NDP MLA Nicholas Simons’s leadership bid linked to tragedy

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      Back in 2003 when the B.C. government asked Nicholas Simons to investigate the death of a 19-month-old aboriginal child, he had no idea that it would propel him toward running for leader of the B.C. NDP.

      The previous year, Sherry Charlie died after a savage beating by her great uncle, Ryan George. An aboriginal social-services agency had earlier placed the Port Alberni toddler in his home, even though he had been previously convicted for violent offences.

      In a recent interview with the Georgia Straight, Simons said that he learned during his probe how politics and poorly crafted public policies led directly to the girl’s demise. “Basically, that made me realize how important it was to pass legislation that was well thought out and contemplated,” he stated.

      Simons, a former director of health and social development with the Sechelt Indian Band, completed his report in 2003. However, he claimed that the B.C. Liberal government tried on numerous occasions to change the content and style of the document, which wasn’t released until after the 2005 election.

      He said he entered politics because he felt there was a need for politicians who recognized that expediency shouldn’t trump sensible policy-making. In 2005, Simons was elected as the NDP MLA for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, and he was reelected in 2009.

      On January 5, Simons announced in Sechelt that he is running for leader of the B.C. NDP. In his earlier interview with the Straight, he said that he sometimes thinks that all social policies should be seen through the eyes of a child, though he acknowledges the idealism in that remark. “We can’t simply have a plan to reduce poverty in 10 years because there are kids in poverty now,” he declared. “And I’ve been close to people who are living in vulnerable conditions. I think that we can do so much better.”

      He also emphasized that there is a direct relationship between child-welfare policies and child poverty, pointing out that a disproportionate number of cases of neglect occur when there are “minimal” options for obtaining assistance from other family members or community programs. “We need to make sure our communities are healthier and have strong volunteer networks and youth programming,” Simons added. “Those are communities where kids do better.”

      At times, Simons doesn’t come across as a polished politician practised in the art of delivering one-liners. When asked why he is seeking the leadership of the B.C. NDP, he offered a lengthy explanation on the shortcomings of the democratic process. He’s definitely not a command-and-control politician like Premier Gordon Campbell or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying he would heed the recommendations of legislature committees.

      “People are looking for a style of leadership that is actually representative leadership—not leadership that says, ”˜This is what they’re going to do, these are the decisions they’re going to make,’” Simons said. “I think what people want is leadership that says these are the principles we operate by. Our decisions are ones that are made with the best consultation, with the most open democratic processes, so that, in fact, legislation and policy reflect the best interests of the community. I think we’ve gotten away from that. In my political career, which is not very long, I have not seen that.”

      When asked about his capacity to oversee the B.C. economy, he replied that being a good leader involves having the right people around him who can add expertise where it may be lacking. He quickly added that he oversaw a health and social-service agency with a multimillion-dollar budget that introduced progressive programs without running a deficit.

      “Specific policy stuff, I’m going to unveil as I go along,” Simons said. “It’s how you get to good economic policy. You don’t just make it up.”

      He contrasted this with Premier Campbell’s “flippant kind of approach” in suddenly announcing a large tax cut last year without public consultation. “That, to me, doesn’t symbolize good management,” Simons claimed. He has a master’s degree in criminology from Simon Fraser University, and his thesis was on the history of liquor-control regulation in Western Canada. He said this reflects his long-standing interest in how laws can have an effect on society.

      “We’ve seen legislation that impacts our restaurant and bar industry in a massive way”¦that wasn’t unrolled in any way that reflected the public interest,” Simons noted. He added that the harmonized sales tax is another example of a B.C. Liberal policy developed “completely devoid of public participation”.

      “It’s the antithesis of the kind of decision-making I would support,” he said.

      Simons is also a cello player who won a gold record for performing on an album by the Chicago punk band Rise Against. His father was a voice professor at McGill University, and Simons has three siblings involved in the music industry. His partner of nine years is the country musician Slim Milkie.

      Simons said that being gay gives him an awareness of what it’s like to be part of a marginalized community, but insisted that this is not what “defines” him. He mentioned that most people are beyond making a big issue out of a person’s sexual orientation, and it’s never been an issue in his constituency.

      “I hope people ask me: ”˜You’ll be the first cello-playing premier?,’” he quipped.



      Anne Webb

      Jan 5, 2011 at 1:58pm

      Nice to read a well written article for a change that doesn't dig up old dirt on someone running for leader. It's definitely time for a new voice to come forward who understand real life issues and can respond with understanding and intellect. Simons seems like a man of integrity - I wish him the best.

      Canada's Twin#1

      Jan 5, 2011 at 3:14pm

      Nicholas you bring to politics what we really need, a level head, a man that thinks and act with his heart and uses wisdom in his decisions. You are to be conmended for your work in the child protection area and you nailed the problems whereby POLICY has its screwups. If the senior, polish imagrant from Powell River was alive today he would have his justice with you running for the leader of the party. May this province come to know the true meaning of healing so that together we create a better tomorrow for the youth of the next generation.

      All the best Canada's Twin#1 and the Children of the Comox Valley
      The Dream of a Nation is found in the Heart of the province.

      Matt T

      Jan 5, 2011 at 3:20pm

      What a surprise, Charlie "no democratic accountability" Smith acting as the propoganda arm of those NDP MLA's that ignore the rules as they see fit.


      Jan 5, 2011 at 3:56pm

      I lived in Powell River, and Nicholas is very highly thought of there. I've always seen him to respond personally and promptly to emails and show up in person to support progressive work in the community. If Nicholas was running, I might actually vote for someone instead of writing "None Of The Above" on my ballot!


      Jan 5, 2011 at 7:28pm

      Waytago, Nicholas: “I think what people want is leadership that says these are the principles we operate by. Our decisions are ones that are made with the best consultation, with the most open democratic processes, so that, in fact, legislation and policy reflect the best interests of the community."
      And he elaborated on cbc tonight, saying more or less "I want to ensure that we are implementing the lens of Sustainable BC, so people know we’re contemplating policy that’s in the best interests in the longterm, so we’re not just thinking about today, we’re thinking about tomorrow ”¦ eg for agricultural land, water, the forest industry to be sustainable into the future. We need policy that looks beyond the election cycle.”
      I know from experience here in Revelstoke, that when you give people the Sustainable BC principles as a policy-making lens they get pretty excited, engaging with hope, diving in and coming up with excellent concrete, principled policy recommendations that are the opposite of short-term tunnel-vision.

      This smug guy is a creep

      Jan 5, 2011 at 7:57pm

      I am with you Matt, how do we ever expect to have any respect for this guy when he has absolutely no respect for democracy. Maybe he shouldn't be running for any party with Democratic as part of the name. I wish I hadn't seen his smug smirky performance after the vote supporting Carole James. He knew the dissenters would keep ignoring the will of the majority of the party and keep pushing Carole until she went over the edge. I wouldn't trust him any further than i would trust Jenny knife in the back Kwan.

      Sandra Pak

      Jan 10, 2011 at 11:28am

      Nicolas Simons may be a good constituency representative but he doesn't have the skills to be the leader, and he certainly does not have the integrity. One who does not understand team playing and democracy within a party cannot possibly lead one.


      Jan 10, 2011 at 7:13pm

      Sandra Pak makes a good point, how can he be the leader of the borg unless he blindly follows direction and repeats talking points infinitum.

      Solidarity forever, who needs brains when you've got your marching orders.