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NDP leadership candidates John Horgan, left, and Mike Farnworth are the only two hopefuls looking to succeed Adrian Dix. (Rafal Gerszak and Chad Hipolito for the Globe and Mail)
NDP leadership candidates John Horgan, left, and Mike Farnworth are the only two hopefuls looking to succeed Adrian Dix. (Rafal Gerszak and Chad Hipolito for the Globe and Mail)

Dispatch

B.C. NDP hopefuls try to stand out in spiritless leadership race Add to ...

So far, the very best that the B.C. NDP can muster for the leadership contest – an opportunity to lead the official opposition, the chance to become B.C.’s next premier – is two guys who lost the previous time the job was open.

John Horgan and Mike Farnworth both did time with the NDP government of the 1990s, and share similar opinions on policy and the future direction of the party. That’s not a recipe for a dynamic leadership race.

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At its worst, the job is leader of the Official Opposition, with a healthy 34 seats in the legislature. At its best, the potential to become premier in three years’ time. There was no question after losing the last provincial election that leader Adrian Dix had to resign, but there is a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for taking his place.

Even when the NDP had been decimated in 2001, reduced to just two seats in the legislature, there was more interest in the leadership job.

Today, the veil of depression over the election loss last May still drapes the NDP. For all the talk about renewal and rejuvenation, it appears it will be left to a pair of caucus veterans to try to put the party back together. There could be a dark horse who enters the race yet, but the list of potential candidates who have begged off is long.

Mr. Farnworth was the first to enter the race, and it looked for a time that he might win the contest on Sept. 28 by acclamation. Both experienced and likable, Mr. Farnworth has run a stealthy campaign, with few caucus endorsements and fewer announcements. Perhaps he is too busy doing the ground campaign, but he hasn’t taken the opportunity during this legislative session to raise his profile or seek out media coverage.

Mr. Farnworth says the field is thin because the party set the entrance fee so high: “I think that $25,000 entry fee is a real barrier, as well as such a long campaign means you need a lot of money – it’s not easy for many people.”

Mr. Horgan, who initially said he wouldn’t run because the party needs a new generation of leadership, couldn’t stand the thought of just handing the party over without a fight. When no one took up his call for fresh faces, he decided he had the fire in his belly after all, and joined the race two weeks ago.

In an interview, Mr. Horgan said it isn’t going to be the issues that define him from his rival.

“It’s not a division about policies, it’s about who can deliver success in 2017,” he said. The NDP still hasn’t really figured out how it lost the 2013 campaign, but it was the party’s best opportunity to return to power in a dozen years, and the next campaign will likely be a tougher fight.

In part because Mr. Dix has yet to vacate his position, the party hasn’t really aired the flaws of the last campaign. But if there is a consensus, it is that the NDP allowed Premier Christy Clark and her B.C. Liberals to capture the support of blue-collar workers with her promise of jobs and resource development.

To counter that, Mr. Horgan says his party needs to reach out to those private-sector union workers who felt ignored by the NDP under Mr. Dix. That task has never been harder. In the months after the election, Ms. Clark made huge inroads with the trade unions, inviting senior leaders to sit down in her cabinet offices to work together on job creation. The NDP, long the party of organized labour, was outmanoeuvred in the campaign, and continues to lose ground to Ms. Clark.

“Christy has demonstrated that she understands how labour can be used as a wedge in an electoral process,” Mr. Horgan said. “You counter that by being relevant to trade unions – and more importantly their members. It wasn’t the leadership that felt abandoned. It was the members. That means getting out on the road and throwing on a hard hat – in fact I have one in the back of my car.”

The NDP missed an opportunity to build a jobs-friendly platform long before Mr. Dix’s flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Before the election, the B.C. Federation of Labour pulled together a green jobs plan that brought together trade unions and environmentalists – which the NDP ignored. The next leader might want to give federation president Jim Sinclair a call about it now – before Ms. Clark does.

Follow me on Twitter: @justine_hunter

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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