In what was believed to be the first election-time visit by a federal party leader in almost two decades, Jack Layton breezed into Prince George on Wednesday hoping to create a strong updraft for his two local candidates.
New Democrats finished second to the Conservatives in the 2008 election in both the Prince George-Peace River and Cariboo-Prince George ridings. But the big, orange machine now has new candidates in both areas and won’t have to face the Tory incumbent in one of them.
Layton suggested the Conservatives “are out of touch” and the ridings are ripe for the NDP’s picking.
Former MLA Lois Boone is now flying the party’s colours federally in Prince George-Peace River, where long-time Conservative incumbent Jay Hill has retired and will be replaced on the ballot by Bob Zimmer. And in Cariboo-Prince George, 22-year-old student Jon Van Barneveld will take on another veteran Tory, incumbent Dick Harris
According to Layton, however, the Conservatives “have taken British Columbia, and certainly northern British Columbia, for granted for years.
“People have lost jobs, mills have shut down, (and) they just wave their hands and say, ‘Oh, we’re creating jobs all over the place.’ Well, tell that to the people that are out of work or used to have a good, middle-class lifestyle and can’t afford to live here anymore.”
The NDP leader said he now has the right candidates in place to change that.
“We have here a former deputy premier of the province, a highly respected person in the community,” Layton said of Boone, “and Jon is one of the next generation of leaders here in this country.”
Boone, who was of the understanding that Layton was the first election-time leader of any stripe to visit since the NDP’s Audrey McLaughlin in 1993, said Layton’s stop here “pumped everybody up.”
“I think it gives all of our volunteers a reason to work even harder, and I’m exceedingly happy with the announcement he made here … It just hits on a lot of the problems I’m hearing from people when I’m on the doorstep.”
Van Barneveld, meanwhile, appeared nervous as Layton thrust him in front of the dozens of supporters and a national media horde, but the UNBC forestry student claimed otherwise:
“I live and breathe this stuff.”