The five men vying for leadership of the NDP met in Kelowna Monday for what was billed as the second of nine debates in cites across B.C.
But instead of debating one another, MLAs Mike Farnworth, Adrian Dix, Nicholas Simons and John Horgan and marijuana activist Dana Larsen found themselves simply answering questions and agreeing with each other for most of the night.
Questions were put to the five—the first three about justice issues and the rest submitted in writing prior to the meeting—by moderator Liz Woods.
Each candidate was then given 90 seconds to answer each question.
But, on issues such as the need for a public inquiry into the sale of B.C. Rail and the subsequent court case it spawned, as well as opposition to a proposed oil pipeline in northern B.C. and uranium mining, more money for legal aid and farmers and a call for civilian oversight of the RCMP, all five heartily agreed with on another.
None of the candidates explained why they would be a better leader then their challengers.
All five did, however, take shots at new Liberal leader Christy Clark, who was elected by her party three weeks ago and was sworn in as the new B.C. premier last week.
The NDP leadership quintet linked Clark, a former cabinet minister, to her old boss, former premier Gordon Campbell repeatly, saying re-election of the Liberals in the next provincial vote will result in more of the same.
Farnworth said the only time he saw Clark’s smile fade during her recent Liberal leadership campaign was when she was pressed for an inquiry into the B.C. Rail sale.
Clark, whose brother and ex-husband’s names surfaced during an investigation into the sale of B.C. Rail, but who were not accused of or found to have done anything wrong, even had a shot taken at her by Farnworth for her leadership campaign vow to focus on families.
“Christy Clark says it’s all about families. Whose family is it when it comes to B.C. Rail? It’s all about hers,” Farnworth said to applause from the standing room-only crowd of close to 200 people at the Coast Capri Hotel.
But all the candidates said for the NDP to win the next election, their party must give the electorate something to vote for, not just something to vote against.
“It’s not good enough to say vote for us, we’re not the other guys,” said Horan. “The challenge (for the NDP) is not just selecting a leader but to excite people.”
Farnworth, who served as a cabinet minister in the last NDP government in B.C., said the NDP must present voters with a “progressive, relevant” platform and must give the people a government that will sit down and listen to them.
Simons, a former social worker whose campaign is, in part, focusing on poverty reduction, said the next government needs to give British Columbians “more than slogans and vanity projects.” It needs to restore cut social program spending and grants for community organizations because the work they do is not only invaluable in their communities, it also saves the government millions in spending each year.
Larsen, who used to lead the Marijuana Party, said when it comes to policing, B.C. needs to make the police the first name one thinks of when they are in trouble, not the last. He, like the others, wants the province to insist on civilian oversight for the RCMP as part of the negotiations of a new RCMP contract for B.C. Too often he said, the police are being called upon to act in ways they are not equipped to and that is because of government cutbacks in so many other areas.
Dix, who is no stranger to the Okanagan having come here more than two dozen times since being elected, predicted the NDP will win seats in the currently Liberal dominated Okanagan in the next election, but to do so his party will have to convince many of the estimated 1.4 million eligible voters who did not cast ballots in the last election to vote.
“And we can start by supporting the federal NDP candidates (in this area) in the next federal election,” he said.
Dix said an NDP government led by him would repeal the last three corporate tax cuts brought in by the Liberal government and use the money to help restore funding for health care and education.
The NDP will elect its new leader in April.
A party assembly will be held in Vancouver but party members across the province will be able to vote via telephone and on the Internet.