An Abbotsford councillor claims that Deputy Premier Rich Coleman forced him to sign a letter agreeing to run in Abbotsford-Mission.
Moe Gill told the Straight about this by phone after Coleman claimed to CKNW Radio that Gill had informed him that he wasn't interested in running in Abbotsford South. Coleman said Gill even put his name on a letter saying he wanted to run in Abbotsford-Mission.
"They bullied me into signing this," Gill alleged. "I didn't want to go there."
The B.C. Liberals have acclaimed University of the Fraser Valley criminologist Darryl Plecas as their candidate in Abbotsford South, which is held by independent MLA John van Dongen.
Gill explained that after the B.C. Liberal convention, he received a phone call from Bruce Burley, a regional director, asking for a meeting the following morning at 9 a.m. in an Abbotsford Cactus Club restaurant.
Gill said he was pleased because he thought he would be told that he would be the party's candidate in Abbotsford South.
The restaurant normally didn't open at that time, according to Gill, but management allowed Gill inside for the get-together with Burley and Coleman.
According to Gill, Coleman sat at a table and said, "I'm working for only two people. I listen to those two people and I speak for those two people. One is Christy Clark. The other one is [B.C. Liberal campaign manager] Mike McDonald."
Gill said they talked for two hours. "I keep telling him, this is the riding I work in," he recalled. "They have this bullying tactic that works really nice. They do this professionally, I think....He said to me, 'You are not approved.' "
The Abbotsford councillor said he persisted, saying he was going to run in Abbotsford South.
"He said 'You can't run in this riding. You're not approved. The Liberal party is not approving you. How can you run?'," Gill claimed.
Then, according to Gill, Coleman offered him a membership list in Abbotsford-Mission so he could gather support there.
"I said, 'Randy Hawes is running this person over there—[Mission councillor] Tony Luck. They have been working there, getting the membership. It's too late'," Gill recalled.
Gill conceded that he signed the letter under duress. Members of the B.C. Liberal constituency executive in Abbotsford South later quit en masse when they learned that the party was appointing Plecas as the candidate.
Now, Gill wonders if the B.C. Liberals have tried to prevent other Punjabi-speaking Indo-Canadian politicians from seeking nominations in other constituencies.
Gill sidestepped a question from the Straight whether he thought the B.C. Liberals' actions were racist.
On Radio India this morning, host Gupreet Singh also asked Gill if racism played any role in the B.C. Liberals' decision to prevent him from seeking a nomination in Abbotsford South.
Gill stopped short of using the R-word, merely saying what happened to him happened to his community.
Gill told the Straight that he was the first Punjabi-speaking politician to be elected to a municipal council in 1996. This came after he lost in five previous attempts.
"The Indo-Canadian population in B.C., I believe, highly respects me and I respect them as well," he said.
He then told a story about how, on a trip to India with Finance Minister Mike de Jong, a teacher came up to him and said that she was encouraged to attend school after reading about how Gill refused to give up on his political aspirations in Canada.
"I gave her a big hug," he said. "The tears were rolling down my eyes."
In 1994, Gill helped de Jong win a narrow victory over then–Social Credit leader Grace McCarthy in an Abbotsford by-election. That paved the way for the demise of the Socreds and catapulted the B.C. Liberals into becoming the de facto opposition to the NDP.
Flash forward 18 years and now, Gill says he's going to do everything he can to ensure that Plecas is defeated in Abbotsford South.
"I was the one involved with Mike de Jong to finish off the Social Credit party at that time," Gill noted. "Am I the same guy again who is going to finish off the Liberal party?"
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.