It is time for the provincial New Democrats to go from being an opposition party to a governing party.
That was the front and centre message from NDP leadership hopeful Mike Farnworth when he addressed the 14 people who showed up for his morning visit to Kitimat.
Rather than being a party that gets in when there is a split in the vote, he said it had to become a party “that builds a base of support that allows us to win not just one, but two or three (elections).”
Farnworth stressed that was the only way the party would be able to put in place the changes the province needed, changes that reflected “the values, the desires and the aspirations of the mainstream majority of British Columbia,”
Saying government had to work with people, to get away from the top down from the premier’s office style, he believed the answer lay in the communities and regions of BC.
To explain, he offered the examples of the Columbia Trust in the Kootenays and the Fair Share deal in the northeast – he was the minister that brought in the latter – where, although different, the one thing they had in common was they addressed of that particular area.
And that the local economies benefited from the revenue generated within their region.
Returning to the theme of a winning NDP, Farnworth said, “I want to be a leader of a party that wants to be a governing party.”
And that meant being willing to talk on every issue that matters and not surrendering any of those issues to the Liberals.
With that Farnworth threw it open to questions and first up was councillor Gerd Gottschling who reprised the points he had made with Liberal leadership hopeful Mike de Jong, the only other contender to visit Kitimat so far.
Pointing to the closures of Methanex and Eurocan, Gottschling said, “Slowly our community is being dismantled.”
And charged that this dismantling was the result of two Liberal government policies, the first being the severing the connection between the trees and the region in which they were harvested.
The second point he made was that while the modernisation of the aluminum smelter had been log promised, “it hasn’t happened.”
And that the sale of power produced by Rio Tinto Alcan was giving away a provincial resource.
Gottschling asked what Farnworth would do to bring jobs back to Kitimat.
Farnworth zeroed in on the second issue, declaring, “There is no doubt in my mind that aluminum production was the whole purpose behind the agreement 50 years ago for economic development.”
Therefore, the idea of Rio Tinto Alcan becoming an independent power producer was “unacceptable”.
While he said a way had to be found to deal with that, Farnworth admitted he didn’t know how to do that.
“But I do know there are ideas out there … starting with ‘we own that water, we should be making sure we get the best value for that water’.”
And his view that best value was aluminum production, not making power.
Farnworth also pointed to the Quebec government’s approach: ‘you want the water, then we want the jobs – and the jobs are in aluminum production’.”
He thought there was a need to look at the original agreement and what other legislation as in place to address the issue.
“The biggest opportunity probably lies in the water while we still own it, before it goes down that shaft and comes out as power.”
On forestry, Farnworth left no doubt as to his position on raw log exports – absolutely opposed.
But he was more cautious when it can to restoring the link between the forests and the region.
Admitting he was no expert on forestry matters, he said he would seek advice from those who knew and local communities on the matter.