John Horgan speaks to attendees of his community meeting at Barristas last Friday.

John Horgan speaks to attendees of his community meeting at Barristas last Friday.

NDP leader hopeful lays out his plan for province

John Horgan takes questions during a stop in Smithers.

  • Mar. 8, 2011 11:00 a.m.

John Horgan is setting his sights on returning some integrity to B.C. politics, as he campaigns to become the NDP’s next leader.

The Juan de Fuca MLA spent last Friday in Smithers, and took questions from the public during an evening sit down in Barristas.

Horgan has outlined four overarching topics that he wants to see addressed: the economy; environment; education; and integrity in politics.

“The stereotype of New Democrats is that we don’t understand the economy,” said Horgan. “But I’ve been working in and around resource industries for most of my adult life.”

He said a prosperous economy calls for private sector investment, but the private sector does have to understand that there should be criteria for investment, including protecting the environment and our local work force.

There also needs to be a level of taxation that will pay for the skilled workforce and the modern infrastructure that capital requires.

“Wealth generation in the private sector, in my world … involves ensuring there’s a distribution of wealth to the broader community.”

On the environmental side, he said that the existing environmental review process has been watered down by the B.C. Liberals over the last number of years by taking out the on-the-ground workforce, such as geologists and biologists.

He said bringing those positions back to rural B.C. will have a positive impact on the communities those people serve.

“If we going to really revitalize B.C. we have to have, at its core, professionals, public servants …. coming to communities that are growing, not withering on the vine.”

He maintained there is a need for dual environmental review processes — currently a review process is conducted by the province and the federal government.

“I believe that the need for two process eswere graphically demonstrated with the Prosperity proposal in Williams Lake,” he said.

In that, the province approved the mine, while “the Federal government said, quite rightly, scientific-based assessment of the impacts of the activities said you’re going to drain the lake and kill 80,00 fish and the First Nations in the region don’t want you to be here.”

A one project, one process slogan sounds good, he said, but the reality of the hard work of environmental assessment is you need to look at the cumulative impacts of industrial activity.

On education, he said that tuition fees have grown too high and as leader he said he wants to look at ways to improve access, and that includes a new way of providing student loans.

“We need to find, I think, a creative way to cap or reduce tuition fees and find ways also to help those who are not from middle or high income families to get access to student loans that are being repaid … at a rate the government borrows, which is significantly lower than you or I could go in and get.”

He added, “I believe we should put that borrowing power to work to ensure that anyone who wants to get access to post-secondary education can do so.”

On his final topic of integrity, he said that voter turnout is dropping because people don’t see people in politics they can trust.

“If we can’t, as public servants, come to work every day with the public interest first and foremost in our mind, then we shouldn’t be in public office, we should be thrown out.”

The government needs to do more, including regular sittings in the legislature.

“We haven’t sat in the legislature in eight months — four days, two weeks ago. That’s it, since June,” he said. “We’re not likely to sit until sometime in May.”

That, he said, is a “profound break down” in democratic institutions.