B.C.'s governing Liberals have welcomed John Horgan to his new role as NDP Leader by dismissing him as a relic of the opposition's past years in government.
"With the selection of John Horgan as leader, a colourful personality I admit, the NDP remains firmly stuck in the 1990s," Energy Minister Bill, Bennett said in a letter to B.C. Liberal Party members that was released to the media on Sunday as Mr. Horgan gave an inaugural speech.
"No one else wanted the job so Mr. Horgan, a former adviser to two NDP premiers from the Dismal Decade, will try to captain the NDP ship."
The Liberals employed a similar line of attack against Mr. Horgan's predecessor, Adrian Dix, whose resignation launched the leadership race that crowned Mr. Horgan. Mr. Dix, who was a chief of staff to 1990s-era premier Glen Clark, led the NDP to defeat in the 2013 election that saw the Liberals win a fourth straight majority.
In an interview, Mr. Bennett was asked how long the Liberals believe that linking the NDP to the 1990s will work as a political tactic. "As long as they keep picking leaders that are rooted in the 1990s and cut their teeth at a time when they clearly lost the confidence of British Columbians to the point that British Columbians still, today, remember that," said Mr. Bennett. "Until the NDP cut themselves loose from that legacy, they're going to be judged on that record."
As Mr. Horgan, the party's former house leader and energy critic, prepared to deliver his first speech as leader to a gathering of about 150 supporters at a downtown Vancouver hotel, Liberal activists mingled and hammered home their point in a wry way. They handed out mock CDs titled John Horgan's 90s Greatest Hits – Feat. The Same Old NDP, Bills Bills Bills and Runaway Train.
Mr. Horgan did not directly address the Liberal attacks on Sunday because his aides rushed him away without a scrum with waiting reporters.
Late last week, Mr. Horgan was acclaimed at the new party leader after his only other rival, MLA Mike Farnworth, dropped out of the race, and no other rivals stepped forward to run for the job. Now the 54-year-old Vancouver Island MLA, first elected to the legislature in 2005 after a career as a political aide and adviser, will lead the NDP into the 2017 provincial election.
Mr. Bennett also suggested that Mr. Horgan's policies on Liquified Natural Gas, the Site C development and an expanded Kinder-Morgan pipeline between Alberta and the Lower Mainland have been inconsistent.
Mr. Farnworth was indignant at the Liberal jabs. "That's pathetic," said the former NDP cabinet minister in the party's governments of the 1990s. "It's 2014. The next election will be 2017 and British Columbians want to know what a leader is going to be doing, not what the Liberals want to talk about, which is in the past."
In his speech, Mr. Horgan, among other things, touched on key points of his campaign, including a commitment to take back issues the Liberals have seized, such as the economy. "We have a lot of work to do to earn support in communities right across this province," he said. "We have three years to earn the trust and support of British Columbians. It's an uphill battle."