Juan de Fuca MLA logs long miles in search of NDP leadership
In politics, a key issue is usually the economy – a message that has hit home for John Horgan as he crisscrosses the province on the B.C. NDP campaign trail.
Now two months into his campaign to lead the NDP and ultimately become premier, the Juan de Fuca MLA and Langford resident said he has a new appreciation for the economic woes of northern B.C.
It’s territory he’s covered as energy critic, but looking deeper at the struggling resource economy, such as the transfer of lumber mills to China and contraction of commercial fishing, is unsettling.
“The economy in northwest B.C. is in desperate condition, the depopulation of Prince Rupert and Terrace is stark,” Horgan said in a phone interview from Terrace.
“That kind of poverty is something people in Victoria and Vancouver don’t have a full appreciation of. The rural community poverty is hidden. They have homes that aren’t heated, the fridge is empty. It’s the kind of poverty you don’t hear about.”
Horgan said northern residents are receptive to the NDP message, or at least his message of welcoming and supporting private sector growth, as long as it respects the environment and pays its fair share of taxes.
“That gets a lot of head nods in the crowd,” Horgan said.
At a B.C. Chamber of Commerce meeting in Vancouver, he acknowledged the problems of industry and the uncertainty created by the B.C. Liberal’s introduction of the HST.
“Not everybody is enthusiastic for the B.C. Liberals at this point,” Horgan said. “My message is of certainty. We want a prosperous private sector, but not at the expense of social development.”
In February, Horgan backtracked on his opposition to the carbon tax on fossil fuels, and released an environmental platform that pledged a moratorium on new run-of-river power projects and “transitioning away” from open-pen fish farms off the B.C. coast.
Horgan said the carbon tax must be expanded to cover large industrial emitters that have certain exemption, such as in the oil and gas sector, and cement producers. He would direct that extra carbon tax to projects such as light rapid transit or commuter rail in Greater Victoria, projects that Horgan have gained little traction within the Liberal government.
“The ‘axe the tax’ slogan was wrong. A better approach is fix the tax,” Horgan said. “I’d like to expand the tax, and not at the gas pump. We want to include large industrial emitters.”
Horgan has spent time trying to build support in the Kootenays, where he ended up catching a lift to the coast with three 20-something snowboarders. Hanging out with a politician wasn’t in their day to day experience, and it gave Horgan direct insight in what younger people view as problems.
“I had my own snowboarder focus group for nine hours,” said Horgan, who at 51 is a prolific Tweeter. “They were very interested in issues of today, but they didn’t relate the issues to politics. It was just issues, it was just their lives.”
Upcoming weeks will be filled with NDP leadership all-candidate meetings across Metro Vancouver and Interior, where Horgan said he needs to build up bases of support. “I’m not ignoring the Island, but I need to make an impact on the Lower Mainland.”
Despite pundits suggesting otherwise, Horgan said new B.C. Liberal leader and Premier Christy Clark isn’t a huge threat to the Opposition. “All Christy Clark has changed is the slogan,” he said. “The Liberal brand is tired and the public isn’t in a position to trust the Liberals.”
Horgan also remarked that “the guy from the Island” is a better candidate than his two main rivals – MLAs Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth – due to their connections with previous NDP governments.
“I represent change better than my two colleagues,” he said. “I speak the truth and ask for confidence from the public to improve the lot of B.C. families.”
B.C. NDP members will vote for a new leader April 17.
— with files from Tom Fletcher