In the Oct. 17 B.C. provincial election, Michael Harcourt led his New Democrats to a convincing victory that crushed the province’s governing Social Credit party. Last week, after the NDP’s overwhelming win in Saskatchewan, Harcourt spoke with Maclean’s Vancouver Bureau Chief Hal Quinn about Canada’s changing political landscape and the challenges that he will face in the years ahead. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: Could you, Roy Romanow and Ontario’s NDP Premier Bob Rae form a New Democratic bloc during the coming constitutional talks?
Harcourt: People thinking that there is going to be a troika are taking a very shallow look at Canada. What is good for Bay Street isn't necessarily good for Main Street in Prince George. Our circumstances are different, our economies are different, to some extent our cultures are different. I think you will find that we will be taking care of our own provincial jurisdictions within our common desire to reunite and renew Canada. A reconstituted Canada is fundamentally important, but I am not consumed by the Constitution. We have to have change, but I think the economic, environmen-
tal and social issues are equally important. Maclean’s: How closely is your constitutional agenda linked to that of the federal NDP? Harcourt: Well, I don’t think that it’s as big an item in Central Canada to have Senate reform as it is in British Columbia and the West. It is very important here that there be an elected Senate that effectively represents regional interests and is, if not equal, certainly equitable. I don’t think that equal representation is coming down the pike. But British Columbia having six senators out of 108 with three million people is going to be even more absurd when we have six million people in 20 or 30 years.
Maclean’s: You call yourself a social democrat, rather than a socialist. Have you shifted to the right?
Harcourt: What we have done is, in the cold light of dawn, looked at a very tough competitive world. We’ve looked at old policies—nationalizing industries, spending before you’ve earned it, deficit financing, [believing] that profits are evil not good, theories that don’t have any relevance in the world we’re living in—and chucked them. A totally socialized economy doesn’t work; a mixed economy is the ideal model. I am going to be driven by wealth
creation in an ecologically viable and sustainable way. With us, the first priority is to create more business opportunities, have more jobs being created, more enterprises started by entrepreneurial British Columbians, expand our trade. Then you have the resources. >you need to have high-quality social services. I think we are relevant, current, and that is why the people gave us the mandate.
Maclean’s: Do you sense an end to the Tory cycle in Canadian politics after the election of three provincial NDP governments?
Harcourt: No, I think they all happened for different reasons. I think the people of Ontario were offended by the arrogance of [former Liberal premier] David Peterson calling an election when there was no justification for it. And Grant Devine had just run his streak out and lost his legitimacy. And here, British Columbians voted for change for the obvious reasons of the Socred scandals. I’m not sure the same thing will happen in other provinces, or what kind of a Parliament we will see in Ottawa in 1993. But there is a tide of change. People really are fed up with the old-style politics, with people being dealt out—not in.
Maclean’s: What are your top priorities? Harcourt: There are really five. They are a prosperous economy, clean, honest government, cleaning up the environment, reforming the health-care system to concentrate on prevention and a quality social service network, including quality education, which is the best investment you can make in the future. Maclean’s: Bob Rae has travelled to New York City in an effort to assuage the fears of Wall Street about his government. Do you think it necessary to make a similar trip?
Harcourt: In mid-November, I will be travelling to Tokyo and Hong Kong to carry the message that we are open for business. I am making arrangements to attend the annual international trade convention in Davos, Switzerland, in February; hopefully, I will go to New York on the way. I will also be going to various European capitals to communicate that we welcome business and to tell them the ground rules on fair pay and protecting the environment. Half of our economy is based on trade, so if you’re not out there trading, you’re not doing your job. But first, I want to roll up my sleeves and get to work here—getting the government and the books in order.
Maclean’s: You received 41 per cent of the popular vote in the election. What can you do over the next four years to win over other British Columbians?
Harcourt: We certainly won’t have the luxury of election-driven spending, and the people are suffering tax fatigue. So we have a very narrow range and we will have to make tough decisions. But by balancing the budget and by giving the people good, open and honest government, it will be appreciated. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.