Why do you want to be the leader of the NDP and ultimately the premier?
I’m going to present an agenda to British Columbians that is clear, they see is do-able, that is do-able and that will make a real change in our province. That’s why I’m running and I think I can lead the NDP to victory in the next election.
How would the NDP benefit small towns like Port Alberni?
Small town B.C. has lost services, not just because of cuts but also because of the centralization of services. This has been frequently a problem on the West Coast. It’s an additional blow to the community when you don’t have the highest quality public health care and education and you’re struggling with economic problems. I have strong support from forest workers who are looking to us to ensure that raw logs are again processed in B.C. I have a focus on small town health care and small town education. When the NDP was in power in the 90’s we brought the new hospital to Port Alberni and were committed to community health care. Those are the key services that a provincial government can deliver to communities. But we’ve seen a withdrawl of those services under the BC Liberals. Under the NDP we’d see a commitment to both healthcare and education in Port Alberni. Secondly, we could aggressively seek to reduce raw log exports so that logs were processed in British Columbia, something that would benefit communities like Port Alberni. And our commitment to ensure that we shift the tax burden away from middle class people and towards corporations shouldering a little more, considering the significant tax cuts they’ve seen in the last three years. This will ultimately ensure that we have the resources to invest in town such as Port Alberni.
Most of the people you met with in Alberni were seniors. Describe what you will do to reach out to the province’s younger demographic.
We’d concentrate on some of the key issues that are important to young people today. Environmental issues are an example. In my community, we’ve organized broadly diverse events on climate change. We had 500 young people turn out to an event in one of the schools in my constituency. This was on a professional day when they didn’t have to be there. This shows that there is enormous interest. There’s also a strong environmental ethic in Port Alberni, and I’m making some environmental proposals that I think will be well received. Access to post secondary education, and jobs for post secondary graduates is another issue important to young people. We’d want to meet with young people more often in placed like campuses to listen to their views because I don’t think we listen enough to the views of young people.
Aboriginal issues have flown below the radar, but they remain significant because they remain unresolved. Why should aboriginal people in Port Alberni support your bid for leader of the NDP?
We’d actively pursue justice for aboriginal people in B.C. I worked very significantly on the Nisga’a treaty, and I think that the current government derailed the treaty making process in B.C. I also think that for urban aboriginal people in cities around B.C. we have not made the investment that we need for aboriginal health and educational services that would begin to meet the growing challenges of inequality in our society. Recently I worked to stop school closures in Vancouver, including many schools with high numbers of aboriginal children – those schools were on the chopping block. We worked with the school board to make sure those schools weren’t closed. I’m prepared to give a lot of energy to aboriginal issues, and I think that it requires the energy of a premier, not just for a few months of a mandate like Premier Campbell did, but for their entire mandate.
Describe the NDP’s first term in office with you as leader
We’d focus on very specific problems. First, the current government has the worst record on the economy out of any government in my lifetime. The province has the lowest level of economic growth and the highest level of inequality. So we would be specifically addressing some of those issues. Getting more jobs out of the landbase would be a key part of that. We’d use the resources in B.C. to ensure that we have jobs in B.C. again. Secondly, I’d focus on improving healthcare and education services, especially on the issue of class size and composition. I’d also work on improving access to post-secondary education as well. I’d be looking at specific social justice issues: increasing minimum wage, reinstating employment standards, and workers compensation. These are all benefits that have been stripped away by the current government. And we’d address issues of the environment. We’d endure that carbon tax revenues were used for investments such as transit and to ensure that schools stayed open. Those are the kinds of things you’d see done in the NDP government’s first term.
What is the NDP’s vision beyond ‘We’re not the Liberals’
We’ve had a 10-year-period of poor economic growth and growing inequality and we have to address that. If you look internationally at the levels of inequality – such things as mental illness, crime, addiction, literacy, these levels of inequality are divisive for society. Our vision is one where everyone can fulfill their dreams. That has not been the case in the last few years. We envision a return to supporting the public sphere – public health care and public education, which have not benefited under the Liberal government. Social justice is also a key part of our vision, in particular minimum wage, employment standards, and the enforcement of fair workers compensation. And finally, using environmental taxation like the carbon tax for environmental purposes, be they supporting transit in urban communities or other initiatives in small towns.
How will the NDP under Adrian Dix as its leader differ from the NDP under Carol James?
