BRITISH COLUMBIA

Ida Chong, Liberal MLA, Fighting To Keep Seat In 'Very Tight Race'

04/19/2013 05:03 EDT | Updated 06/19/2013 05:12 EDT
CP

VANCOUVER - She's the daughter of a ship-yard labourer and restaurant dishwasher who became a professional accountant, and she's well versed in the struggles of blue-collar, working-class families.

Ida Chong, the current Liberal MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, says she wants to ensure workers pay their taxes but also take home more pay than the government deducts.

"Fiscal management, fiscal discipline was a pretty big issue with me," said Chong who is running for her fourth term. "I thought 'You know what, people are entitled to work hard, people are entitled to profit and then people are entitled to keep some of that.'"

"They need to give money to help others less fortunate. I absolutely agree with that, but they should not have government taking more than them."

The veteran politician and cabinet minister hopes she'll be at the top of the tally sheet and returned to the legislative assembly for the fourth time, when the ballots are counted on May 14.

But the Victoria-born resident -- who resides in her own riding, lives with her partner and owns a dog -- is running up against some tough numbers.

During the 2006 provincial election, she beat NDP candidate Jessica Van der Veen by just 561 votes, taking 11,877 ballots compared to the NDP's 11,316.

The bottom line for the Green Party of B.C. wasn't nearly as good in that race, with candidate Steven Johns placing a distant third with just 2,152 votes.

This time, Van der Veen's back, and Chong's up against Andrew Weaver, a high-profile University of Victoria professor who has won the nomination for the Green Party of B.C.

She's also taking on Conservative candidate Greg Kazakoff who has worked as a chartered accountant for the past 25 years.

Michael Prince, a professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said Chong's battle will be tough because she's also running for a party that's just finished its third term in office and has an unpopular leader with low approval ratings.

"I think she'll try to run on her own local profile and that's she's a good community constituency MLA, but I'm not sure if that's going to be strong enough to save her."

Chong, unlike the rest of the candidates, has got some serious political experience on her side, although she admitted to dreaming in grade school of being a teacher because of her thirst and desire to share her knowledge.

She began her political career with the District of Saanich, B.C, serving on council from 1993 to 1996.

At the time, she was a professional accountant, a line of work she chose after taking a high-school business class. In 1984 she joined a practice run by a high-school friend.

After being approached unsuccessfully once by the Liberals to run provincially, she said she was approached again in 1996 and then stood for election in the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

The numbers added up in her favour, and Chong took home 12,340 votes to NDP candidate and former finance minister Elizabeth Cull's final count of 11,700.

In 2001, she walloped NDP candidate Charley Beresford 14,588 votes to 5,789, and the Green's improved their numbers, earning 4,666.

Beresford returned in the 2005, but was a second-time unluckily, with 12,016 votes to Chong's 13,443.

The Greens, meantime, saw their fortunes fall, earning just 2,379 votes.

During her time in office, Chong has held more than a handful of cabinet posts, serving as ministers of community, sport and cultural development, science and universities, regional economic and skills development and minister of state for women's and seniors' services.

Chong said as an accountant in a public practice she learned many lessons that she can transfer into the political world, among them the need to develop a reputation that gave customers confidence and left them assured she was knowledgeable.

"You have to meet all people from different backgrounds and that's critically important," she said. "If you don't like people and you don't like to be around people, you probably shouldn't have this job."

However, the job requires family members to have flexibility and understand she'll miss significant events, like soccer games, recitals and funerals, said Chong.

"It will be a very, very tight race here," she said. "I do not for one moment believe that it's going to be a cake walk, but every election is a bit of a battle, she said.

"This is a riding that has always been contested and has always had a pretty vigorous campaign from all parties, but I think, perhaps, more so this time."