Martyn Brown: A leadership litmus test for B.C.’s would-be NDP premiers—so easy to ace and so guaranteed to fail

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      Imagine you are one of the dozen or so NDP cabinet ministers whose names are being bandied about as prospective leadership candidates to succeed John Horgan as premier.

      Keen students all, of the dark art of politics.

      Each hopelessly immersed in that school of hard knocks that so often proves the Peter principle. Horgan being a refreshing exception.

      So, there you are, brimming with ideas, self-confidence, and vainglorious impressions of your own performance under his tutelage.

      Go for it, those voices in your head are urging.

      You got this, brainiac. You know this job inside out.

      And their whispered ignorance rings true.

      Finally, after years of tugging your forelock in deference to the premier and to his unimpeachable Dean of Dubiously Applied Health Science (a.k.a. Dr. B.H.), Graduation Day now suddenly looms large.

      The NDP leadership examination is now underway and you’re determined to ace it, hoping to earn the august title you covet.

      The one he now holds and will soon voluntarily forfeit.

      Power so tantalizing, you can almost taste it.

      Time to put up or shut up.

      Time to prove that you are the cream of the crop, the sharpest knife in the drawer, and the best pick of the litter, in every sense of that word.

      “My spouse and I just felt that it was time that I pass things on to another generation,” Premier John Horgan explained.

      Christ almighty, you know the “things” he’s talking about.

      Most of them are as baffling as the triple helix comprising your party’s DNA.

      Hard to fathom, your NDP.

      It’s a strangely resilient creature of innately conflicting constituent threads—brown, green, and red—all impossibly wound together around a common orange axis.

      One that thrives on cell division and is known to eat its own.

      Indeed, there will be no shortage of things that Emeritus Professor H will pass on to generations X, Y, and Z through his late boomer governorship.

      Things like the shape-shifting virus we’ve all been fighting these past two-and-a-half years under the patently academic direction of Dr. Bonnie Henry.

      Only a fool would forget or ignore the harsh lessons she taught us through that wretched biotic study in artificial intelligence.

      They make their own arguments for new leadership.

      Things like the escalating collapse of our public health system, the opioid calamity, the climate emergency, the affordable housing crisis, and the rampant destruction of old-growth forests.

      They each warrant an F under Professor J’s tenure, double-stamped by his own f-bomb.

      Things like the crushing problems of poverty and homelessness, the insane violence and hate now wreaking havoc on our communities, and the knotty national struggle for reconciliation.

      Things like the ongoing challenges in child protection, public education, long-term care, assisted and supportive living, and skills shortages compounded by our aging population.

      To say nothing of our new punishing war with inflation, or the general crisis of confidence in government and democracy that is making all other problem-solving that much tougher.

      All of it, Horgan will soon happily bequeath to his successor—maybe you—if you’ve got what it takes to lead.

      Maybe take a long, hard look in the mirror and repeat Stuart Smalley’s infamous daily affirmation: "I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me!”

      Video: Stuart Smalley's daily affirmation.

      Look out, world, here comes you.

      Chomping at the bit to come out of your shell, stand up to the unelected powers that be, and actually lead by saying that B.C. shouldn’t be Canada’s death defying outlier in denying almost everyone under 70 access to a second booster shot that might save their lives.

      Radical, I know.

      And don’t get me started on what a real leader might say about the value of mandatory face masks in classrooms, buses, SkyTrains and other crowded spaces, and optional N95s for everyone working in B.C.’s health-care sector who wants to have that added protection.

      Maybe that’s pushing it, though, for someone in cabinet such as you, not wanting to have their hands rapped by the headmaster’s master for speaking out of turn.

      Right then. Ready?

      Then let’s start with this simple 10-question test of your leadership skills.

      Circle only one answer to each question. Yes?

      Hint: the correct answers are italicized to distinguish them from the failed responses expected of most pupils hoping to graduate from JHU.

      As further assistance to those who may be brain-addled by COVID and/or otherwise impaired by faulty in-class instruction, the right responses are offered first in each instance.

      As an added bonus, the correct answers also provide the makings of a winning blueprint for action for any new NDP leader to pursue as premier within their first 90 days in office.

