B.C. NDP may go back to the 1990s in crowning a new leader in time for 2017 election

The B.C. NDP leadership race is shaping up as dreary contest between two fairly conservative retreads from the 1990s.

That became even more likely today with rookie NDP MLA David Eby's declaration that he's not running because his partner is expecting a baby.

The two likely leading contestants—veteran MLAs Mike Farnworth and John Horgan—can each expect to be targeted by B.C. Liberal attack ads in the 2017 election should they emerge victorious in September.

Farnworth, the NDP finance critic, is quick-witted and congenial but a little light on policy. He was first elected in 1991 and served in the cabinet of Glen Clark.

Anticipate the B.C. Liberals to zero in on a decision that Farnworth made as the minister in charge of gambling in December 1998.

That's when Farnworth granted approval-in-principle to a casino-licence application from a company owned by Dimitrios Pilarinos and Steve Ng.

That set the wheels in motion for the "casinogate" scandal, leading to the resignation of then-premier Glen Clark the following year.

Farnworth later testified in court that he didn't know Pilarinos had done work on Clark's house and cottage or that their families had vacationed together.

B.C. Liberal communications advisers will pay little heed to this nuance in trying to submarine Farnworth in 2017.

Horgan has vulnerabilities as well

Horgan worked for three B.C. NDP premiers in the 1990s—Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, and Dan Miller.

That alone would provide plenty of fodder for B.C. Liberal attack ads.

Last year, Horgan said he wasn't going to run for the leadership—suggesting that his party needed someone not associated with the 1990s—but he's since been sending signals that he might be ready to change his mind.

Now the NDP house leader and MLA for Juan de Fuca, Horgan has his own casino bugaboo, though it's not as politically damaging as Farnworth's.

That's because Horgan was the witness who signed a government letter granting Dix a $66,000 severance payment after being replaced as Clark's principal secretary. 

Horgan also has a connection to the growth of the Vancouver gambling industry.

In 2003, he along with former NDP government officials Ian Reid and John Heaney cleverly orchestrated a public-relations campaign to get Vancouver city council to lift a moratorium on slot machines.

The trio had previously worked in the ministry overseeing the expansion of gambling in B.C. in the 1990s.

In January 2004, the Straight reported that the campaign included getting a retired Vancouver police sergeant, Don Smith, to offer assurances to city council about allowing slot machines at the Plaza of Nation.

In addition, SFU criminologist Neil Boyd—a friend of then-mayor Larry Campbell—wrote a letter to city council purporting that pathological gambling was a “relatively trivial public health concern”. It worked wonders, clearing the way for a second slot-machine proposal to proceed at Hastings Park.

Campbell cast the deciding vote on the second proposal, and after becoming a senator, joined the board of Great Canadian Gaming.

High entry fee discourages progressives from running

Numerous other potential candidates for the NDP leadership have declared that they're not interested in the job.

There are a couple of reasons behind this.

One is the prohibitive cost.

The party set a $25,000 entry fee and a spending limit of $350,000 for candidates. According to a Vancouver Sun column by Vaughn Palmer earlier this year, half the money that any candidate raises must go to the party.

This ensures that more conservative-minded candidates—such as Farnworth and Horgan—are in a better position to run because they can count on more financial support from businesspeople and corporate lobbyists.

One of Farnworth's top supporters, for instance, has a long list of corporate clients, including the association representing brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Horgan is an unabashed free enterpriser who can probably count on support from some in the corporate sector.

Those of a more progressive bent who've so far refused to enter the race include NDP MLAs Norm Macdonald, Jenny Kwan, Judy Darcy, and George Heyman, and NDP MPs Kennedy Stewart, Peter Julian, Nathan Cullen, and Fin Donnelly.

Kwan and Macdonald—two dissidents who opposed the leadership of Carole James in 2010—will support Farnworth. That's because he is seen as a nice guy in caucus who's willing to listen to others' ideas.

Horgan, on the other hand, went ballistic on those who criticized James's leadership, especially Kwan, whom he called "childish".

Don't expect her to forget this when it comes time to choose her preferred candidate.

Municipal politicians not given a chance

The party and its leader, Adrian Dix, made it extremely difficult for successful municipal politicians to enter the race by ensuring that the next leader is chosen in 2014.

That's because local councillors and mayors face re-election, and can't take time out to run for a provincial party leadership.

The justification for this decision has been that provincial New Democrats didn't want to select a leader at a time when federal New Democrats were raising money to take on Stephen Harper in 2015.

While that might make sense for party cohesion, it has likely left the B.C. NDP with an extremely boring race that won't fire up anyone except the party's most ardent supporters.

If the B.C. NDP had waited until 2015, perhaps it could have lured some fresh faces into the contest, such as Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie, City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto, or Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal. They could have helped generate a great deal more interest.

If the party was perceived to be more open, had delayed the leadership race, and reduced the entrance fee, it would have opened the door to other intriguing candidates who've demonstrated their mettle at the municipal level.

The leadership competition could have been electrified by the entry of some wild cards with strong appeal to environmentally minded voters, such as New Westminster councillor Jonathan X. Cote or Abbotsford councillor Patricia Ross

As things stand now, that's not going to happen. And the B.C. NDP will probably go into the next election still trying to bury its past from two decades ago by steering as close to the middle of the road as possible.

