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MLA van Dongen flags possible exit from Clark-led BC Liberal caucus

Former B.C. minister of public safety and solicitor general John van Dongen attends a news conference at RCMP headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on April 4, 2009.


Former cabinet minister and current MLA John van Dongen says he will have to re-assess his future in the Liberal caucus, should Christy Clark win the party's leadership race.

"I'll go in with an open mind, but I have some serious questions," said Mr. van Dongen, a strong supporter of candidate George Abbott.

"I will be interested in seeing how she deals with caucus, and then I will make my decision."

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He said Ms. Clark faces a difficult task trying to unite the Liberals' 47-member caucus if she emerges as the party's new leader and premier-designate, noting that she attracted support from only one MLA.

"It's a big worry. I think it will be tough for her," said Mr. van Dongen, taking a brief break from working the phones in Mr. Abbott's campaign headquarters.

"There's a reason, and a legitimate reason, why virtually all of the caucus worked for [either George Abbott or Kevin Falcon]...You can't expect all of them to suddenly flip over and support a leader they didn't support during the campaign."

Both Mr. Abbott and another of his prominent supporters, cabinet minister Steve Thomson have indicated they will unite behind whoever becomes premier, if it's not Mr. Abbott.

While stressing that he would maintain an "open mind" during Ms. Clark's early days, should she take over government, Mr. van Dongen said his main goal is to have a "continuous, credible, centre-right, free-enterprise option. That's my mission all along."

Some political analysts have predicted that Ms. Clark as premier might spark a revival of the B.C. Conservative Party.

Mr. van Dongen said many caucus members made their decision to support either Mr. Abbott or Mr. Falcon, knowing the "strengths and weaknesses" of Ms. Clark and fourth candidate Mike de Jong.

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"They know these people, and there's a reason why almost all caucus support gravitated to two people [Mr. Abbott and Mr. Falcon]"

He said he was disappointed that Ms. Clark and Mr. de Jong suggested that caucus backing didn't matter. "I think that simply indicates their own misunderstanding of the need for a strong, functioning team in government."

Mr. van Dongen, a Liberal MLA since 1996, stepped down as solicitor-general during the 2009 election campaign, over the accumulation of a number of speeding tickets.

Meanwhile, Bill Bennett, the Kootenay East MLA who was dropped from the BC Liberal caucus over his criticism of Gordon Campbell, is supporting George Abbott but said he would be willing to return to the fold if Christy Clark wins.

"If Christy wins, I will respect her victory and if caucus wants to have me as part of their team, I will seriously consider re-joining the government caucus," he said. "I do not believe Christy is the anti-Christ."

He added that no-one knows if Ms. Clark can manage the caucus and government, "but if she wins, she deserves the chance to show she can."

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With files from Justine Hunter

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