No fireworks in collegial NDP leadership debate

In the end, calling it a debate was a bit of a stretch. A packed meeting Thursday night in Nelson saw no fireworks but produced much back-patting among the five NDP leadership hopefuls.

NDP leadership contenders squared off in Nelson Thursday night. From left

NDP leadership contenders squared off in Nelson Thursday night. From left

In the end, calling it a debate was a bit of a stretch.

A packed meeting Thursday night in Nelson saw no fireworks but produced much back-patting among the five NDP leadership hopefuls.

“Welcome to another love-in at the BC NDP leadership debates,” John Horgan joked. “There’s not a lot to distinguish us on this stage.”

“We agree on an awful lot,” Mike Farnworth added.

Adrian Dix also paid tribute to his fellow candidates, saying he admired them all, and noted Horgan emceed at his wedding.

Dana Larsen, a founding member of the provincial and federal Marijuana parties, said he’s trying to avoid being painted as a one-issue candidate “but I feel in Nelson I can let my hair down a bit.” He worked cannabis into several of his answers.

The candidates were asked three family-related questions — the designated topic of the night — and also answered written questions from the floor about agriculture, the carbon tax, caucus unity, and how to increase government revenues.

Many in the crowd came from around the region.

“I like all the candidates,” said Rod Retzlaff of Glade. “They all seemed like honest people trying to do an honest job.”

However, he cautioned that while it’s “all very nice that they’re proposing to win the next election, they have some huge encumbrances to overcome before they do that.”

Colleen Jones of Trail said watching the debate actually made it harder to decide who to support.

“Before coming in here, I thought I had my choice made,” she said. “I really like Adrian Dix. But Dana Larsen, for someone coming up the middle, was a shock. I wasn’t expecting him to be so well-versed and articulate. I thought he did a really good job.”

Harry Popoff, also of Trail, said he was very happy with the forum: “They’re a smart bunch of guys and I’m sure they’re going lead us into an election win.”

He was most impressed with Nicholas Simons. “He made the most sense. I think his education came through. But as far as choosing somebody, there are still a couple of guys I’m back and forth on. I’m not quite sure.”

Suzanne Pratt said “about three” contenders stuck out for her, although she wasn’t willing to name names. She was also struck by the turnout.

“I couldn’t believe how many people showed up tonight,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

The contenders move on to Qualicum on Tuesday. The new leader will be chosen April 17.

• City councillor Robin Cherbo moderated the evening. He says the party initially asked fellow councillor Donna Macdonald, but she couldn’t make it, “so I thought sure, why not?”

Cherbo says he’s been an NDP member since 1978, but hasn’t made up his mind who to support for leader, so felt he could be an impartial referee.

“I think it went very well,” he said. “And we had a good crowd, which one’s always happy to see.”

• Among New Democrat MLAs past and present in attendance were Michelle Mungall, Corky Evans, Katrine Conroy, Ed Conroy, Lorne Nicolson, Norm Macdonald, and Harry Lali, who aborted his own leadership campaign and is now backing Horgan.

After acknowledging their presence, Adrian Dix noted one person who was not there: the late Sandy Korman, Evans’ longtime constituency assistant.