Former B.C. premier Michael Harcourt has quit the NDP, the party he led back to power after 20 years in the political wilderness, saying it has failed to bridge urban and rural areas and is not ready to govern.
“I just decided it’s time for me to become an independent,” Mr. Harcourt told The Globe and Mail on Monday, explaining he has allowed his membership to lapse. He held the leadership from from 1991 to 1996, and was the second NDP premier in B.C. history, after David Barrett in the 1970s. “I don’t know whether it’s a trial separation or a decree absolute.”
In a rare rebuke from an ex-premier to his party, Mr. Harcourt cited several grievances, but pointed to the “astonishingly stupid decision” of leader Adrian Dix in mid campaign last spring to change position on a proposed expansion of a Kinder-Morgan pipeline between Alberta and the Lower Mainland.
Mr. Dix said he would oppose the expansion after saying he would wait until an application for approval was filed to take a position.
“Coming out against Kinder Morgan just finally did it for me. I thought that was so stupid and unnecessary,” Mr. Harcourt said, estimating Mr. Dix’s reversal cost the New Democrats 20 seats and alienated blue-collar workers in resource communities across the province.
But Mr. Harcourt said he had also become disillusioned with the NDP over its 2009 opposition to a B.C. Liberal-initiated carbon tax and a 2010 caucus coup that forced out Carole James, the party’s first female leader.
The Vancouver lawyer was the city’s mayor for three terms, and became premier in 1991. He stepped down in 1996, taking responsibility for a scandal involving the NDP use of funds raised through bingo for party needs, although he had no role in it. He is now involved with sustainability, planning and community issues.
The NDP will pick a new leader in September after failing to ride leads in the polls to victory in the 2013 provincial election. The Liberals under Christy Clark won a fourth straight majority, hammering Mr. Dix with negative ads, to which he declined to respond because he had made a commitment to positive campaigning, and casting themselves as responsible economic stewards.
Mr. Harcourt said a healthy democracy demands an occasional change of government and offered suggestions on what his former party needs: “A capable leader, with a vision that resonates with me and British Columbians, and a good talent pool to form a government and a cabinet. Until I see those three things in place, I am going to be an independent, sustainability democrat.”
He said the party needs leadership that balances an understanding of the Lower Mainland with the resource realities of the province. “Vancouver is an important part of the province, but most communities, about 150 of them, survive on natural resources, and if you say, ‘You can’t log, you can’t mine, you can’t drill wells for gas or ranch,’ you’re ignoring 95 per cent of British Columbia and most of the communities that depend on natural resources.”
In the 2011 leadership race that elected Mr. Dix, Mr. Harcourt said he was torn between supporting Mike Farnworth, a veteran MLA from suburban Port Coquitlam, and John Horgan, a Victoria-area MLA. Eventually, he backed Mr. Farnworth, deciding the former NDP cabinet minister could appeal to the most voters.
Mr. Horgan and Mr. Farnworth are the only two candidates in the 2014 race. Last weekend, Mr. Farnworth said he hoped Mr. Harcourt would support him again.
But Mr. Harcourt noted he never heard from Mr. Farnworth after endorsing him. “I would expect a phone call or, ‘We want to talk to you about this or that on occasion.’”
On Monday, Mr. Harcourt said Mr. Horgan is “a very capable guy” with the most balanced approach on resource issues, and did some great work for the NDP government on the Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Power Corporation. But he added: “I am no longer a member, so I am not going to be voting.”