The leader of the B.C. NDP party, John Horgan, toured the East Kootenay in late February, meeting with a variety of parties including the local school boards and union representatives. He also met with The Free Press to discuss his priorities for the upcoming provincial election.
Horgan, who won the leadership of the NDP party in May 2014, taking over from his predecessor Adrian Dix after the last provincial election, is hoping to turn the tides of the next election and bring the NDP back into power after four consecutive Liberal governments. A riding he is focusing on is Kootenay-East, as Liberal MLA Bill Bennett has represented it for the past 15 years. Horgan believes NDP MP Wayne Stetski’s victory against incumbent Conservative MP David Wilks bodes well for the provincial NDP party in this area.
“The desire to remove Stephen Harper was so overwhelming that the votes for the NDP and the Liberal candidates across the country just swamped formerly conservative constituencies, like this one here for example. Wayne’s victory federally is very good news for us provincially and there was also growth in the West Kootenay as well,” said Horgan.
In relation to the Elk Valley, Horgan is hoping to present a candidate that understands the local area and “resonates” with the constituents.
“The candidate that I’m looking for and the campaign that I want to run in the Kootenays, and particularly in Kootenay East, is a campaign that resonates with people here. I’m a working class guy, I grew up in a working class family, I worked in the forest sector before I ended up going on to university, so I understand the challenges of working for a living and I think that the NDP has fallen away, in this area, as the representatives of those working people and Bill Bennett has assumed that role,” he said. “I think that we can take this seat back if we have the right candidate and we are talking about the issues that are important to people here.”
As for what those specific issues are, Horgan maintains the health of the economy will always be at the top of people’s minds.
“No matter what people say before an election, the issue that matters most to people is their personal economic circumstance,” he said. “That means making sure you talk about how you are going to maintain economic activity and increase economic activity. Obviously here in the Elk Valley, coal is king and we need to make the case to international markets that we have some of the best metal coal on the planet.”
Provincial NPD Leader John Horgan, pictured above with Randal Macnair, toured the Elk Valley and the Kooteany East riding, preparing for next year’s provincial election.
Alex Hanson Photo
Horgan believes the Liberal party has done a good job of “typecasting” the NDP party as favouring the environment over the economy, something he says is not entirely true.
“I know there was a lot of chatter before the last election that if the NDP won, the mines would shut down. Well that’s just scare mongering, and not true. The mines operated very well when the NDP was in government in the past and they will continue to operate in the future. As long as there is a demand for our natural resources, New Democrats, Liberals, everybody wants to get those products to higher priced markets – create jobs, protect jobs and grow the economy.”
Along with the health of the resource industries in the Elk Valley, Horgan stresses the importance of the multiple small businesses and “dynamic entrepreneurial class”, which employs a large portion of the work force.
Horgan did have his criticisms of the current Christy Clark government, including their perceived tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens.
“Last year, the B.C. Liberals gave a $230 million tax break to the top two per cent of wage earners. If you make over $150,000, an individual, not a household, but an individual, they gave you a tax break. They gave a $236 million break last year while they continued to freeze disability rates, continued to freeze income assistance rates, continued to raise medical services premiums and continued to raise hydro rates and ICBC rates,” said Horgan. “[This year] they didn’t give another tax break but they kept that tax break in place. In this budget, they took money away from people with disabilities by cancelling their bus pass and then giving them a $77 [monthly] increase. But $52 of that is going to go their transportation. So it’s giving with one hand and taking with the other.”
Although the next provincial election is still 14 months away, set for May 9, 2017, Horgan says he is going to be campaigning for votes right up until the polls close.
”I’ve been campaigning since the day I became leader, and that was back in May of 2014 and I’m going to be campaigning to 8:05 p.m. on Election Day.”