberals being daily a little more 'prepared' to change leaders than you may have heard Paul.

Here in Victoria, in certain circles, indications that Christy Clark's days may be numbered are almost as obvious as the cherry blossoms on View Street.

Be interested to know what your feelings, as an old Red Deer hand, are about the provincial race in Alberta.

Be well.

Anonymous said...

Cummins and van Dongen would have done themselves a favour if vD had sat as an 'independent' BC Conservative until the next election.

Doesn't Baldrey's wife also work as a political hack for the BC Liberals?

Coleman's behaviour was shameful.

The BC Liberals are OK with dumping on TransLink patrons, but lack the moral courage to publish their own expenses.

And what's with dumping on Dix for not finding his fare receipt? Either show the video where he didn't pay, or SHUT UP!

When will Christy Clark learn the difference between free enterprise and crony capitalism?

paul said...

No, Keith Baldrey's wife doesn't work for government. Let's be careful with casual, inaccurate accusations. Or, for that matter, with all comments based on imagined motives. Focus on actions and inactions.

paul said...

Interesting, James King. I haven't heard rumblings, but I am 4,700 kilometres away. But I certainly would expect some Liberals to be considering a change of leaders. That carries its own problems, but has to be considered since things are getting worse, not better. (And the 'hold your nose and vote for us' argument is not real compelling; certainly didn't work for the NDP in 2001.) Totally out of touch with Alberta these days, but recommend my old Advocate co-worker (and former Liberal MLA) at http://mauricetougas.wordpress.com/

Ian Reid said...

Paul, an excellent column and at a distance too. A couple of thoughts:
Coleman is playing the role he's always played. He also has some 'splaining to do around BC Rail and his very close relationship with Kinsella.

I think the strategic thinking behind Coleman's attack, developed by Boessenkool, was that the comments were less for the outside world than to scare remaining fence-sitters within the Liberal caucus - a sign of discipline to come as well as the extent of the troubles within the caucus.

And I think the issue of changing leaders is far more complicated than people think - it further damages a damaged brand, it rends the party once again as it attempts to ready for an election, it complicates the partisan nature of the coalition when they need to stitch it together... etc...

But most telling is this: why work to change a leader when you can change parties with much less fuss and bother, building a new brand instead of patching up an old one to get it through the year?

If they do attempt a leadership change it'll be more like throwing up the white flag than re-energizing the coalition.

Take care

paul said...

Interesting thoughts on the leadership change question. I defer to you on the political damage assessment.

Anonymous said...

Paul, your answer to Anon 8:57 is not entirely true, or rather it's not the whole truth.

Until a year or so ago, Keith Baldrey's wife Anne Mullens did indeed work for the government, as a communications manager in the Ministry of Health.

She's since become the editor of the upscale Oak Bay magazine Boulevard, which has a business relationship with the Times-Colonist, your former employer.

Check out her magazine, featuring hubby Keith, here:


paul said...

Hey Anon:
I don't believe Anne Mullens worked as a communications manager in the health ministry, but could, of course, be wrong.
Bouelvard used to be distributed with some copies of the Times Colonist, but that ended, I believe, in 2010. I think the Globe handles the delivery now.

Scotty on Denman said...

BC Rail is covering fire for van Dongen's retreat from the BC Liberals. He knows more about the scandal than he lets on, and the government knows it, too. But to admit as much would be incriminating and hurt vD's chance of extending his political career as a BC Conservative. Therefore he has very curiously hired a lawyer to get to the bottom of the scandal, curious because many other lawyers with much bigger resources have tried and failed to shine a light on the pertinent chapters of the whole sale, police raid, corruption trial and corruption of the corruption trial.

VD's lawyer is more likely a decoy cleverly put in place so vD can return retaliatory fire against his old party and claim that his BC Rail ammo has been newly discovered by his lawyer rather than something that he knew himself all along, which would be incriminating.

Mr van Dongen is a career politician who probably talks politics all day long by virtue of being married to his constituency assistant. His very vocal condemnation of Christy Clark during the party's leadership convention has turned out to be very good insurance that allows him to put as much distance between himself and the disgraced party he was so long a member of. VD has plainly thought out his political survival strategy very carefully. The BC Rail ammo and the lawyer are more of the same.

John Twigg said...

There might well have been a plan for a group to depart together but maybe they decided one should go first to help win a byelection and test the water then others will go after with more ease than if they had all gone after the byelection - which fits with recent statement by Randy White (see the latest dailytwigg) that they will get official party status before next election (which will get them a ticket into the TV debate).
This way the future party jumpers keep their paycheques and reduce Christy's time and ability to rebuild before April-May 2013.
Also re Coleman enforcing caucus discipline, I'd say yes that too.

James King said...

Thanks for the link to Maurice Tougas's site - much appreciated. My cousin's husband was the editor of the Advocate for years - retired now I believe.


Jim King

paul said...

Jim King:
Who would that be? I was editor for a time, succeeded by the estimable Joe McLaughlin.
Maurice is astute, but his greater claim to fame is that his father played a dead body in Gone With The Wind.

Jim King said...

Joe McLaughlin...his wife is my first cousin...

paul said...

Jim King:
Please say hello for me. I've lost touch. Joe is a great person and one of the better journalists I've worked with, and Priscilla is just as great (but a bit smarter than Joe).

Jim King said...

I'll let her know what you've said Paul!

Just kidding.

I'll pass along your good wishes. I'm sure they'll be interested in what you're up to these days.