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Opinion: Harcourt’s reaction a long time coming

It’s one of the longest delayed reactions in history. Back in the day, former New Democrat premier Mike Harcourt got fed up with the continuing toxic fallout from a festering NDP charity-robbing scandal that occupied much of his attention.

It’s one of the longest delayed reactions in history. Back in the day, former New Democrat premier Mike Harcourt got fed up with the continuing toxic fallout from a festering NDP charity-robbing scandal that occupied much of his attention.

So he took one for the team and quit as premier. He wrote a book with a certain amount of snark about how the party treated him, suffered a terrible accident and recovered from it, then moved on to other things.

Then a reporter asked him this week what he thought of the NDP’s current leadership race. It’s as if a fuse that has been burning for 18 years since he left the leadership finally reached the dynamite.

He went off like a rocket. The mild-mannered university professor indicted the party for three bone-headed moves, found it guilty on all counts and publicly resigned his membership, all in the space of a single interview.

The long-ago crisis that brought him down didn’t come up. But you wonder if it’s been percolating for years, like Mount St. Helen’s, then finally erupted.

“I’m a free man,” he chortled to an acquaintance after the story broke Tuesday. He’s running wild and he’s running hot, as an “independent, sustainability democrat.” The best line in his tirade was about Leader Adrian Dix’s Earth Day epiphany during last year’s election campaign, in which he abruptly came out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal.

An “astonishingly stupid decision,” said Harcourt.

There’s a long list of NDP people who would agree with him, and in fact, beat him to that conclusion by several months. Former NDP MLA Harry Lali told vivid stories after he lost his seat in the May 2013 election about how his vote started evaporating as soon as the words were out of Dix’s mouth.

Those who recognized the truth had come out were the working people who are a lot closer to the resource economy than the anti-oil port Vancouverites Dix was trying to reach.

The NDP doesn’t care about them any more. They responded accordingly, voting for the Liberals, and turning the NDP’s anticipated slam-dunk victory into a stunning defeat that cost Dix his job.

Twenty seats is Harcourt’s estimate of what that sudden position cost the party. The former premier also expressed some frustration over how the NDP caucus mutinied in 2010 and forced then-leader Carole James to resign. The third thing on his list of grievances against the NDP was the party’s stance against the carbon tax that the B.C. Liberals invented in 2008.

It was an innovative idea years ahead of its time, but the NDP joined a lame “axe the tax” movement strictly for vote-grubbing reasons.

The NDP caucus did its best Tuesday to cope with the grenade from the 1990s that was lobbed in their midst.

“I didn’t know he was still a member,” tweeted NDP MLA Nicholas Simons. Meow.

“It’s not like he’s saying anything we haven’t said ourselves,” said leadership candidate Mike Farnworth.

“I recall standing here not too long ago saying the very same thing,” said candidate John Horgan. (Except for that bit about Dix being “astonishingly stupid.”)

Even with Harcourt’s eruption, the old tease still left the party enough manoeuvring room to come back to him. He backed Farnworth in the last race and said some favourable things about Horgan this week.

“I don’t know whether it’s a trial separation or a decree absolute,” said Harcourt. Farnworth and Horgan are now out cajoling people to take out NDP memberships to support them when the leadership vote is held in September. Signing Harcourt again, one of only three leaders ever to win an election, would be a coup for either one. Both have acknowledged the pipeline call was a blunder. But neither has yet taken an unequivocal stance in favour of the kind of resource projects that create jobs — and win elections.

That might be why, after opening the door a crack in the interview, Harcourt slammed it shut again: “I am no longer a member, so I am not going to be voting.”

lleyne@timescolonist.com