I was a strong supporter of Carol James. I hoped to serve in her government should she have been elected premier of British Columbia. I have enormous respect for her. But there are some differences in style between us. I’m very committed to the issued I’ve talked about – economic and social justice, and environmental protection. If I’m selected as leader there’ll be a focus on those. There will be a bit of a strategic difference as well. For instance, I object to what Stephen Harper proposes. But at the end of a Stephen Harper campaign you know what the five things are that he campaigned on. At the end of an Adrian Dix campaign you’d know there’d be significant changes and people would know what they are. And the other small difference in the party between Carol and I is that we’d win the next election.
Some in the NDP favour reaching out to business while others view such a move as a sell out. How will you treat businesses?
I’d treat business with respect. I’d be straight up with them and meet with them regularly. They’d be a respected player at the table in all discussions. But they wouldn’t be the only player at the table, as they have been over the last 10 years. That’s something important that distinguishes us from the Liberals. I just took part in a full debate in front of an audience of the B.C. Business Council. Can you imagine the Liberal party candidates going to the B.C. Federation of Labour and doing the same thing? I think we’ve got to be very open to business.
How will you handle the HST issue, and if people vote to get rid of it where will the $1.2-billion owed to the federal government come from.
There’s divide in the business community on the HST – some small business don’t support it while some large businesses do. Now there’ll be uncertainty for a year about what tax regime will exist. I don’t think that uncertainty is good for business. My position is clear. I’ve campaigned against it in the referendum as the leader of the opposition. As premier if it’s still there I’ll get rid of it and raise the PST. That’s a clear position, and I think that’s good for business. We’re one of the best places in the world to invest, not because of the taxation rate, but because of public healthcare, not healthcare provided by private insurance schemes, but healthcare provided by the province. Regarding paying it back, Jim Flaherty’s talked about respecting the little people, so we’ll deal with it with the federal government at that time. I have a strong position that a one-time payment from Ottawa shouldn’t force B.C. to adopt a poor economic and fiscal policy.
Describe what sorts of ideas you will be advancing?
I believe that public healthcare has to be delivered efficiently, but I reject the notion that public healthcare can’t be paid for. I’ve proposed a detailed prescription drug plan for instance, as well as a plan to use nurse practitioners, particularly in rural B.C., to promote primary healthcare. On the issues of public healthcare and education, on use of the carbon tax, that you’ll see a plan that is attractive to British Columbians, but also one that is do-able. British Columbians expect significant change, but they want to see that you can do what you say you want to do. You can’t solve every problem – you can’t address every problem – in one term. You have to be realistic what you can do in one term. Propose significant change, achieve it, then campaign both on your record and what you propose to do in your second term.
Does the one-member-one-vote leadership system disadvantage rural ridings?
I had proposed an early leadership date that would have been before any signup. That might have fared Vancouver Island. Many of our largest riding associations are on Vancouver Island for the NDP. But in general, we have a smaller sign up than the Liberals in a shorter period of time. I don’t know what the final figure is for membership, but from what I’ve heard it’s 25,000 to 30,0000. I’ve campaigned so far in 24 communities. I’ve been in the Kootney’s, Prince George, and am going to Terrace and Prince Rupert. I’ve been everywhere in B.C. I think that some of my strongest areas are in the Lower Mainland, the Interior and on the Island. I think that rural B.C. is going to play a crucial role in this leadership campaign and in the election.
How do you respond to the issue of party president Moe Sihota being paid by unions
That was a decision made by the party. I think that they decided it would make sense for Moe to work full time. Like everything done by the party it’s up to the people who contribute to the party, and that includes unions and individuals. We were $2.5-million in debt 18 months ago and Moe and the current team have reduced that debt to under a million dollars. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important and we have to acknowledge that. I think mistakes were made in how people were informed about how the president was paid and Moe has acknowledged that. He’ll run for re-election as party president in the fall based on the substance that the party is in better shape now in terms of its finances and its organization than it was 18 months ago.
Newspapers print stories about government promising to be open and transparent after every election, and then reporters end up dealing with the Public Affairs Bureau. Would you downsize the bureau or change its scope.
I think there’s a way to do it substantively. I’ve made very specific proposals to expand and improve freedom of information in B.C. We need freedom of information laws that allow people to access information that belongs to them. This government politicized that bureau so that all… order in council political appointees, so we’re going to take a look at that. Clearly, there’s a need for government to provide information, but even by government standards this has become a hugely political agency.