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Joe jumps Richmond MP shows his true Grit

by Chris Bryan, staff reporter

Angry calls are flooding into Richmond MP Joe Peschisolido’s office following the stunning news of his crossing the floor to join the Liberals.

Despite the palpable anger among those who voted for him as a Canadian Alliance candidate, and those who helped co-ordinate and fundraise his campaign, Peschisolido still believes he has a mandate.

“I know there’s a lot of frustration and anger out there,” he said. “I understand that.

“I know people will say that’s opportunistic. I’m saying, give me a chance.”

Peschisolido said the decision came late last week after about two weeks of soul-searching.

“I felt I couldn’t go on doing my job as a member of the Alliance,” he said, adding that he kept his head down and forged ahead during leadership squabbles within the party.

He met with Prime Minister Jean Chretien at 24 Sussex Drive last weekend and announced his move on Sunday.

The last straw, he said, was two things: the lack of party action in response to intolerant comments made by Saskatchewan MP Roy Bailey; and leadership hopeful Stephen Harper’s response to Peschisolido’s concerns about Betty Grainger being involved with his campaign.

Grainger was pulled out of the last election in disgrace after referring to an “Asian invasion.” Harper allegedly shrugged off Peschisolido’s concerns.

“Particularly here in Richmond, I’ve made it clear that these comments have no place,” said Peschisolido, whose riding has a high percentage of voters of Asian heritage.

But why not become an independent or resign and call a byelection? Why join the Liberals?

With an MP that is part of the government in power, Richmond stands a better chance of getting the goodies, he said, such as the proposed trade and exhibition centre and rapid transit.

“I believe that I can do things now,” he said.

Peschisolido acknowledged that many who voted for him were voting because he was an Alliance Party member, and because they wanted to protest the Liberals.

“There are those who voted that way who are annoyed. I understand why people are saying that. Some voted for the party, some voted for the man. But all I’m asking is to defer judgment.”

Delta-South Richmond MP John Cummins said Peschisolido has betrayed the trust placed in him by voters. In 2000, Peschisolido was a newcomer from Ontario and people chose to give him a chance.

“A lot of people in Richmond didn’t know him and worked hard to get him elected,” the Alliance fisheries critic said. “They felt B.C. was not adequately represented by the Liberal government.”

Party affiliation plays a huge role in getting elected, Cummins added.

Kenny Chiu, president of the Alliance party’s Richmond Constituency Association, said they feel “disbelief, betrayal, and sadness” over the move.

“He didn’t even ask us for any options or any suggestions before he made his decisions,” Chiu said. If Peschisolido had chosen to sit as an independent, many on the board would have supported him, Chiu added.

Peschisolido has changed his stripes before, and says that he did so for good reason.

Despite 10 years as a member of the Reform Party and now, the Alliance, Peschisolido has Liberal roots. He was a long-time member of the party, and was a chair of Jean Chretien’s youth campaign in 1990 that helped him win the Liberal leadership.

The next year, he joined the Reform Party.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy,” he said.

The new party seemed a vehicle to make important changes in Canada, he said, at a time when the country needed to move in a more conservative direction, particularly on fiscal matters. The Liberals have since adopted many of the Reform, and later, Alliance policies, making his former party irrelevant, he said.

“Obviously, me making the decision that I did means I don’t believe the Alliance Party was relevant here in Richmond,” Peschisolido said.

In the 2000 election, Peschisolido beat Liberal incumbent Raymond Chan by a narrow margin of 1,100 votes. During his acceptance speech, Peschisolido said, “Raymond Chan is a good man. Unfortunately, he’s part of a government that’s forgotten about Richmond, forgotten about B.C.”

Chan told The Richmond Review he was shocked by Peschisolido’s move, but stayed diplomatic.

“I welcome the fact that Richmond is now being represented by a Liberal,” Chan said. “That’s always good for our riding.”

Chan said he was glad to see Peschisolido embracing Liberal principles, but would not rule out challenging him in the Liberal nomination for the next election.

“I will make the decision when the time comes,” Chan said.

Peschisolido said his future task is clear:

“I am going to have to regain the confidence of people disappointed and feeling betrayed by my decision.”

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