‘NDP Idol’ contest aims for youth vote

NDP leadership candidates (from left) Dana Larsen

About 400 NDP supporters packed a Victoria high school gym Thursday night to hear pitches from the five candidates for the party leadership.

There were few major policy differences in the latest of a series of debates that Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons referred to as “NDP Idol.” The theme of the Victoria stop was youth, and most contenders offered help for post-secondary students with grants and low-interest or interest-free loans.

Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth said the government can create job opportunities for young people by emphasizing apprenticeships for government construction contracts, instead of going to low bidders who may be from outside B.C. Young people can be hired to plant trees, restore stream habitat and clear brush that is a fire hazard around many B.C. communities, he said.

Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix advocated “environmental youth teams” to do similar work. Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan cited a T’Sou-ke Nation employment program where young people learned new skills by installing solar panels on the Vancouver Island band’s buildings as well as upgrading park trails and planting trees.

Dix also advocated union membership for part-time workers so they have a way to enforce labour code regulations such as two-hour call-out pay for work on short notice. The B.C. government has only one employment standards officer west of Kelowna, based in Nelson, and enforcement is inadequate, he said.

Simons referred to his experience as a child protection social worker, and stressed the need for places for young people to go if they can’t stay at home. Youth need options to work out conflicts that don’t trigger a full investigation of their families, he said.

Marijuana activist Dana Larsen, the only non-MLA running for the NDP leadership, called for more spending on social housing and education, financed in part by a new tax bracket for people making $250,000 a year or more.

“We can build homes and schools now, or we can build prisons later,” Larsen said.