The new face of opposition…or is that government?

Provincial politics: NDP leadership hopefuls flash togetherness before the faithful during a love-in in Ladysmith

From left to right: B.C. NDP leadership candidates Nicholas Simons

From left to right: B.C. NDP leadership candidates Nicholas Simons

A “love-in in Ladysmith” is what John Horgan jokingly called Wednesday’s NDP leadership debate in the 49th parallel community.

But all jokes aside, that was the vibe

in the jam-packed Eagles Hall.

Almost 200 members of New Democrat party faithful came out to hear the five leadership candidates — one of whom may go on to become premier of the province after B.C.’s next election.

Vying for the position vacated by Carole James are Horgan, Nicholas Simons, Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and Dana Larsen.

Also in the crowd Wednesday night were MLAs Doug Routley and Leonard Krog (who’ve endorsed Farnworth), plus MLA Bill Routley and federal MP incumbent Jean Crowder (who’ve endorsed Horgan).

But despite the fact party members will choose just one of the five men to lead the NDP on April 17, the candidates talked very little about what set them apart.

Instead, they talked about the common goals of all New Democrats — topics such as more money for health care, education, the environment social services, and less for corporate tax cuts — and about the values New Democrats stand for.

“That’s the question that’s been bedeviling us, I think, for the past two elections,” Horgan said. “The last election, when we went to the doorsteps we handed our pamphlets with Gordon Campbell’s face on them. We were saying, ‘Don’t vote for them, vote for us. Why? Because we’re not them.’ And that just isn’t good enough.”

Dix explained the party needed to give people “something to vote for, something to believe in.”

“I think New Democrats are energized, we’re united, and we’re committed to win the next election together,” he said

“I’m tired of us losing elections,” added Farnworth. “We need to win the next election, and I believe we can do that by being relevant to people on the issues that matter to them — and doing it in a positive, optimistic way. We need to have a platform for the next election that is positive, that is relevant, that speaks to the needs of the families of this province.”

Simons won laughs in addition to applause during the debate, sprinkling his platform and policy ideas with jokes and quips.

Larsen, meanwhile, admitted he was the leadership race’s underdog — as the only candidate not currently serving as MLA — but he impressed the crowd with his articulate, passionate words and no-nonsense approach.

“If our party ever needs to find its way, we only have to turn to the grassroots members of the party, because that’s what we are: the party of the people, and of the grassroots,” he said.

Farnworth, Horgan and Dix are considered the front-runners in the race, all boasting endorsements from various party members.

But all candidates agreed that no matter who is selected party leader on April 17, he will be supported by the other four men.

“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been supportive of one another,” said Dix. “I admire all of the people I’m running with; I think they’re terrific candidates.”

Horgan agreed.

“Another great night,” he said, “on the road with my buddies and my friends, talking about values, talking about New Democrat values, talking about why we need to focus as never before on winning the next provincial election.”