      NDP leadership litmus test for would-be B.C. premiers

      Q1.      Will you commit to abide by the set date for the next provincial election that your government enshrined in law (Oct. 19, 2024), and now promise not to call an unwanted early snap election as premier Horgan did for partisan advantage, in betrayal of public trust?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q2.      Will you vow to immediately repeal the unconscionable user fees and other regressive measures imposed by your government under Bill 22 that were universally derided by the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the media, and others?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q3.      Will you commit to immediately launching a full-blown public inquiry into the government’s entire handling of the COVID crisis, with its commissioners and terms of reference independently identified by an all-party legislative committee? 

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q4.      If you are serious about combatting climate change and meeting B.C.’s toothless legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets, will you commit to repeal within 90 days the Horgan government’s rich subsidies for LNG, gas pipelines and fossil-fueled growth, as they would otherwise apply to any as yet uncontracted future projects? 

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q5.      Since 2017, John’s Horgan NDP has twice betrayed its promise to build a cancer centre in Kamloops within its four-year mandate. Now B.C. residents in that region are being told that project has been deferred to a 10-year window, at least two more elections away.

      As premier, will you promise to immediately initiate that Kamloops cancer clinic and build it as promised without further delay?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q6.      The just announced long-promised new Surrey hospital apparently will not even include a maternity ward and it is unclear if it will provide access to surgical abortion services. Will you pledge to remedy those failings as premier, and to expediting that project for completion by 2026, a year earlier than now planned?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q.7      The Horgan government has broken its promise to build a new school that will replace the dangerously decrepit Mission Secondary School. It has also denied the Vancouver School District funding for any new major capital projects this fiscal year. And it won’t be funding desperately needed seismic repairs to three high-risk schools (False Creek Elementary, David Thompson Secondary, and Killarney Secondary.)

      Will you commit to immediately reversing all of those decisions and fully funding those new projects and seismic upgrades in your first budget?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q.8      Your NDP government has cruelly terminated individualized funding for children with autism, which previously allowed those children and their families to directly choose the interventions and supports they need.

      Instead, it has imposed a new “needs-based” regional “hub” system comprised of one-stop support centres for children with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome and other issues. Those changes have been roundly condemned as a woefully misguided one-size-fits-all approach patterned after Doug Ford’s failing system in Ontario.

      As premier, will you commit to restoring the individualized funding model, as so many families and expert organizations have urged? And also, to better support all those children with complex needs, as one might expect from a truly progressive NDP government?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q.9      The Horgan government has too often imposed “solutions” to problems it has exacerbated through a lack of consultation with and listening to frontline workers. Especially in education, acute-care facilities, family physician practices, long-term care, assisted living and home support, and child protection.

      Within your first 90 days as premier, will you commit to convening a weeklong summit, open to the media, at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue with a day apiece dedicated to each of those issues? Will you pledge to use that forum to hear directly from representative teachers, E.R. doctors and hospitalists, nurses, care aides, paramedics, family doctors and foreign-trained physicians, seniors’ care providers, and social workers about the challenges they face and their recommended solutions? And better yet, make that an annual event?

      1. Yes
      2. No

      Q.10      For five years, the NDP has failed to honour its election commitments to provide the $400 renter’s grant. Meanwhile, it continues to subsidize high-income homeowners with annual grants of up to $845 annually and low-interest property tax deferment benefits, as persons with disabilities are left to struggle with assistance rates that are still way below the poverty line.

      As premier, will you vow to immediately honour your party’s broken rental assistance promise? And further, will you make the homeowner grant and property tax deferment benefit income-sensitive, and use those savings from wealthy homeowners to help raise PWD assistance rates, most of whom are renters? 

      1. Yes
      2. No

      That’s it. All done.

      Well, how did you do, you imaginary NDP leaders?

      If you correctly answered all of those questions, there’s hope for you yet as someone who might really shake things up for the better in B.C. as premier.

      If, however, “no” was your reflex response, my advice is to reconsider your leadership bid.

      In fact, if you are so thoroughly “Liberalized” by your years of being schooled in the fail-safe Horganesque Method, dedicated as it is to the perpetual pursuit of power, it won’t be easy to differentiate yourself from the raft of other NDP leadership pretenders seeking the top job.

      And the way things look now, whoever prevails, they are going to have their work cut out for them trying to differentiate their leadership from the B.C. Liberal alternative. 

      For whatever new name those conservatives-by-any-other-name might embrace, rest assured, they will be trying to convince B.C. voters that they’re really just today’s New Democrats after all.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at