One thing NDP leadership candidate Mike Farnworth knows is politics.
He’s been at it since he was first voted to city council in his home of Port Coquitlam at the tender age of 24 and believes with his experience, he is the candidate most likely to defeat the Liberals in the next election.
Farnworth stopped by the Times Sunday prior to meeting with supporters in Castlegar.
The popular MLA was a firm supporter of recently resigned B.C. NDP Leader Carol James but he doesn’t think his association with James will hinder his run at the top job.
“One thing that all of us in our caucus and in our party know is that we have to be united after this leadership campaign because if we’re not, we can’t win this next election,” said Farnworth.
After Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell’s resignation, the NDP was miles ahead in the polls until infighting and a caucus revolt forced James to resign and NDP popularity to plummet.
Farnworth has yet to receive an official endorsement from local MLA Katrine Conroy, one of the alleged 13 “bullies” that caused James to quit, but is confident in his ability to bridge the NDP divide.
“I’ve been able to demonstrate that I can get people of both sides of the issue supporting me,” said Farnworth.
The problem with much of politics in the last decade and even at the end of the NDP run in the late ‘90s, is the authoritarian approach, says Farnworth, “the idea that if it doesn’t originate in the premier’s office then nothing happens.”
However, many of the solutions can be found in different parts of B.C., including rural areas that need government support.
“I think there’s a big disconnect in a large part of the Lower Mainland and rural British Columbia,” he said.
“You’ve got an economy that’s been relatively prosperous and a sense that if it doesn’t happen there, it doesn’t happen. I think there needs to be a realization (about) just how much wealth is generated outside of the Lower Mainland — a lot of the services we take for granted — and we need to pay more attention.”
Farnworth also advocates increasing minimum wage and will let voters decide the fate of the HST.
“We’re one of the wealthiest provinces in the country . . . the idea that we have the lowest minimum wage in the country and highest child poverty rate in the country is something that most people just find unacceptable.”
Recent health-care cuts are a primary concern for the one-time health minister under former premier Glen Clark, particularly seniors care.
“Government can’t keep cutting and taking services away and expect to be providing health care, especially if the cuts are shortsighted such as those around seniors.”
Farnworth also acknowledges the challenges of education in rural communities such as Rossland and has introduced a plan to strike an education commission to undertake a comprehensive study of the school system – something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s.
Farnworth proposes a royal commission on education that will look at all facets of education including K-12, post-secondary training, universities and colleges, adult education, apprenticeships and English as a second language courses.
“Right now there is an opportunity to do that and focus on where we need to be in the next 10 to 15 years and what changes need to be in place to make sure we’ve got the best system possible.”
One criticism aimed at Farnworth is that he is too nice and too moderate, a position that may alienate him from more polarized factions of the party.
“I am who I am, but my approach has always been to try and find areas of common ground in terms of resolving issues and disputes . . . at the end of the day, I’m running and the party will make a decision and if I win I’ll be happy and if I don’t win, that won’t bother me either.”
The NDP leadership race will be voted on at an assembly in Vancouver on April 17.