Each week during the campaign, we talk to a former B.C. premier about the provincial campaign and why it matters. This week: former NDP premier Mike Harcourt (1991-1996).
What makes the election of 2013 important in your view?
The key issue is the huge shortage of skilled people. We have a huge problem. It’s the reverse of everybody saying we need to get the oil sands going and the [liquid natural gas] plants going and the mines going and the 150 building cranes around Vancouver by this time next year. The central issue is: Who is going to build and run all that stuff with the huge shortage of skilled people? We need to know how we’re going to invest quickly in increasing the apprentice technology, university and college spots to deal with the fact that we’ve got a million jobs coming due over the next decade and only graduating 650,000 from our high schools.
What are the big, key issues of this election?
I think [the skills shortage is] the first one. The overriding issue that got me involved in provincial politics back in 1986 was that we needed to establish a new relationship with the First Nations people. And that’s the key reason I spent 10 years in provincial politics is to change the terrible 150-year-old relationship with colonialization, exploitation and just welfare reserves with no hope for the future for young people. It was terrible. We’ve come a long way, and I think B.C. is leading the way in the country after some initial false starts with the Liberal government protesting the Nisga’a treaty in the 1998-2001 period and then the referendum [on the treaty process], which I thought was very harmful. Gordon Campbell had a conversion on the road to Damascus and became – and I say this in a positive way – a real advocate of the new relationship with First Nations, to the point now where it is a bipartisan issue where both the NDP and the Liberals accept that we want to advance our relationship with First Nations so they can become self-governing and economically self-sufficient.
What’s the best advice you ever received on getting through an election campaign?
It’s not just getting through; it’s winning. When I was leader of the opposition, that was my goal – not to stay the opposition leader but to become premier and govern and make the changes I told you about – the new relationship with First Nations and ending the war in the woods. What I learned is you’ve got to get there first, and to get there, you’ve got to win an election and you’ve got to win your seat. So the best advice I got was, ‘always run like you’re 1,000 votes behind in your riding.’ Never take it for granted. Always run like you’re an underdog and earn the support of the voters in your
constituency, and if you get enough MLAs succeeding and doing that, you form a government so you can make the changes.
What do you say to those who don’t vote?
If you can’t make the effort to get out and vote, don’t complain. You’re the one that suffers by not being involved in your community. Voting is one way to be an active citizen and that’s what
democracy is about, to have every citizen active in one way
or another, and there’s 1,001
ways you can be active. You can volunteer and help run your
kid’s soccer team or you can volunteer to work with people with disabilities or work through
political parties. There’s all
kinds of ways you can be involved, so voting – and being an informed voter – is just one of the responsibilities of good citizenship.
As a former premier who has left active politics, what do you do during campaigns?
I donate money to candidates. I sometimes offer advice whether it’s wanted or not. I’ve been offering quiet advice on the issues I just talked to you about. I don’t get actively involved in campaigning any more because I am off doing other things, but I sure follow the election and see who is doing well at the old political skills you need to be successful in politics and who is not. I follow the campaign closely through the media, and talking to people, and vote. I may even attend a victory celebration.