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'Very few people gave me much of a chance to succeed': de Jong

B.C. Health Minister Mike De Jong speaks during a public forum in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 12, 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Nobody thought Mike de Jong could win when he first ran in B.C. politics, in a by-election on Feb 17, 1994.

A 29-year-old lawyer who had been elected as a school trustee three years earlier, Mr. de Jong was dismissed as a token candidate against prominent Social Credit politician Grace McCarthy.

But the brash, young politician slipped in with a 42-vote margin, ending Ms. McCarthy's political career and helping to put the final nail in the coffin of a party that had dominated B.C. politics for four decades.

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"At times, it was intimidating, and very few people gave me much of a chance to succeed," Mr. Jong says.

"Kind of like this race," he adds. "There are so many parallels."

Mr. de Jong, who most pundits predict will finish fourth, believes he just might pull off another upset to succeed Mr. Campbell as B.C. Premier.

During the Liberal Party leadership race, Mr. de Jong has been the nice guy on the podium, the most relaxed on the campaign trail, with a sense of humour and a cautious approach on issues. He has stayed away from criticizing others, presenting himself as a committed party member who would be part of the team regardless of who wins.

Despite his easy-going attitude and 17 years in provincial politics, he has no support inside caucus. He attributes that poor showing to his role as House Leader, a position that required him to tell his colleagues what they could and could not do.

Among the general membership, he may have been hindered by controversies that erupted just before the race began.

He was attorney general when Wally Oppal was chosen to head the inquiry into Vancouver's missing women, a highly unpopular appointment condemned as political patronage by women's groups and first nations. He also had to stickhandle the backlash against the government picking up the $6-million tab for legal fees in the Basi-Virk case.

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Mr. de Jong, 47, has held several ministerial posts: forest, labour and aboriginal affairs, as well as solicitor general and attorney general. Outside of politics, Mr. de Jong, who is not married, lives on a farm in the Fraser Valley next to his parents. He is a member of the Canadian armed forces reserve and holds the rank of captain.

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