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Harcourt likes Horgan, but not enough to rejoin NDP fold yet

John Horgan, the newly minted B.C. New Democrat Leader, meets union workers during a tour of Western Stevedoring/Lynn Terminal in North Vancouver on May 2, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

John Horgan as leader is not enough to bring former NDP premier Mike Harcourt home to the party he abandoned because he believed it is not ready to govern.

In an interview this week, Mr. Harcourt said he is a big fan of the Vancouver Island MLA for the work he did as a political aide on Harcourt-era projects and for his conduct in elected politics since.

But Mr. Harcourt said he will watch to see if Mr. Horgan, who was acclaimed leader on Thursday, can meet several conditions before considering a return to the party he led to power in 1991.

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"Until I see a strong, capable leader with some good balanced policies for British Columbians and a team that can run a government, I am staying where I am," Mr. Harcourt, who was B.C.'s second NDP premier, told The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Horgan made his public debut as opposition leader on Friday. He placed third in the 2011 race, which elected Adrian Dix.

Mr. Dix led the NDP to defeat in the 2013 election despite buoyant polls going into the campaign. The B.C. Liberals under Christy Clark won a fourth straight majority with an economy-focused campaign.

Mr. Horgan said on Friday that he hoped to win back Mr. Harcourt's support. "Mike and I are going to be getting together over the summer, and I am going to be working very hard not just to earn his support, but the support of all British Columbians," he told reporters during a news conference in North Vancouver.

That may be a challenge. In April, Mr. Harcourt said he had quit the party over several grievances – notably the "astonishingly stupid decision" of Mr. Dix to change position in the middle of last spring's campaign on a proposed expansion of a Kinder-Morgan pipeline between Alberta and the Lower Mainland. Mr. Dix said he would oppose the expansion after earlier saying he would wait until an application for approval to take a position.

While Mr. Harcourt is lukewarm about the NDP, he is a big fan of 54-year-old Mr. Horgan, who said on Friday the party needs a straightforward economic message to win over voters, and that he is enthusiastic about the responsible development of resources.

Mr. Harcourt cited Mr. Horgan's work for his government as a negotiator on the Columbia Basin Treaty, and the Columbia Power Corporation, where Mr. Harcourt said he could get along with people and pull varied interests to consensus.

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"He made a seamless transfer from being a high-level political appointee to being a politician – a pretty feisty one at that in the blood sport of B.C. politics," Mr. Harcourt said. "We'll see if we can grow further."

Mr. Horgan won a legislature seat in 2005. He is MLA for Juan de Fuca, and has been the party's energy critic and house leader.

Mr. Harcourt also said endorsing MLA Mike Farnworth for leader over Mr. Horgan during the 2011 leadership race was a "really tough choice," but he concluded the former NDP cabinet minister from Port Coquitlam could reach more voters.

Mr. Horgan earlier this week called Mr. Harcourt the living politician he most admires because, "in the face of adversity not of his making," he quit as premier in 1996 over a scandal linking the NDP to the use of charity bingo revenues for party purposes. Mr. Harcourt had no role in the events, but took responsibility for them. "I've worked with several politicians. I have respected them all, but Mike would be a the top of the list," Mr. Horgan said.

Mr. Horgan said he aspires to use a key political lesson taught by Mr. Harcourt: "He remembered names and faces. We used to have to book an extra half an hour into his schedule to get from the door of Vancouver airport to departure gate because he knew everybody," he said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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