John Horgan is leaning heavily on a group of young guns to build momentum and position his party to ride away with an election win in 2017.
Horgan, leader of the B.C. New Democratic Party and MLA for the Juan de Fuca riding anchored by his home city of Langford, has given extra responsibility to an energetic group of six or seven “youngsters,” by political standard at least, many of them under 40 years of age.
“It goes against the grain historically,” Horgan said during a lengthy interview in his constituency office in Langford. “But I said when I ran for the leadership that it was time for the younger generation in our party to step up and be given more responsibility, and that’s what we’ve done.”
He cites NDP Deputy House Leader Michelle Mungall, 37, as a great example of the party’s new direction and focus. He lauded her efforts as opposition critic for Social Development, where she was able to get the government to do an about-face on clawing back support payments from single parents.
“She brought in people to tell their stories and the government changed its policy. That’s the opposition’s role, and even our critics would say we’ve done a good job of it.”
Horgan also had plenty of praise for Melanie Mark, a “dynamo” who is earmarked to replace longtime MLA Jennie Kwan in what Horgan considers the safest NDP riding in B.C.
“She’s energetic, intelligent and has a very diverse upbringing,” Horgan said. “If she gets elected she would be the first First Nations woman elected to the legislature.”
Horgan believes his extensive sports background has played a key role in re-energizing the “disheartened” party. “I’ve been the best player on a team, cut from a team and everything in between.”
He likes the look of this NDP team, and keeping the experience of the older faction has created a balance the public appreciates, he said.
Horgan, who has represented the Juan de Fuca riding for 10 years, admitted he was initially reluctant to run for the leadership following the party’s stunning, crushing defeat in the 2013 provincial election. Despite the NDP enjoying a sizeable lead in the polls late in the campaign, the Liberals under Christy Clark came from behind to win by a comfortable margin.
The NDP believed victory was imminent and made the mistake of trying to be all things to all people, Horgan said. That, coupled with what he called a “poorly run” campaign, were the main factors in the defeat.
“It was a textbook example of the old adage that campaigns matter. The Liberals were doing anything to keep power. They played the LNG card, promised a $100 billion property fund, no debt, 100,000 jobs – and Clark is an excellent campaigner.”
Horgan took the opportunity to point out, however, that the provincial debt has actually gone up in the past three years under Clark, more than any other time in the province’s history.
With the next provincial election still 22 months away, Horgan said he feels optimistic but admitted it will be a tough battle against Clark, if she decides to run again.
“The key is to continue building strong relationships and being available to listen to people, whatever their political stripes,” he said. “That goes a lot further that some catch phrase on the side of a bus.”
Part 2 of this interview, on the Juan de Fuca riding, follows in Friday’s Gazette.