The B.C. NDP caucus has sidestepped a divisive leadership battle, rallying around veteran New Democrat MLA John Horgan to take them into the next election.
Mr. Horgan's only declared rival, MLA Mike Farnworth, bowed out of the race Tuesday. That paves the way for an almost-certain coronation after nominations for the leadership close on May 1.
Flanked by Mr. Farnworth and every member of the caucus – with the exception of three MLAs away on leave – Mr. Horgan said his party can now get on with rebuilding from its devastating election defeat last May. "Today is a demonstration the caucus has come to a conclusion, and there will be a transition – assuming no other candidates step forward," he said.
Although the deeply indebted party is now likely to be spared a costly contest to replace outgoing Leader Adrian Dix in September, the one-horse race does nothing to respond to calls for new blood. It was Mr. Horgan himself who announced last October he would not seek the leadership because New Democrats need the "next generation" to renew the party. Just last week, former NDP premier Mike Harcourt revealed he has torn up his membership card, saying the party is not ready to govern.
Mr. Horgan, who hopes to bring Mr. Harcourt back to the fold, offered a subtle response on Tuesday. "As New Democrats, we are at our best when we are united," Mr. Horgan said. "New Democrats are ready to govern. We are going to show you that every day until [election day in] 2017, when we roll over the B.C. Liberals."
Mr. Farnworth was the first to enter the race, launching his campaign early in March. But he never paid the party the required $25,000 entrance fee. Mr. Horgan changed his mind and joined the contest two weeks later, quickly locking up support from nearly half of the caucus, as well as key backroom organizers. It was apparent that Mr. Farnworth's sputtering campaign was running out of gas.
"This isn't exactly what I planned when I started," Mr. Farnworth said. "I've been working on this for a number of months and it became clear to me I wasn't going to achieve the results I wanted." He later said he had made up his mind to quit the race late last week. He noted that in terms of policy, he and Mr. Horgan are very similar, and he intends to run again in the next election under Mr. Horgan's leadership.
Mr. Dix, who was not at the campaign event, later told reporters he will remain neutral until the nominations close. He said the lack of interest in replacing him doesn't speak poorly of the state of the party, noting that the party has elected its most successful leaders by acclamation. Mr. Dix added that the party has only narrowly lost the last three elections. "We are strong, our base is strong, all we need is to do some extra things to get over the top. I'm looking forward to being a part of that."
Mr. Horgan argued he was the better candidate to take on B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark, who had spent the May, 2013, election campaign wearing a hardhat and talking about job creation.
That election was supposed to be a cakewalk for the NDP. Many New Democrats, including Mr. Harcourt, have blamed the loss on Mr. Dix's flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan pipeline in the middle of the campaign, which allowed Ms. Clark to paint the NDP as the party that would kill jobs. Mr. Horgan says he plans to counter that image by donning a hardhat himself and building a pro-jobs agenda.
It is expected that Mr. Horgan will be acclaimed once the nominations close on May 1, leaving him to focus on the tougher campaign ahead: rebuilding a disconsolate party that has not fully accepted its last electoral defeat. He is likely to work on selling Mr. Harcourt a new membership – which would be a clear signal that he has a green jobs plan that moderate New Democrats can get excited about.