Editorial: NDP needs dynamic leader

The B.C. New Democratic Party can hardly expect voters to flock to its standard when its own members are conspicuously unwilling to run for the party leadership.

The party should be worried that when it announced Sept. 28 as the date for the leadership decision, a string of members had already said they would not run, while the list of confirmed candidates stood at zero.

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NDP MPs Nathan Cullen, Peter Julian and Fin Donnelly have all turned down a shot at the top job, as have Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan, who ran in 2011, and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham.

The list of those considering entering the race includes Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, finance critic and likely front-runner Mike Farnworth, former union leader George Heyman and Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby.

“Considering,” however, is a long way from running.

The NDP — and the province — need a compelling leader who can be effective in opposition and present a credible alternative government with a shot at winning an election. The party needs it for its own survival, and the province needs it because strong opposition makes strong government.

The NDP has struggled in opposition for most of its life, punctuated by brief periods in power. But no New Democrat has served as premier of B.C. for more than one term.

Particularly in the last couple of decades, they have failed to generate broad support throughout the province. Leaders such as Mike Harcourt and Adrian Dix were seen as Vancouver-centred, which is not sustainable as the difference in priorities between Vancouver and the rest of the province become more obvious.

The results map of last year’s election is dramatic: The NDP captured a handful of ridings in the heart of Vancouver, plus Island and coastal ridings, with a chunk in the southeast. The rest of the Lower Mainland and a huge swath running up the middle of the province went to the B.C. Liberals.

The NDP’s internal conflict over how to appeal to both environmentalists and working people had a lot to do with the party’s defeat in 2013. Its policies made it seem opposed to economic development and the jobs many voters hoped would flow from development. However, Dix as leader bore much of the responsibility for the failure to connect with voters and to craft a winning strategy.

That was certainly the judgment of many party members, who turned on him almost as viciously as they did former leader Carole James. The party has demonstrated, as if anyone needed a demonstration, how a long period in opposition can bring out the worst in politicians.

Anyone who jumps into the race must have courage, but that is only one of the job requirements. The party needs a leader who can invigorate the members, appeal to voters from all areas and walks of life, and present a credible alternative to Premier Christy Clark.

The NDP is more of a coalition than the Liberals are, so the leader has to be able to make the factions work together. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is centrist enough that she has been touted as a possible leader for both the NDP and the Liberals. She has solid experience running B.C.’s second-largest city, a growing and diverse community. So far, Watts has said no to both parties.

With the most obvious candidates crossing themselves off the list, those who are left are an unexciting group.

Unexciting is not what neither the party nor the province needs. For too long, B.C. voters have been choosing between the lesser of two evils.

The NDP can help fix that by finding a leader who gives British Columbians someone to vote for, instead of someone to vote against.

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