As seen in the March 2 edition of The Province Newspaper:
BY MICHAEL SMYTH, THE PROVINCE
Christy Clark may have won an election few expected her to win, but Mike Farnworth says he knows a thing or two about winning himself.
Now he’s out to prove it.
“I’m running for leadership of the New Democratic Party,” the veteran NDP MLA told me.
“I don’t believe for a minute Christy Clark is unbeatable. I’m running to be premier — and I intend to win.”
With those words, Farnworth, 54, becomes the first official entrant in the race to replace Adrian Dix as NDP boss and leader of the Opposition in the legislature.
Farnworth, first elected as MLA from Port Coquitlam in 1991, didn’t expect to get another shot at the job after finishing second to Dix in the 2011 NDP leadership contest.
“Like everyone else, I thought we were going to win last May,” he said. “But we didn’t seal the deal.”
Despite a 20-point NDP lead in the polls at the campaign’s start, Clark’s Liberals cruised to an upset victory, forcing Dix’s resignation announcement in September.
How did the NDP blow it? Farnworth points to Dix’s mid-campaign policy flip-flop on the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline.
Dix maintained for more than a year that he was neutral on the Alberta-to-Burnaby pipeline, pending the outcome of environmental hearings. Then, out of nowhere, he announced on Earth Day that he was opposed to the $5.4-billion project.
“That was not good,” Farnworth said.
“One day I’m on the doorstep saying one thing to voters, and the next day I have a different message. And it was like, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Farnworth said the so-called “Kinder surprise” threw a scare into voters over the NDP’s ability to manage and grow the economy.
“I think many voters said, ‘Wait a second. Resource development is important and these are our jobs,’” he said.
“It allowed the Liberals to characterize us as a party without an economic vision.”
He said that’s why he wants to be an NDP leader who supports jobs and economic growth.
“We can’t be perceived as the party of ‘no’. Otherwise, the people of this province, especially in the Interior, will just say ‘no’ to us again.”
He said he personally still supports the NDP’s original position on Kinder Morgan — neutral, pending the outcome of environmental hearings — putting him offside with the party’s current stand against the project.
Farnworth also criticized the NDP’s “positive” election campaign, saying the party should have fought back harder against the Liberals’ negative attack ads.
“I admire what Adrian did in terms of having a positive vision for the NDP,” he said.
“But we didn’t fight hard enough to hold the Liberals accountable for their record on things like the HST.”
Does that mean he would run negative ads next time?
“You know that’s what the Liberals are going to do and you have to fight fire with fire,” he said. “If I’m leader, we will never fight an election campaign with one hand tied behind our backs.”
By the time that next election rolls around in 2017, the Liberals will have been in power for 16 years.
Farnworth said the party can break the dynasty by beating the Liberals in Lower Mainland suburbs, where the New Democrats were badly beaten in May.
“When you look at the election results, you see we lost in places like Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Surrey — we got beaten in the ’burbs,” he said.
“I’m a suburban guy from Coquitlam. I know how to win in the suburbs, and I know we can take those seats back.”
Farnworth’s backers showed me a poll that measured voter appeal of various potential NDP leadership candidates in suburban ridings and key swing seats in the Interior.
The poll showed Farnworth ahead of caucus colleague John Horgan, NDP MP Nathan Cullen and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“Mike Farnworth is generally well positioned to lead the NDP,” said a report by the Toronto-based Innovative Research Group polling company.
“Of the four candidates we tested, only he and Gregor Robertson bring any strong existing reputational capital to the party.”
Robertson and Cullen have both said they’re not running for the job. Horgan, the party’s fiery energy critic, ruled himself out last fall, but now says he’s reconsidering.
Farnworth, who would be the first openly gay leader of a major political party in B.C., said he consulted with family about another leadership bid, including with his partner of 25 years, Doug Vurzinger.
“They all know this is my life,” Farnworth said. “I told my family and my friends, ‘This is about electability: who can win an election, who can put forward an economic vision for jobs and the environment.’ They all believe that I’m the guy.”
The NDP leadership won’t be decided until September. With Farnworth as the first entrant, the long race has begun.