Handicapping the as-yet nonexistent B.C. NDP leadership race
On my travels around Vancouver, I often hear speculation about the future of B.C. NDP.
Some of the chatter invariably turns to the leader, Adrian Dix.
The questions sometimes revolve around whether he'll stay or whether he'll go.
He's been on the job this summer, but says he's also reflecting on his future in the wake of his party's defeat in the May 14 B.C. election.
For fun, I've decided to offer my own odds as to who will be leading the B.C. NDP going into the 2017 provincial campaign.
Feel free to disagree with me or add new names in the comment section below.
Adrian Dix 2.5:1 Dix is the incumbent and if he doesn't want to leave, it's going to take considerable effort to dislodge him. That's not an easy task. In the past, he's enjoyed strong support from the labour movement—and particularly the Hospital Employees' Union. Prior to the election, he was popular with caucus and among party members of South Asian and Philippine descent. Dix also made inroads with the business community and he's respected by members of the press gallery. I would suggest that Dix is still the most likely to lead the party going into the next election, though it's no sure thing. If Moe Sihota were to quit as party president and campaign manager Brian Topp offered a public mea culpa for the May 14 disaster, it could help Dix's chances. But don't expect either of those to occur. And keep in mind the opposition to Dix remains very intense among those who didn't support him in the last leadership race.
Derek Corrigan 3:1 The mayor of Burnaby would be a strong candidate if the party votes for a leadership review and if Corrigan decides he wants the job. He would win the support of many of John Horgan's former supporters and would win the backing of many public-sector union members. His wife Kathy, the MLA for Burnaby–Deer Lake, used to lead CUPE B.C.'s research efforts into public-private partnerships. The development community also likes Corrigan, whose council has introduced a predictable planning process with multifamily construction concentrated in four regional town centres. Corrigan is tough enough to take on Christy Clark, but he sometimes alienates Vancouver New Democrats with his abrasive style, even though he was raised on the East Side. But Corrigan has forged strong relationships with municipal politicians in other parts of the province, in part through the exceptional policy work conducted by Burnaby city staff. Dix is often praised for his intellect, but in Corrigan, he will have met his match.
John Horgan 3:1 If Dix is ousted, there will be an appetite to install Horgan because his campaigning style is exactly what was missing the last time around. He's a tough politician who's willing to play hardball and who's seen as leadership material in the press gallery. However, he also alienated some in caucus with his vicious denunciations of those who rebelled against former leader Carole James, which could contribute to an Anyone-But-Horgan movement at a party convention. Horgan is one of the more business-friendly MLAs in caucus, which could benefit him because he'll be perceived as someone who can attract votes from people who have cast ballots for other parties. Horgan had bladder cancer in 2008, but that didn't dissuade him from running for the leadership in 2011. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan supported him in the last race and would probably back him again if Corrigan chooses not to run. Horgan could also pick up support from his friend Dix's supporters, too, if Dix decides to resign.
Mike Farnworth 4:1 The Port Coquitlam MLA is the heir apparent, having come a close second in the last leadership race. He can revive the organization, get an ally elected as provincial president, and ensure that what cost him the leadership the last time—bulk signups—are handled differently next time around. Farnworth can also claim that he will perform better in the outer suburbs and the northeast sector, where the NDP fared poorly under Dix in the last election. He's one of the stronger horses in the race if the gun ever goes off. But there will be an appetite within the party for a new face, which could undermine his chance of success. Farnworth is also handicapped by a perception among some that he's not as strong on policy issues as Dix, Corrigan, or John Horgan, who are three of the brightest bulbs within the B.C. NDP. Ultimately, this may be the real reason why he's not the NDP leader, notwithstanding his strong debating skills in the legislature and general likability.
