de Jong eyes Conservative candidacy in new riding

Rick de Jong is travelling around the new riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay, pondering putting his name forward as a Conservative candidate. - Steve Kidd/Western News
Rick de Jong is travelling around the new riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay, pondering putting his name forward as a Conservative candidate.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News

Rick de Jong is determined to put his name forward as a possible Conservative candidate for the new riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay, but he is not yet ready to throw a big announcement party.

Instead, de Jong is travelling around the riding, holding a series of meetings with Conservative party members, like a breakfast meeting this week at Debbie’s Diner in Penticton ,in a bid to garner grassroots support for his bid.

“It is really focused on the party membership, that is where my attention and all my energies are going,” said de Jong, who is currently finishing his first term as a West Kelowna councillor, but promises he will move to the new riding if elected.

He is the third candidate to put his name forward as a Conservative hopeful, following after Marshall Neufeld of Penticton and Stephen Hill of Rossland.

Though this was de Jong’s meeting, it drew out another possible candidate.

Jason Cox, a past president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, attempted to run in the 2011 Conservative nomination race, but wasn’t able to get his paperwork in on time.

“I should confess that I am here sizing up the competition,” said Cox, who was an aide to Tom Siddon when he was a Conservative MP.

“I am thinking about putting my name in as well.”

“My roots in the conservative party go back to the old Progressive Conservative days and right through the rebirth of the new Conservative party,” said Cox.

Both men will have serious competition from Hill and Neufeld, a former assistant to Stockwell Day.

Neufeld is running with Day’s endorsement, and the assistance of some of Day’s campaign team.

“Marshall is very well-entrenched in the party and he knows a lot of people locally,” said Cox.

Neufeld, he continued, is working hard to garner support for party members.

That’s good for the party, Cox said, a sentiment de Jong agreed with.

“It is a Conservative riding to lose. To have three candidates right now vying for the position is very healthy. It tells you how alive and well the conservative party is in this new riding,” said de Jong.

de Jong is the younger brother of Mike de Jong, provincial minister of finance.

Both brothers are card-carrying members of the right-leaning B.C Liberal party, but de Jong said they differ a little on federal politics.

“I am a bit more of a Conservative, where he tends to be a little bit of a Liberal,” said de Jong. “We have had some heated discussions from time to time.”

Still, de Jong said his older brother is happy and supportive of his endeavour.

The new riding of South Okanagan West Kootenay has had strong representation in Ottawa, with Conservative MPs Stockwell Day and Dan Albas formerly representing the northern part and NDP MP Alex Atamanenko in the south and west portions.

de Jong has no worries about filling the former representatives’ shoes; he brings his own qualities to the table.

“A very loud voice and a willingness to engage and chase down the infrastructure funding,” he said.

Infrastructure funding and economic development are the two issues facing communities in the riding, according to de Jong.

“A very firm position for an MP is to hustle and get the infrastructure funding and grant funding,” said de Jong, who said the government then needs to allow local business to capitalize on those amenities.

“Government paves the road but we can’t drive the truck down the road. That has to happen with local business,” said de Jong.

“As soon as the government tries to drive the truck down the road, we are going to put it in the ditch.

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