POLITICS

B.C. NDP leader aims to form relationships as 'warriors' deal with Liberals

12/06/2014 04:00 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
VICTORIA - Advice from former New Democrat premier Mike Harcourt includes allowing the warriors to battle the government, the leader of British Columbia's opposition party says.

John Horgan said Harcourt told him to hit the road and meet B.C. residents while leaving the political battles to his five best warriors to hold the Liberals accountable.

"I want to be able to go to Squamish, I want to be able to go to Sicamous, I want to be able to go to Salmon Arm and get the same response that I get in Sooke," he said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

"That's the plan and I've got two-and-a-half years to do it," said the MLA for Juan de Fuca.

Horgan said once people hear his policies directly from him and not the Liberals, they will be in a better position to make decisions about supporting the New Democrats.

"I have to blow past the constant negative that rains down on me from the government side and go directly to the people," he said. "I find that if I can look people in the eye, let them kick the tires and let them measure my character then they'll judge themselves about what the Liberals say about me."

Premier Christy Clark recently said she believes Horgan is sometimes dismissive of her because she is a woman. Horgan says he strongly denies the sexism allegations, but acknowledges he must do a better job articulating New Democrat policies to counter Clark and the Liberals.

"I don't believe that I am dismissive of women at all," he said. "It was a ploy by the premier to cast doubt."

Horgan said he must be able to show he can deflect Clark's political jabs with facts that people understand.

"You have to demonstrate that the arguments she is making are just not true," he said.

Horgan said one example is that Clark accuses the New Democrats of being anti-immigration when they raise concerns about abuses of the temporary foreign worker program.

"The temporary foreign worker program is being abused in B.C., and what we need here more than anything else is a revitalized immigration program," he said. "I was disappointed she took a program that is designed to have people come and then get lost when the boss doesn't need you anymore as a genuine immigration policy."

Abuses of the temporary foreign worker program in B.C. has prompted Ottawa to place come up with tighter restrictions. Clark's government has suggested it may require more temporary foreign workers to fill jobs if liquefied natural gas projects come to fruition.

"I would suggest to the premier that rather than trying to find political opportunity, she should be trying to find ways to convince (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to open up immigration so that we can have the skilled workers coming here to build our economy and set down roots and have a path to citizenship, not paths back to their home country once the job's done."

Horgan said he was originally reluctant to seek the party leadership because after the NDP's devastating election defeat in May 2013, he believed the New Democrats should look to its younger voices for leadership. But intense lobbying from many people inside and outside the party convinced him to take the role.

"My plan is, and what I say to my caucus at the end of every meeting is, 'Go and make more friends. Go and meet more people you've never met before,'" he said. "'Find out what their concerns are and why they don't look to us as a viable governing party.'"

Horgan said he'll be taking Harcourt's advice and travelling the province as much as possible. He'll also be leaning on his bench-strength, especially New Democrats Carole James, David Eby, Michelle Mungall, Selina Robinson and Mike Farnworth.

"Those are the five who have been performing the best for me by far."