David Eby 5:1 Eby, the rookie MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey, has already proven that he can defeat the premier. He has demonstrated far more media savvy than Corrigan and Dix, plus he's better looking on TV. He could probably count on the support of Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver sidekick Mike Magee if Robertson decides not to run. Eby, a lawyer, was born in 1977, which means he would be around 40 years old by the time the next election takes place, and he has proven that he can get younger people engaged in politics. He did an outstanding job at Pivot Legal Society and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and he's far more open-minded than many of the older MLAs in caucus, which makes him more appealing to Generation Y and the millennials. Eby has already travelled to many B.C. communities investigating abuses by the RCMP, so he's no stranger to the people in Terrace, Smithers, and Williams Lake. If the party wants a new face, he's one of the best alternatives.
Darrell Mussatto 7:1 The mayor of the City of North Vancouver is one of the most popular municipal politicians in the region. His close friend Craig Keating, a City of North Vancouver councillor, is running for the party presidency. Mussatto is a modern version of former NDP premier Mike Harcourt—he's green, agreeable, and has no political skeletons in his closet. He might have difficulty winning the trust of party oldtimers who don't know him, but he has a track record of winning by a large margin in a community that consistently elects B.C. Liberals to the legislature. Mussatto supports densification—in that respect, he's similar to Vision Vancouver politicians—but he is also respected by the public-sector unions for his previous work as a paramedic. Don't underestimate him.
Kathy Corrigan 7:1 Corrigan is bright, tough, and capable. But her husband Derek (see above) is more likely to run because he can make use of the City of Burnaby's financial record in a provincial campaign. Debt-free Burnaby has been called the best managed municipality in Canada by the right-wing Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. New Democrats in Burnaby have done extraordinarily well at the civic level, sweeping the school board and council in the last election. They took a gutsy stance opposing homophobia in schools. The time may have arrived when they're feeling that they should have their chance to steer the provincial ship, given their sterling record of success.
Nathan Cullen 8:1 The Skeena–Bulkley Valley NDP MP is this generation's version of Nelson Riis, the former Kamloops NDP MP who was often touted as a future provincial leader but who never put his name forward. Cullen has extraordinary communications skills and he's perhaps best suited to help the B.C. NDP get back in the game in places like Kamloops and Prince George, where the party has faltered in recent years. Cullen comes across as a political moderate and he can appeal to Green voters. He would probably also be supported by the so-called Green Liberals and by some within Vision Vancouver, such as Coun. Andrea Reimer. But it's very difficult to make the transition from federal politics to provincial leader when you don't have a great base of support or huge name recognition in the Lower Mainland or Greater Victoria. That's where most of the population lives and where most of the media are concentrated. Cullen is the NDP house leader in Ottawa and if his party forms government or joins a coalition with the federal Liberals, he'll be in cabinet. My bet is he'll stay on that career path.
Judy Darcy 8:1 The tough-talking new MLA for New Westminster could cobble together a great deal of support if she runs. A former national CUPE president and the former top staffer at the Hospital Employees' Union, she could inherit many of Dix's supporters should Dix choose to sit out the next leadership race. There may also be a great appetite within the party for another female leader and nobody would question her ability to perform in a provincial leaders' debate. If Dix wants to stay, I suspect that Darcy will never enter the race. But if he vacates the leadership, keep an eye on her. Perhaps the biggest barrier might be her age. As a leading-edge baby boomer born in 1950, she might decide that she doesn't want to deal with the headache of being premier at the age of 67.
George Heyman 8:1 Heyman, the MLA for Vancouver-Fairview, has devoted supporters who will urge him to run. He's green enough to beat back the B.C. Greens, but his years as president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union will make him a big fat target for the B.C. Liberals in the 2017 election. We already saw the Globe and Mail editorial board take a run at him in the last election. Heyman also doesn't represent generational change and unlike Corrigan, he doesn't have much experience dealing with the business community. His only hope is if climate change continues wreaking havoc in Canada and the public wakes up to the fact that it poses a monumental economic threat. That hasn't happened yet, and it's not likely to occur, given the mindset of the mainstream media. None of them made any connection between greenhouse-gas emissions and the Alberta floods. But hey, he would be a new face at the top and he's an outstanding debater.
