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British Columbia Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong speaks during a rally at the Grand Taj Banquet Hall in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday January 23, 2011. The party will elect a new leader to replace Premier Gordon Campbell on February 26, 2011. (DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
British Columbia Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong speaks during a rally at the Grand Taj Banquet Hall in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday January 23, 2011. The party will elect a new leader to replace Premier Gordon Campbell on February 26, 2011. (DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Former friends become political rivals Add to ...

Abbotsford city Councillor Moe Gill helped usher B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong into provincial politics. On Sunday, he made it official that he will try to kick him out.

Mr. Gill announced he is running as an independent in Abbotsford West – Mr. de Jong’s riding. The move is the latest twist in a dispute that saw Mr. Gill turned away by the party in his bid to run in Abbotsford South – a riding Mr. Gill coveted – in favour of prominent criminologist Darryl Plecas.

Mr. Gill, a resident of Abbotsford for 36 years and city councillor since 1996, wants to get into provincial politics as the next logical step in his political career. So, he thinks the seat of his former friend – a man he described Sunday as once being like a “brother” to him – will do just fine.

Mr. Gill is angry at the B.C. Liberal Party in general, and Mr. de Jong in particular. “I was willing to do anything for him,” he said in an interview. “That’s how close we were to each other and all of a sudden, he didn’t return that to me.

“At the end, he just showed nothing to me.”

But don’t call it revenge, he said.

“There’s no reason for revenge. I and Mike are parted from each other. He’s working on his campaign his way with his party. I am working on my campaign. I don’t think we have to take any revenge on each other. Campaign honestly and let the people decide.”

The two men met 19 years ago in the Abbotsford-area rotary club. Eventually, Mr. de Jong became a school trustee with Mr. Gill’s help. In 1994, Mr. de Jong won a by-election in the riding of Matsqui by 42 votes over legendary Socred Grace McCarthy. Mr. Gill was there.

Mr. Gill was also around as Mr. de Jong went on to win again, even as the riding changed its name and makeup. He said he continued to be there for him as Mr. de Jong served as attorney-general, health minister, solicitor-general, aboriginal relations minister and now Finance Minister.

More recently, Mr. Gill was interested in Abbotsford South, and said Mr. de Jong encouraged that interest. “He had said this riding will be the one you will be running in.”

Asked if he still considers Mr. de Jong a friend, he said, “I wouldn’t call him a friend as we have been in the past. He is an individual and I am an individual. He is going his way and I am going mine.” He said he has not spoken to the Finance Minister about recent events.

In 2008, Abbotsford-Mount Lehman became Abbotsford-West. In 2009, Mr. de Jong won 57 per cent of the vote over his B.C. NDP rival who won 31 per cent. The B.C. Conservative candidate won six per cent.

Mr. Gill said Mr. de Jong was pretty much acclaimed as a candidate and MLA. “He has never had a challenge – up until now. This will be the first time he has had a challenge.”

Mr. Gill’s platform includes balanced budgets, better co-operation among the three levels of government, and opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline. He is vaguely dismissive of Mr. de Jong’s work as health minister – noting he passed on concerns as a friend – and doubts the Finance Minister will credibly balance the budget, due Feb. 19, as promised.

In an interview Sunday, Mr. de Jong said Mr. Gill is now campaigning, and voters should judge his comments given the fact that, until recently, Mr. Gill was a supportive B.C. Liberal. Mr. de Jong said he regretted the whole situation, including the loss of Mr. Gill’s friendship. “We have been friends for a long time.”

At this point, he said he will leave it to the voters to decide his fate. “I never try to overthink these exercises.”

Mr. Gill scoffed at the idea of running for the NDP. “I am a free enterpriser,” he said. He’s not interested in the B.C. Conservatives. And he shrugs off the possibility of splitting the vote. Being an independent, he said, is a good fit because he can speak his mind without having to toe any party line. “It feels good.”

Political scientist Hamish Telford said it remains to be seen how much of a political impact Mr. Gill will have.

“The question will be how well organized he will be,” said Mr. Telford, who works at the University of the Fraser Valley, which has its key campuses in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

To date, the Fraser Valley, said Mr. Telford, has been safe ground for the centre-right, but the NDP won Chilliwack-Hope in a recent by-election. And there’s a strong independent presence, also, in Abbotsford-South where former solicitor-general John van Dongen is running as an independent after being, in recent years, a B.C. Liberal and member of the B.C. Conservatives. “There are two plausible independents out there.”

Mr. Telford said it’s likely that Mr. de Jong will be more tied to home in this campaign than in the past, denying the Liberals their Finance Minister as a campaigner elsewhere in the province. “He’s going to have to pay attention to home.”

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