NDP must ‘expand its base’, says leadership candidate Mike Farnworth

Mike Farnworth, MLA for Port Coquitlam and one of six candidates for the NDP leadership, spoke on Thursday in Langley.

Langley NDP members had their second close-up look at a candidate for the party’s leadership on Thursday, as Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth spoke and answered their questions in a 90-minute session at Andreas Restaurant in Langley City.

His visit follows that of Adrian Dix, who was here on Jan. 31.

Farnworth has been an NDP MLA for most of the past two decades, First elected in 1991, he lost in the 2001 Liberal landslide but once again returned to Victoria in 2005. He was in cabinet in the Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh governments, serving as minister of health and minister of social development. In recent years, he has been opposition house leader and public safety critic.

Farnworth told the audience that the provincial government “must get back to listening to communities and regions, and work with people and not against them.”

He pointed out that the NDP “must expand its base and be in tune with the majority in this province.”

He said the NDP leadership race, which is a result of a revolt against Carole James’ leadership by 13 MLAs, represents a “crossroads” for the party, which has been out of power for 10 years and has only won three elections in its almost 80 years of existence, first as the CCF and later the NDP.

Farnworth said it is time that politicians acknowledge that “Victoria does not have all the answers.” He said many decisions made by the provincial government are very unpopular in the regions where those decisions actually have an effect.

“There is a huge disconnect between the Lower Mainland and rural B.C. There is real alienation. We have to make all of B.C. feel they are part of the province.”

“We have to show that we understand, not just social issues, but also the economy. Economic and social success are linked, and both have to take place on a strong environmental foundation.”

Farnworth said the NDP government of the 1990s “did some great work, but we lost touch with people and thus we lost in 2001.

“We can win the next election and become a governing party, if we take the approach that we’re speaking for all of B.C.”

He wants to see a Royal Commission on education, to look at all aspects of the education system, including skills training and post-secondary. He noted that there has been no such comprehensive look since 1987, and a great deal has changed in society since that time.

He expressed the need for better public accountability for police, particularly the RCMP. In response to a question, he said he expects there will be a new 20-year policing contract between the province and the RCMP, and it will likely have a clause calling for two years notice to get out of it. He also expects there will be an opportunity to review the contract at various points during the 20 years.

Farnworth said “there needs to be a unified complaints process in B.C. — civilian-led and with civilian investigators. The Ontario model is one that can be used.”

“Accountability is important for both the public and police. The public needs to have confidence in the system and police need to have confidence in the system that governs them.”

He also said there needs to be a good look at the costs, benefits and downsides of police regionalization in the Lower Mainland.

Farnworth called for a full public inquiry into all aspects of the sale of BC Rail and the subsequent corruption trial that recently ended with a guilty plea by two ministerial assistants.

He said the public must be vigilant about the future of BC Hydro, which he called “the greatest Crown corporation in this province and critically important to the economy. It needs to be unshackled, and the oversight (of Hydro) by the B.C. Utilities Commission must be restored.

“BC Hydro has stood the test of time since it was created by W.A.C. Bennett and Social Credit.”

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