Guys for whom I cannot vote (yet)

This just in: now there are 4.

Just watched the BC NDP leadership debate on the Environment and Sustainability, and I have made my decision about who I want to lead the NDP, and to lead the Province after Christy calls the snap election in June.

I have not seen them talk in the other debates, but they are all available here. I can’t sit through that much NDP bafflegab, so I decided to bet all my chips on the one subject where I have a lot of knowledge, Environmental Sustainability is right up my alley.

Not that I have a vote on the leader of the NDP, I’m not a member of the party. But I will have a vote in the election, and if John Horgan is leading the NDP, they will likely get my vote. This is my summary of how the candidates fared in this debate, and as unbiased as I was going in, I was pretty biased by the end.

First off, as far as battles of white guys in dark grey suits goes, they had the white guys and the dark suits, but it wasn’t much of a battle. This is a party that just eviscerated itself over the departure of the least leader, but it seems to all be peace and love here, no sign that any one of these guys disagrees with any other of these guys on any point whatsoever (although I don’t think any of them take Dana Larsen seriously). I would have liked to have heard “I respectfully disagree with my opponent on this point” just once, to make this seem like a battle of ideas, but that never happened.

Part of that was the nature of the format, but I guess being a third-place party in a two-party province begets a need for open unity. My only complaint overall with the format was having to hear Andrea Reimer’s voice scrape across the blackboard of my eardrums. Painful.

Mike Farnsworth is, apparently, the front runner. He has Jenny Kwan on his side, so what else could he want? Farnsworth hits all the right notes, and shows more nuance than you would expect from a n NDP front-runner, by alternately praising a good decision by WAC Bennett to build BC Hydro, and recognizing that the NDP missed the boat on the Carbon Tax. He also gets bonus points for mentioning the Evergreen Line and a Provincial approach to the control of cosmetic pesticide use (two issues that municipalities would like the Province to take more leadership on). however, in the end, he is a little too NDP, and will not sell well to the fence-sitters, as he may be a little too Mike Harcourt 2.0. If I am not voting NDP party line, I have no compelling reason to vote for him.

Dana Larsen is well-meaning, mentions one of my favourite ideas (fare-free transit), and makes a specific point to irritate AM radio fans and National Post readers by suggesting BC needs “Progressive, Visionary, Socialist” governance (the new right hates those three words the most). I give the former leader of the Marijuana Party kudos for waiting a full 40 minutes before the first mention of hemp as the solution to all of society’s problems. He also makes an interesting comparison between the Carbon Tax and Gambling which i will have to spend more time thinking about. Still, the lack of depth in his approach is reflected by the rather flaccid applause he receives from the audience. Is there any such thing as “former Pot activist”? I guess until we leagalize the stuff, we won’t know.

Nicolas Simons is quite likely the best possible choice, but – as he admits himself – he could never be elected. Although he has experience dealing with some of the most difficult parts of the civil service – children in need and First Nations consultation – he come across as a smarter Mr. Bean. The fact he is not a serious candidate for the leadership should be seen as a condemnation of 21st Century democracy, not of him. When I hear him talk about taking a science-based approach to policy; when he admits there are few “easy answers” and instead we need to understand the deep implications of our decisions; when he suggests the public have to have confidence that Government is working in good faith for the betterment of society; I nod my head in agreement, but at the same time recognize these are completely unreasonable requests in the politics of 2011. Kevin Falcon would cover this guy with a dressing of equal parts vinegar and bad ideas, and eat him for lunch. I hope whoever is leader recognizes that Simons should be up towards the top of the government making the hard choices that need to be made by government, I have that much faith in his ability to make intelligent policy, but don’t put him down in the trenches trying to defend them. He is above being leader.

But Adrian Dix isn’t. I almost couldn’t get past Adrian’s shiny, fat, orange tie. He makes some solid points, and at least one is close to my heart – making the environment the centre of the NDP platform will hit the Clark Liberals where they are embarrassingly weak. The problem is that the NDP doesn’t have the environmental cred to do the job, and they have (up to now at least) not had a green set of policies. As long as they are beholden to Big Labour’s perception that environmentalism is counter to Workers Rights, the NDP will not be able to fight from that position (one of the reasons I have never yet voted for an NDP candidate). Adrian made good points about the Environmental Assessment process (going through one right now at work, I am suddenly very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the current EA system). But in the end Adrian is worse than Mike Harcourt 2.0, he is Glen Clarke 2.0.

Which brings us to John Horgan. At the first blush, John is an aw-shucks nice guy, and this is a serious value for people sitting on the fence of what might be a three-way battle for the next government of the Province. His main opposition will be the queen of aw-shucks nice, and you need to get on the same field as her to win that battle. He is a party insider from way back, but one who took at rather principled stand when the party started to eat itself last year. He seems to take a common-sense, and science-based approach to many issues, and is very well versed in the energy sector, where BC is going to need to make some tough choices in the next decade. He shares my concern that the public service at the Ministry of Environment, and organizations like the Geological Survey have been gutted, leaving little ability for enforcement of environmental laws, and little science to support policy decisions.

At a real gut-level, though, there were two things that won me over. First, he said that as leader, he would not allow any NDP candidate show up at a constituent’s door with a pamphlet featuring a photo of Christie Clark. In other words, let’s bring fresh, new, better ideas instead of wasting our time arguing against the ideas of the other team. Second, as an MLA, he holds an informal Town Hall on the #61 bus from the Legislature to his home in Sooke. He uses this opportunity, on public transit, to find out what is really happening in his community. He started doing it informally, but now the constituents expect it.

From that, I get the impression that John Horgan “gets it”. We elect people to represent us, and take our ideas and desires to the halls of government, and we elect people to find solutions, though a well trained and well supported public service, for the problems we encounter. He also had the funniest joke of the night: “We’re the NDP. Bill Good calls us up every three years to ask us why we suck so much”.

So anyone out there who is a member of the NDP (especially Dawn Black, my local MLA), vote for John Horgan, and you have my vote next election.

Just to be as fair and non-partisan as possible, I have also included a video that summarizes the complete BC Liberal discussion on the environment from their leadership race.

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