That's a real shame for progressive voters across the province who question the wisdom of basing our economic future on more pipelines and exports of liquefied natural gas.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
James Blatchford
Good grief.....what's Justin Bieber up to?
Rating: +11
Aren't there any people willing to lead the NDP who aren't part of the old cabal or did the roasting of Harcourt scare off those not associated with the inner circle?
Rating: +8
You mean they still don't have a new leader yet? Guess there's no need to rush anyway..
Rating: +3
Even Chuck is finding it hard to spin this worthless front. These guys are chasing their next paycheques...no more no less.

Is the local media really looking forward to interviewing these same gasbags they already chatted out over the last 20 years?
If it's Horgan or Farnworths...they've lost the next election? Why the hell would they think that even the media will bother to cover them. It's the kiss of death for ads. Guaranteed Channel-changer.

After a couple of years, it won't be an NDP problem...it will be a media problem and people will wonder why legitimate critics of a crappy government are being pushed aside to listen to people who have no hope of winning an election.
(...and who's going to say I'm wrong...an NDPer? LOL)
Rating: +4
400 ppm
ob·so·lete (ŏb′sə-lēt′, ŏb′sə-lēt′)
1. No longer in use
2. Outmoded in design, style, or construction
3. Biology Vestigial or imperfectly developed, especially in comparison with other individuals or related species; not clearly marked or seen; indistinct.
Rating: +4
Evil Eye
Electing Farnsworth as NDP leader would mean they would loose the next election. Horgan, at least can give them a chance to win, but Farnworth would be a disaster like Dix no-show at election time.

The NDP is stale, stale MLA's, stale programs, stale everything.
Rating: +19
Arthur Vandelay
What a fluster-cluck this is devolving into. What could possibly be worse for the NDP than having to defend the record of the Clark regime for another election cycle. Does anyone still have Carole James' number ...
Rating: +15
That's a pretty sad analysis- but I suspect it's very accurate. Jenny Kwan I hope you go for the leadership!
Rating: -7
Pat Crowe
The N.D.P.'s failure to evolve with a rebranding, forward thinking centrist agenda and distancing from the old guard guarantees the Libs{Cons}another four years in 2017. All Christy has to do is SMILE, shake a boobies, and incessantly repeat, " we will grow the economy and remember the bad ole N.D.P of the nineties."
Slam dunk!
Quit wasting your and our money and time N.D.P. Get your shit together and evolve, quickly! Give B.C.ers a reasonable alternative to the corrupt, blatantly self serving and very dangerous to our economic future, Liberals/Cons. Or just go away N.D.P. and hang your heads. Here's my wallet, take your end, your welcome.
Rating: +10
You know what is getting stale?
Clark's LNG rags to riches or is it the other way around?
Rating: +3
Catastrophic failure at the elections....how long ago was that? And still no change?

Heard governments work glacially but this is something else.

What are they going to do if NDP actually make office and there is an emergency of sorts? Wait until hell freezes over like this?

I'm no BC Liberal fan but these sloths are...I dunno...fill in the blanks. I'm outta words.
Rating: +15
The NDP have won 15% of the elections they have contested in BC, there is no way to spin such failure. Neither Farnworth nor Horgan would be able to muster enough support outside the herd to defeat the Liberals, nor would any of the people behind the ouster of Carole James. Jenny Kwan is a non-starter as her connections to the poverty industry and related 1%er household income make her a Liberal dream as leader of the NDP. The NDP desperately need a makeover to eliminate the power of the cabal that has run the party for decades.

Look at the coup that ousted James as leader. It was orchestrated by some folks who had junior roles in the ouster of outsider Mike Harcourt. The real irony of Harcourt's removal is that it was accomplished through revelations regarding NDP corruption linked to core members of the party...the same people eager to replace Harcourt with one of their own. The party executive manipulated their own corruption to oust Harcourt and put one of their obedient MLAs in his place. The situation with James was a little different. She had overseen the NDP following their disastrous 2001 campaign and won a higher percentage of the popular vote than any NDP leader since 1986. The NDP hierarchy believed that they would win in 2013 and wanted one of their own people to lead the triumph, so Jenny Kwan was directed to throw the first public stone at James and start the movement that would lead to an insider being anointed leader. That is how we got Dix, an insider who's corruption predates that of the Liberals, as NDP leader.

Dix's percentage of the popular vote declined to the under 40% of the vote that necessitates a split on the right to gain a majority: it worked for Barrett and Clark but not for Dix. The swing voter sees no reason to change her/his vote to the NDP when the party president holds the record for resignations from cabinet and the leader was admitted to forgery to mislead a police investigation. Unfortunately only obedient hacks are willing to run: an outsider sees no reason to try to lead the NDP because she/he knows that the party is fractured into dozens of weak interest groups that labour can control only to a limited degree. The NDP executive already have their plans for divvying up the spoils of electoral victory to the array of interest groups but they can't find anyone more trustworthy than the Liberals to be their face.
Rating: +8
Info-packed article, thanks CS.

To the NDP: this is not just about the bandleader, it's about the words and music too.

Seize and defend the moral high ground every chance you can. Embrace your socialism and make the moral and the business case for collective services (e.g. it'd be much harder for business if they had to pay for upkeep of roads, the fire department, and health insurance for employees). Do this with integrity, passion, a bit of humour, and a lot of honesty and you'll get respected. Weasel on it and you die, which is your usual thing.

Rating: +2
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