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Metro Talks: Horgan vows to hammer Liberal scandals, defends NDP record comments

A year before the election, critics argue the opposition’s failed to gain traction on ethical integrity issues.

B.C. New Democratic Party leader John Horgan visits Metro for his first editorial board meeting in the lead-up to next year's election.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

B.C. New Democratic Party leader John Horgan visits Metro for his first editorial board meeting in the lead-up to next year's election.

“Why should I bother?”

That’s a question B.C. New Democrat leader John Horgan’s heard from constituents young and old ahead of the 2017 election. “Big money has already made the decisions,” they tell him.

The NDP leader vowed to rein in the influence big money wields over government, in the wake of controversies over both Premier Christy Clark and his own expensive donor events.

In an editorial meeting in Metro’s offices, he said he’d cap political donations and ban corporate and union contributions. But he also pitched a citizens’ assembly, like 2004’s on electoral reform, to recommend fixes, potentially even a publicly funded per-vote subsidy, though Horgan wouldn’t say where he stood on that idea.

“Take big money out of politics,” he said. “If elected, we will do just that.”

In 2013, the BC Liberals won their startling “comeback” victory after painting Horgan’s predecessor Adrian Dix as inconsistent, unscrupulous and overshadowed by his involvement in the scandal-plagued 1990s administration.

“Adrian Dix and I have been friends for 30 years,” he said. “I fully supported the election plan in 2013, but it didn't work. So my job now is to learn from those mistakes.”

Dermod Travis, executive director of Integrity B.C., said the Opposition failed to hold the government to account on its ethical record.

“At times it seems like the NDP’s afraid of its own shadow,” he said. “With less than a year to go before the next election, if they want to be competitive, they need to hammer these issues every day.”

That record, Horgan said, begins with the 2003 RCMP raids on the Legislature investigating the sale of BC Rail. Two top government staffers pleaded guilty of bribery in 2010, their legal bills paid by taxpayers.

“That was the foundation of the ethical underbelly of the BC Liberal Party,” Horgan said. “I'd love to talk about the BC Rail sale, but that's past — it's over. They won.”

Horgan listed off other controversies: the firing of eight health ministry researchers in 2012; the “triple-delete” scandal which saw a senior staffer charged; the 2013 “quick wins” ethnic outreach affair; and pending breach of trust charges against BC Liberal executive director Laura Miller over the deletion of sensitive Ontario government emails.

In March, Miller was welcomed back as the BC Liberals’ executive director.

“The fact they believe it's okay to have the head of their party under charges of breach of trust in another jurisdiction speaks to their indifference to those ethical questions,” Horgan argued. “Maybe they've come to that conclusion based on research that the public doesn't care. I believe they do.”

But the NDP remains haunted by its own scandals of the 1990s: the “fast ferries” debacle; ex-Premier Glen Clark’s resignation over since-cleared accusations of bribery; and former party leader Adrian Dix backdating a memo in Clark’s office.

Asked why the party seems unable to shake the ghost of its 1990s ethics scandals, Horgan replied, “If had an answer I might be in a different position than I am today.

“I could list off things the NDP did that were positive in the 1990s,” he said. “That then becomes a debate about history. I need to be debating with the Liberals about tomorrow.”

Travis believes he knows why the 1990s keep resurfacing.

“The BC Liberals know it gets under the skin of the NDP, and the NDP has not yet insulated itself on that issue,” he said. “The NDP hasn't done a good enough job pointing out the waste that’s happened under the current government — while letting itself be a punching bag for everything that went wrong in the 1990s.

“You get out of it by changing the channel.”

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