B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix delivered a key address to hundreds of municipal politicians from around the province Thursday morning at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria.
Dix's speech is being touted as the convention's top event due to expectations he will defeat Premier Christy Clark in the upcoming May provincial election.
He opened agressively by questioning Clark's decision to cancel the fall legislative session. Then he embraced free enterprise by saying B.C. needs a prosperous economy driven by the private sector, and countered his critics by saying opposing the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was not equal to opposing economic development in general.
He also told the delegates local governments should have a say whether or not big projects in their regions should be public-private partnerships, known as P3s. He also said the revenue from the carbon tax should be used to fund local projects.
When pressed by reporters afterwards to say if he would repeal the province's balanced budget laws, Dix appeared to indicate he would repeal the law, saying it is not always possible to balance a budget.
B.C. Green Leader Jane Sterk is scheduled to take to the podium later Thursday morning, before the annual convention wraps up Friday at noon, with an address by Premier Christy Clark.
Liberal minister kicks off electioneering
Dix's address was not the first campaign-style speech at the convention. The 1,500 delegates from municipalities and regional districts around B.C. got their first taste of some electioneering on Wednesday.
The new Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett got a warm welcome from the packed room of mayors, councillors and regional district representatives, who were likely expecting a typical convention speech focused on local government issues.
But after a few jokes, Bennett quickly switched into a partisan mode, spending the bulk of his 30-minute talk touting the accomplishments of the B.C. Liberals and warning of the perils of returning to an NDP government.
"The reality is if we lose our reputation in British Columbia as a good place to invest, to create jobs. If we go back to being a have not province, the economic basket case in Canada that we were, the province will lose the wherewithal to pay for those infrastructure program, to contribute those traffic fine revenues and grants to you."
The partisan speech got a mixed reaction from the delegates on the convention floor.
Marijuana resolution controversial
Also on Wednesday the municipal leaders voted in favour of a controversial resolution to lobby Ottawa to decriminalize marijuana and study the benefits of taxing and regulating cannabis.
The mayors and councillors from across the province clapped and cheered after voting to support marijuana decriminalization during a stirring debate in a crowded hall at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
The vote sends a strong message to provincial and federal politicians that British Columbians believe current marijuana prohibition laws are not working and they want change, said Dr. Evan Wood, a noted HIV/AIDS expert who is spearheading a coalition of prominent B.C. health, legal and political officials calling for marijuana decriminalization.
"If I was a politician in this day and age, it would be with great reluctance that I wouldn't take a position of leadership on this and be willing to advance this cause, because at the end of the day, what we're really talking about is trying to improve public health and safety," said Wood in an interview.
But former Brian Mulroney-era cabinet minister Tom Siddon urged the UBCM to turn down the resolution supporting decriminalization.
Siddon, now a regional district politician in the B.C. Interior, said Canada's current approach to marijuana permits young people to fry their brains while leaving them open to moving towards harder drugs. He said organized criminals would not be deterred by decriminalization from selling pot and resorting to violence to protect their commodity.
"This is not a remedy," he said. "It's going to aggravate the temptations of young people to move from marijuana, which may be more harmless than a few bottles of beer, to being hooked on heroin, cocaine and the chemical designer drugs."
But Siddon's view did not prevail as many other municipal politicians said they believed decriminalization is a start towards beating back organized gangs who stage daylight murders to enforce their control over what has been estimated as a $7-billion annual product.
"I think it's about being progressive," said Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun. "I'm not going to judge someone about whether or not they smoke pot. I tried it when I was younger and I turned out OK."
Skakun said municipal politicians can't ignore the huge policing costs associated with marijuana and they also are keenly aware of the potential revenue stream government-regulated marijuana could generate.
Marijuana activist Dana Larsen, a former B.C. New Democrat leadership candidate, said the UBCM vote is a step toward pushing Ottawa to decriminalize marijuana.
"It's symbolic, but it also shows the municipalities and cities, who really bear the brunt of prohibition — they really have to pay the costs — they're calling for a change in this law," he said.
Larsen is leading a year-long petition campaign under B.C.'s direct democracy laws to enact a so-called sensible policing act which would result in no further police searches, seizures or arrests in cases involving simple possession of marijuana.
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Little-Known Mulcair Facts
Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)
10. He Used To Be A Liberal
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)
8. He's French (Kind Of)
Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
7. They Used To Be Friends
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)
6. Ancestor Was Premier Of Quebec
Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)
4. He's Half Irish.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
3. He Votes In France
Muclair has voted in past French elections, but says that now that he is leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he will not take part in the upcoming French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
2. Young Love At First Sight
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)
1. Mr. Angry
<a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.