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'BC NDP, Strap on Your Tubas!'

Spirited speeches, a Mulcair cameo, and fighting words for BC Libs at 2015 convention.

Andrew MacLeod 9 Nov 2015TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The leader of the British Columbia New Democratic Party, John Horgan, arrived on stage Saturday morning for his keynote address to the party's 2015 convention carrying a tuba.

The instrument, which he did not play, was a visual riff on a rousing speech given the night before by Jennifer Granholm, the Vancouver-born former two-term governor of Michigan. Recalling a professor's advice that "you don't answer a tuba with a piccolo," she encouraged, "BC NDP, strap on your tubas!"

Be strong, clear on what you stand for, and aggressively promote jobs, she said in a speech that opened with several minutes of Seussian rhyming couplets. "No nursing your wounds from the last election," she said.

The convention at the Westin Bayshore hotel in Vancouver is the NDP's last before the 2017 provincial election, which party president Craig Keating reminded delegates is just 550 days away. The last NDP convention fell shortly after the unexpected 2013 election loss.

And while there was the occasional mention of the party's challenges -- Keating observed that outgoing treasurer Korleen Carreras "has dealt with a very difficult situation in our party finances at times" -- speakers mainly focused on the future and defeating the BC Liberals.

As Keating noted, a Liberal win in 2017 would mean that starting in 2001 the party will accumulate 20 years in power. "We can't allow that to happen," he said.

Federal falter

To defeat the BC Liberals the NDP needs to focus on 25 battleground ridings the party needs to win or hold, he said. Money and modern fundraising will help, he said, as will the new "Populus" voter contact database built for the 2015 federal campaign.

The convention's opening day included speeches from Richard Cannings and Rachel Blaney, both of whom won their bids to become federal members of Parliament for the NDP. Cannings observed that the key to winning is to offer voters an inspiring vision of what B.C. and Canada could achieve.

On the final day there was a speech from federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who in the October election saw support for his party drop to 44 seats, down from the party's record high of 103 seats in the 2011 vote.

"On Oct. 19, we did not get the results we wanted. It's true," Mulcair said after delegates gave him a standing ovation. "But that does not take anything away from your amazing and dedicated work during the marathon election campaign. And there is a lot to take pride in."

He thanked all the people who worked hard and celebrated the result in B.C., where the party won 14 of 42 seats.

A spokesperson for Mulcair, George Smith, told reporters the leader would not be available to answer questions.

Horgan took heart from the federal election, despite the NDP slip. "Two-thirds of British Columbians voted for change," he said in his speech. "We brought change to Canada, and we need to bring change to British Columbia."

Horgan's speech lasted 50 minutes, swinging between attacks on the BC Liberal and Christy Clark record and outlining the NDP's plans.

He said that over the next week he will present the NDP's energy plan, and that he'd welcome a debate with Clark on the subject anytime.

The plan will support stronger conservation measures and cleaner sources, including solar and wind. The NDP will reject Site C, which Horgan described as $9 billion spent "flooding a valley where we can grow food when we don't need the energy."

An NDP government would shelve Site C for at least a decade, Horgan later told The Tyee. It would move ahead with BC Hydro's Revelstoke Unit 6 project and would give the Crown corporation the authority to develop its own renewable projects, ending the current requirement that it buy power from the private sector, he said.

In his speech, Horgan said the NDP supports locally grown food, local markets, craft brewing and protecting farmland.

Paying the price of 'neglect': Horgan

There's a need to nurture everyone who wants a job and for the province to avoid Clark's mistake of relying so heavily on liquefied natural gas, Horgan said, reminding the crowd that the premier campaigned on using LNG to build a prosperity fund and make B.C. debt free.

"It was a lie," said Horgan, noting he couldn't say that in the legislature without having the speaker rebuke him for using un-parliamentary language. "Here I can say it's a lie, because that's what it was."

Horgan said that while top earners got a $17,000 tax break this year, regular people are finding it harder to get ahead.

"They're paying the cost of 14 years of government neglect," he said. They're paying more for tuition, health care premiums, ferry fares and camping, he said. "I'm tired of people paying the price of this neglect."

He spoke about how the health centre in Logan Lake is closed. A sign on the door says to drive to Ashcroft, 45 minutes away. But the emergency department in Ashcroft is closed on the weekend, requiring another hour drive to Kamloops. "That's not health care where you need it, when you need it," he said.

Horgan recalled receiving great care when he had cancer a few years ago, which he credited to frontline workers. "It was the individuals, not the administration," he said.

He talked about the continuing issue of government officials deleting documents and missing records. The problem has been ongoing for 14 years, and the information and privacy commissioner has raised it in four reports, but Clark treats it as new each time, he said.

"It's as if she just arrived yesterday," Horgan said. "It's always a revelation to the premier."

New generational challenges

Horgan spoke about being raised by a single mom. "When I was growing up, we had some hard times. It was difficult."

When he acted out, there were teachers who got him back on track, he said. "Today, kids are falling through the cracks."

When it was time to work, there were a wide variety of jobs available, he said. "I had opportunities wherever I looked. That's not happening for young people today."

Young people are heavily burdened by debt, and their generation is the first since the industrial revolution that is worse off than the one that came before them, he said. "We need to be focused like a laser on making life as easy as possible, not creating obstacles."

The NDP would fund what students need and focus on high-wage jobs -- protecting existing jobs and creating the jobs of the future, he said.

The Clark government, in contrast, has failed to deliver on a promise of 100,000 jobs in LNG and has allowed tens of thousands of jobs to be lost with exported raw logs, he said. "We need to keep logs here, and create jobs here... [the Liberals] have the shame to stand up and say they're all about creating jobs? What are they talking about?"

He added, "When you just make stuff up, life's pretty simple."

And, "We need to delete, delete, delete the BC Liberals."

Piccolo players welcome

BC Liberals leafleted the hotel with cards depicting Horgan as "Dr. No" against development projects. They parked a U-Haul van across the street from the convention with "Dr. No" banners.

"These are middle school activities by a bunch of punks," Horgan said in an interview. "What offends me about BC Liberals is it's all a game for them. People want to have debates about these issues, not act like middle school."

If the Liberals are trying to paint Horgan as against all projects, how does he plan to counteract that? "You talk about really creating jobs, not pretending to create jobs," he said.

"I don't think Christy Clark has any credibility with British Columbians, and I don't think when faced with the alternatives of me or her that I will be at all concerned about the cardboard box she wants to put me in."

It didn't deter the 516 delegates who voted 95.4 against holding a leadership contest, effectively supporting Horgan to remain in the job.

"We're united by our values, and those values are I believe mainstream Canadian values," Horgan said. "We have to sell that to the electorate at the same time the cling-to-power party is going around saying that we somehow don't want people to prosper, we somehow don't want people to thrive. It's just not true, and we have to break through that."

Or, as Horgan put it in his speech, "Piccolo players, tuba players: together we'll build a better British Columbia."  [Tyee]

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