Though John Horgan was despondent at the outcome of the last provincial election, 2013 was indeed a long time ago.
The leader of the B.C. NDP, who took over from Adrian Dix after the election loss of three and a half years ago, was in Cranbrook Monday, Sept. 19, with the rest of the BC NDP caucus on the party’s September caucus meeting, talking strategy and policy on the eve of another provincial election campaign.
And Horgan sees lots of signs at home and abroad that give him optimism for his party’s fortunes in , set for May, 2017.
“What’s changed is, the Liberals have had another four years to continue to reduce services to people, while they have been increasing costs to people — although they deny it,” Horgan told the Townsman between caucus events out at St. Eugene Mission. “There’s a long list of government fees and charges that are taxes by another name.
“I’ve been talking about affordibility issues across the province, and I think what separates us from 2013 is there was some sense from Ms. Clark that she was going to be new and different, and time has proven that to be incorrect. She is about the same as the last guy. She spends almost as much time on the fundraising circuit as she does in the Legislature.”
One thing that has changed recently is the very public rise of an anti-establishment spirit amongst voters. It’s been manifested in the recent Brexit vote in the U.K., and most notoriously in Donald Trump’s rise as U.S. Presidential candidate. Horgan says Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton for Democratic Party candidate from — for the U.S. — a unusual left-wing position, is also indicative of widespread discontent.
“Here’s a 74-year-old guy who had all these 20-somethings come out by the thousands to his rallies, because of that message he was delivering, that anti-establishment message.
“When I look back through political history, it’s always populist uprisings, left and right — the CCF, NDP and Reform Party in the Canadian context — have been a response to these elites telling us what to do. As much as I bristle and recoil at some of the grotesque things that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth, and the things that he stands for, I understand the frustration. I can see where that discontent with establishment is coming from.
“And why I’m comforted by that is that I would like to think of myself as an outsider. I’m the son of an Irish immigrant, raised by a single mother, and I’d like to think of myself as an outsider, trying to knock down the doors of the establishment for working people, regular folks. When the population wants to sweep out the establishment, that’s usually good for opposition parties, and I like to think I’ll be able to take advantage of that.
“I like to think of myself as a comfortable populist who has a policy background, and I’m hopeful that my approach is resonating as I travel around the province. My profile is coming up, I have a clean slate in the public mind and the Premier has a tarnished slate.”
Closer to home, Horgan sees the pending retirement longtime Kootenay East Liberal MLA Bill Bennett — who he knows well and respects — as an opportunity for the NDP in this riding.
“We’re talking about the upcoming campaign [at the current caucus meeting], about the two candidates who’ve stepped forward — Randall Macnair and Norma Blissett. These are two experienced individuals going against each other for the nomination, so I’m very pleased that the party will be well represented in the coming campaign.”
Increasing focus on the regions in the Interior and farther flung areas of the province is part of Horgan’s mission, he says, bridging the rural urban divide that may exist.
“I’m very much trying to do that. There are four seats in the Kootenays, three of four have been NDP since 2005 — I’d like to say that was the beginning of the renewal of the NDP. We’ve been struggling in the East Kootenay, and resource communities, because of this negative messaging the Liberals perpetuate … I understand what it is to work for a living. I’ve worn a hardhat to protect my head, not to get my picture taken. I can be in the lunchroom or boardroom equally comfortably, and I think that will serve us well in the Elk Valley, in Cranbrook, and throughout rural B.C.”
The caucus is also discussing policy matters of a province-wide nature.
“We’ve been talking about affordability issues,” Horgan said, “like affordable housing in the Lower Mainland. On the resource side we’ve been talking about forestry — how can we get more value out of our forest products. We see an increasing volume of timber and a decreasing volume of finished products. I’m concerned about the volume of waste and the lack of focus on forest health — that’s been a personal concern of mine, and it’s going to be a key part of our platform. We’ve been talking about how we’re going to hold the Liberals accountable for that.”