B.C. NDP leader listens to local voices

John Horgan pays visit to South Okanagan and says he plans to be back often

NDP leader John Horgan is following in the footsteps of his friend and former NDP leader Adrian Dix.

At least as far as visiting South Okanagan ridings goes, that is. Horgan said that like Dix, he plans to be stopping by regularly to help bolster the party’s chances in the Penticton and Boundary-Similkameen ridings.

Horgan said about 50 people turned out to meet him at a public event Monday evening, and he also had a chance to meet with representatives from the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce during his swing through the city.

“I was gratified that  they were anxious to meet me,” said Horgan of his meeting with chamber president Campbell Watt and general manager John Devitt.

Watt said Horgan wasn’t ready to make commitments but wanted to hear how the local business community looks at what was going on in government.

He was more looking for our input than we were looking for his,” said Watt. “We talked about all sorts of stuff with him and he was really here to listen.”

Watt said they raised issues like better highway connections to encourage travellers to the South Okanagan and the lack of benefits from liquefied natural gas or oil pipelines to the area.

“That doesn’t really do much for our city directly,” said Watt.

“We had a great discussion, it started off kind of tentative, but when you talk about issues, this notion of partisanship fades away,” said Horgan. “The cold war is over, and the world is a different place and I believe that New Democrat values are mainstream values.”

Issues raised at the public meeting included education, health care — especially the likelihood of the Penticton Regional Hospital expansion proceeding — and the economy.

“The broader question was what about the economy here. There is a perception that if you are not talking about LNG, the government doesn’t want to hear from you,” said Horgan.

“My view is that certainly when you have 35,000 employees and a $44-billion budget, you should be able to multi-task and be able to talk about the various sectors of the economy, agriculture, tourism, forestry, mining.”

Horgan said that as in the 2013 election, he thinks the NDP has a chance to swing the South Okanagan ridings.

“I think we have real possibilities here,” said Horgan, adding that the NDP had the Okanagan Boundary and Penticton seats in the win column before the actual counting of the votes in the 2013 provincial election.

“I am going to work hard to make sure that we can do that next time,” said Horgan, who said he has learned lessons from the NDP’s stunning defeat last year, when polls showed Dix leading the party to victory and ousting the Christy Clarke Liberals.

“She out-campaigned us,” said Horgan, adding that the NDP let up on their role of being the official Opposition after having the Liberals reeling in February and March of last year.

“I wouldn’t say we were measuring the drapes in April and May, but we certainly weren’t holding the government accountable,” said Horgan.

It was a long process, Horgan said, before he came to the decision to put himself forward again for NDP party leader. But unlike the divisiveness in the NDP’s previous leadership race following the ouster of former leader Carole James, Horgan said the caucus and party members came together to back his bid.

Rather than campaigning, he said, that has allowed him to spend the last three months restructuring the NDP.

“Not just the caucus operations, but our provincial office and how we reach out to communities like Penticton, where we came very close with a super candidate and a strong campaign,” said Horgan. “I want to build on that.”