Former premier Mike Harcourt endorsed Mike Farnworth's bid for leadership of the provincial NDP in 2011.

Former premier Mike Harcourt endorsed Mike Farnworth's bid for leadership of the provincial NDP in 2011.

Harcourt’s words a ‘warning’ for NDP

Past president of Surrey-White Rock constituency says party must avoid complacency

The former president of the Surrey-White Rock constituency of the provincial  NDP said former premier Mike Harcourt’s widely publicized disenchantment with the party is a “warning” that should be heeded by the executive and caucus.

“It’s a sad thing that Mike has chosen not to renew his membership – he’s a very good man and he was a tremendous premier,” said Bill Piket, who is also publicity chair for the constituency. “I think he has legitimate concerns. It’s a signal that the party has got to smarten up and not be complacent. There’s a very strong need for a viable alternative government – there’s a major amount of dissatisfaction with the BC Liberal government.”

Harcourt gave several interviews this week in which he revealed he had let his party membership lapse and expressed his disappointment with the NDP’s performance in the 2013 election.

Piket said the local constituency has not endorsed a candidate for the race to succeed Dix.

“Our membership pretty much make up their own minds,” he said.

Whatever the results of the NDP leadership race – to be revealed Sept. 28 – the general public is “pretty unhappy,” Piket said.

“I don’t think the results of last year’s election were a strong vote of confidence in the BC Liberals – I think it was a lack of confidence in the NDP as an alternative.”

Piket said it is evident the BC Liberals are not cutting fat, but “needed services,” as a result of creating a “structural deficit” in 2001.

“When (then-premier) Gordon Campbell gave the big breaks to the corporations he said the money would come back in the form of job creation – but we haven’t seen it.”

On a local level provincial cutbacks can be seen in things like overcrowding at Earl Marriott Secondary and Peace Arch Hospital, Piket said.

“I’m sure the people in government don’t want that, but they’re dealing with this deficit.”

NDP leadership candidates John Horgan and Mike Farnworth said Tuesday that Harcourt’s remarks are a sign of the challenge ahead for the party after last year’s election loss, Horgan said he has spoken with Harcourt in recent weeks about the party’s standing in rural B.C., particularly after leader Adrian Dix’s mid-campaign decision to oppose the expansion of the Trans-Mountain oil pipeline from northern Alberta to Burnaby.

“The message it sends to me is that I have a lot of work to do,” Horgan said. “I have a lot of work to convince Mike Harcourt and other New Democrats and all British Columbians that there’s a better way for us to proceed, a balanced approach to the economy and the environment.”

Harcourt, the former Vancouver mayor who served as premier from 1991 to 1996, endorsed Farnworth in the 2011 leadership campaign.

Farnworth said Tuesday he agrees with Harcourt’s criticism, and the struggle to balance resource development with environmental concern has a long history in the NDP. It was Harcourt who faced the “war in the woods” in the 1990s over coastal logging and came up with land use plans that still serve B.C. today, he said.

“I think Mike is saying what he thought, and it’s reflective of the comments we heard after the election last May,” Farnworth said.

– with files from Tom Fletcher