Jenny Kwan 9:1 She's going to be encouraged to run if there is a leadership race. And she would win support from left wingers in the party, housing advocates, and from those who want the B.C. NDP to take a stronger stance against the war on drugs. She might even be in a position to crown the next leader by bringing her supporters over near the end of the race. But her decision to go to the front of the line against former leader Carole James will likely doom her chances because James is still beloved by many within the caucus, including Dix and Horgan.
Raymond Louie 10:1 Don't laugh. This Vancouver city councillor has been elected to council four times, he's vice-chair of Metro Vancouver, and he's soon to become president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities. The NDP has traditionally fared poorly among voters of Chinese descent who don't trace their roots back in Canada several generations. Louie has a demonstrated track record in raising lots of money. As a former union organizer, he passes the B.C. Federation of Labour's smell test. And Louie does his homework and is able to wrap his mind around complicated policies. He's also incredibly friendly to business and investment—in this regard, he's more like a federal Liberal. Louie doesn't have the charisma of Eby, Darcy, or Mussatto, which might doom his chances. But many of the people who backed his bid to become Vision Vancouver's mayoral candidate in 2008 were also deeply embedded in Dix's leadership run. So don't count him out too quickly.
Gregor Robertson 11:1 Robertson likes being mayor of Vancouver and is enjoying trying to turn the city into a hub for digital media and green businesses. After winning the 2014 civic election, he's more likely to make the move to federal politics if he decides he's had enough of sitting through marathon public hearings in the council chamber. He already spent time in the provincial NDP caucus and left after three years, and some NDP MLAs weren't impressed by that. Robertson also isn't considered much of a heavyweight at the regional level, and leaves Coun. Raymond Louie to oversee that area. Robertson has his supporters, so he would be a strong contender if he entered the race. However, he probably knows that he doesn't have enough juice to make it across the finish line in a party still so heavily influenced by organized labour.
Norm Macdonald 12:1 The Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA and former caucus chair is respected by his colleagues, plus he would bring a useful passion for the provincial land base and forestry to any leadership race. His participation in the movement against Carole James could doom him, however. Plus, he lacks any profile in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. He could come up the middle on a fourth or fifth ballot like Stéphane Dion did in the 2006 federal Liberal leadership race, but for now, consider him a longshot.
Rob Fleming 13:1 Fleming is another one of those progressive urban greenies who might run (like Eby, Mussatto, Heyman, and Robertson). At the age of 41 and with eight years experience as an MLA, the Victoria–Swan Lake is at a time in his life when he's probably considering the idea. Fleming supported Farnworth's leadership race, so if Farnworth doesn't run, he could be in a good position to capitalize on that. But it's hard to imagine Farnworth sitting on the sidelines after coming so close in 2011. Fleming would appeal to fiscal conservatives in the party, but the broader membership will probably be seeking someone with more charisma if the race ever gets underway.
Jinny Sims 13:1 The former B.C. Teachers' Federation president and MP for Newton–North Delta is a fearsome debater and is one of the few NDP politicians who can rouse a crowd like former premier Dave Barrett. Things are not looking good these days for the federal New Democrats, given Liberal Justin Trudeau's popularity. Sims is smart enough to look at the tea leaves and conclude that she could be a one-term MP, given the way things are developing. It may seem farfetched, but don't discount the possibility of her entering the race. She was a strong Dix supporter and might scoop up some of his support in any leadership run. And if she's still on the ballot into the third or fourth round of voting, anything can happen. But she still faces extremely long odds.
Spencer Chandra Herbert 15:1 Herbert is a capable politician and perhaps the most adept in caucus when it comes to dealing with the media. The Vancouver–West End MLA turned 34 on the day after the election, and at times, he gives off a vibe that he might not want to be a lifer in politics. He's demonstrated a keen interest in economic issues, but for the reasons listed above, I doubt he'll enter any upcoming leadership race. If he's still in caucus and the NDP loses the next election, I expect that he would put his name forward at that time.