Prospective B.C. NDP leaders are seizing on John Horgan's suggestion that the party should look to the "next generation" for its leader – and postpone the expected 2014 vote – to bolster their own bids.
"I definitely understand the sentiment that we need a fresh start for the party," said 36-year-old David Eby, who gained a notable political profile by defeating Premier Christy Clark to become MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey. "This opens up the leadership race a bit. … Having senior leaders in the party, like John, call for renewal is helpful for anyone considering leadership who is younger, and certainly I fall into that category."
Mr. Horgan, MLA for Juan de Fuca, came third in the 2011 leadership race that elected Adrian Dix as leader. Mr. Horgan was widely expected to try again – and be among the front-runners – after Mr. Dix's recent decision to quit in the wake of the party's surprise defeat in the May provincial election.
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Horgan, 54, said he wouldn't seek the leadership, and added the party should allow the next generation to shape the future. He also called on the NDP to take its time picking a leader; Mr. Dix had urged a vote in early 2014.
"This is not something we should decide in days and weeks. We have four years ahead of us, we should take as much time as we need to select the right person for the next election, not the last election," Mr. Horgan said.
He said the B.C. NDP executive council, meeting Thursday, is looking at leadership dates between April and next June. He said the party should allow more time for potential candidates to build a campaign. "I think 2015 is not unreasonable," he said.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen, the 41-year-old member for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said a 2014 leadership vote would rule him out along with other promising prospects. "If you're looking for folks of substance and name recognition and leaders right now, asking them to drop everything is much more difficult for them than it might be for others," he said from Ottawa.
The NDP parliamentary House Leader said it would be "really challenging" for him to run now as Parliament is resuming. "The idea of just abandoning ship is not a good one," he said. "Spring? No. Sometime in 2014 opens up the conversation. It opens up further if we get into the 2015 dates."
Mr. Cullen said he voted for Mr. Horgan in the 2011 leadership race and was surprised to hear he would not run again. "I'm a big one for curbside ability and that ability to connect and I thought Horgan had that in spades," he said.
Mr. Horgan told reporters he changed his mind over the Thanksgiving weekend. Although he had a team in place, he said his front-runner status was discouraging other candidates he thinks are needed to rejuvenate the party. "I've been hearing that there appears to be an inevitability that Mike [Farnworth] and I are the two front-runners. And I've just thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the party to step up."
He said he ran in 2011 because the party was in crisis. He wanted "to demonstrate to the public that the NDP was ready to put aside pettiness and tribalism and demonstrate we were prepared to govern." While that leadership race was "unbridled fun," he believes the coming race will be different after the party's unexpected electoral loss. "I saw difficulty, I saw acrimony, I saw divisiveness."
Mr. Farnworth, a former cabinet minister in NDP governments of the 1990s and a current MLA, said the notion of postponing the vote into 2015 was a decision for the party. And he said one factor trumps all others. "Electability is the key," he said. "If you want to talk about something new, winning an election would be something new for our party and I think that's what members want."
MLA Rob Fleming, who is considering his own leadership bid, said Mr. Horgan has shaken up the race. "John has probably given a lot of people a lot of things to think about today," said the 41-year-old Victoria-Swan Lake member.