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Craig Keating, a municipal councillor elected president of the B.C. NDP on Nov. 17, addresses the party convention in Vancouver Sunday. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Craig Keating, a municipal councillor elected president of the B.C. NDP on Nov. 17, addresses the party convention in Vancouver Sunday. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. NDP looks to escape shadow of 1990s Add to ...

B.C. New Democrats are turning now to the contest they hope will select someone who can lead them to victory in the 2017 election, after a weekend of cathartic venting at their first convention since they lost the May election.

The weekend gathering served as the unofficial launch of the leadership race, with potential contenders courting party members in the corridors of the convention hall and at social gatherings, while articulating positions at the microphones during convention business – though none have officially entered the race. The leadership contest will be held in September, 2014.

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Many prominent party activists are embracing the call for a new generation of leadership, to put the short-lived era of Adrian Dix behind them, and erase the memory of the last discredited NDP government, in the 1990s, which led to the near-decimation of the party in 2001.

That could leave the presumed front-runner, Mike Farnworth, with a challenge.

Mr. Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam, served as a cabinet minister in the NDP government of the 1990s. He said New Democrats are searching for a leader who can bridge the party’s key wings, representing labour and the environment, and also appeal to the broader public.

“In a nutshell, people want to win,” he said in an interview. “The convention was a catharsis for our members. The grieving period is over, and now it’s time to look forward to electing a leader and preparing to win the 2017 election.”

But Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan, who announced in October that he won’t seek the leadership because he believes it is time for fresh faces to take over, said Sunday he remains convinced of his stand despite appeals at the convention from delegates who still want him to run. “We can’t go back to the same well,” he said, to replace Mr. Dix who took the helm in 2011 after defeating both Mr. Horgan and Mr. Farnworth.

“People lit up when the young New Democrats were at the microphones here,” Mr. Horgan said. “We can’t just be a vanguard for the protest movement, we need to work toward forming government.”

His comments reflects the frustration New Democrats voiced over their electoral loss.

“Obviously more of the same isn’t going to work,” said Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, a long-time NDP activist. Mr. Dix, who will step down when the party picks a new leader, was effectively attacked by the B.C. Liberals because of his history with the government of the 1990s.

Mr. Corrigan said the next party leader needs to represent a new generation of New Democrats: “For many of us, our time is done. We need fresh ideas, for young people who reflect a contemporary version of this party.”

Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains, an influential caucus member who will be able to deliver significant support to whomever he backs for leader, agreed: “There is a hunger for a new generation to lead us into the future.”

But he also pointed to a key issue at the convention, that the NDP lost because it became in voters’ minds the party that opposed resource development, offering nothing for working people. “We are a party that represents working people, and working people need jobs,” he said. “We need to promote that first and foremost.”

Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart, who is considering a leadership run, said the key to advancement for the party is a sound economic message. “You have to be serious about the economy. That’s one thing the next leader has to be able to do – not only talk about the economy but speak with confidence about economic development in B.C.”

David Eby, who beat Premier Christy Clark in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, said he could embody the hunger for change if he decides to seek the leadership.

“There’s a huge appetite for renewal in the party and a new direction for the NDP so we can be successful in the next election,” said Mr. Eby.

“If I decide to run, I think that’s my big advantage – being newly elected without a lot of baggage in the party and having an opportunity to hit the reset button.”

New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy, the health critic and a former national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, had ruled out a leadership bid, but is reconsidering. She said the key issue is renewal and figuring out how to get past the 40-per-cent ceiling of support for the party. “Most people came here to talk about renewal and learning from what we did to go on a different path. That’s what has concerned people most.”

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