B.C. NDP Opposition house leader John Horgan has entered the party’s leadership race with the backing of former leader Carole James, who has stepped off the political sidelines to endorse a candidate for the first time since she stepped down in 2010.
But as New Democrats prepare to pick a successor to Adrian Dix in September, Ms. James said she is backing Mr. Horgan because of the team-building skills she saw him deploy to rally MLAs after the party’s unexpected defeat in the 2013 election, which many expected it to win.
“John’s my guy,” Ms. James, a Victoria-area MLA whose post-leadership roles included co-writing the party’s platform for the election campaign, said on Monday.
New Democrats will pick a leader over four days of voting in September. The winner will be announced on Sept. 28.
Ms. James led the party in elections in 2005 and 2009 without finding a path to victory against the B.C. Liberals. A caucus revolt led to the end of her run as leader.
Ms. James said she knew that New Democrats would be interested in where she stands.
“It was important to me that I not stand in the background, that I step up to the plate,” she said in an interview.
Ms. James described Mr. Horgan, the MLA for the Victoria-area riding of Juan de Fuca, first elected in 2005, and a former education critic, as a passionate, plain-spoken straight shooter, but said his work as house leader helped win her support.
“We came in from a really tough election in this last year and had to go into a session in July – people feeling pretty down in the dumps – pretty down about what happened. John, as house leader, pulled us together – new MLAs, returning MLAs – and focused us in that legislative session. That continues.”
The race has only one other candidate: Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth, who placed second to Mr. Dix in 2011. Mr. Horgan was third.
“It was an easy choice for me to go with John,” she said. “Mike’s a very strong candidate. Nobody should underestimate Mike. He’s a great MLA.”
Mr. Horgan said Ms. James’s endorsement was a “huge” development for his campaign. “To have Carole at my side is going to be wonderful.”
Mr. Horgan initially ruled out being a candidate, calling for a younger generation of leaders. But the 54-year-old MLA said some of those younger MLAs urged him to run.
Mr. Horgan, who has lately been NDP energy critic, said he backed the idea of waiting to take a position on a proposed expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby until it goes through an application process, echoing Mr. Farnworth’s view. He said there has to a review process for such projects that the public can believe in. “Kinder Morgan has a task ahead of themselves and if they have no plan to satisfy the public, there won’t be a project.”
During the election campaign, Mr. Dix abandoned that neutral position and opposed the pipeline, a move many, including New Democrats, said damaged the party’s credibility and gave the Liberals a weapon against them.
“Regardless of who you are and what your project is, if we are going to be competitive in the international marketplace, we have to be able to encourage capital to come here, but they have to come here and meet rigorous environmental, labour and taxation standards,” Mr. Horgan said.
Mr. Horgan acknowledged the controversy on the issue, but said the challenge is to create a consensus position among New Democrats voters can support. “We need industrial activity, but we need, more importantly, an environmental assessment process the public has confidence in.”
Mr. Horgan, who had bladder cancer in 2008, said he is healthy enough for the challenges ahead. “The last visit to my urologist was all thumbs up,” he said. “I feel great.”
Follow me on Twitter: @ianabailey