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B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan bets that people-focused campaign will pay off

NDP's John Horgan at home in a crowd

VANCOUVER — On a recent day on the campaign trail in British Columbia, New Democrat Leader John Horgan chatted with seniors and university students inside a locally owned diner in Kamloops, met laid-off workers outside a shuttered mill in Merritt and listened to an elderly couple’s story of skyrocketing hydro bills in Hope.

He also squeezed in a game of pool with a journalist and capped off the day with a screening of the latest “Star Trek” movie, which he said he’s seen multiple times and still can’t understand why he was rejected as an extra. (It’s a true story. The 57-year-old is a sci-fi aficionado but was told he was too old for a part.)

Throughout it all, Horgan looked relaxed and confident.

The NDP campaign has allowed Horgan to meet a number of people before Tuesday’s election, holding roundtable chats in supporters’ homes about the challenges of finding a family doctor or the need to renovate rundown sports facilities. The events are staged but unscripted, aiming to drive home the message that Horgan works for regular people.

Horgan says he feels at home in a crowd.

“That’s who I am,” said Horgan, who was raised by a single mom in a working-class family after his father died of a brain aneurysm when he was 18 months old.

“Those are my roots. That’s what I came from. I just feel comfortable talking to people. I believe that government, and the reason I got involved in the first place, is to make life better for people and you can’t do that if you don’t engage with them.”

The NDP has tried to capitalize on a moment in the campaign when a woman who identified herself as Linda told Liberal Leader Christy Clark at a market in North Vancouver why she would never vote for her. Video posted online shows Clark cutting her off and saying, “You don’t have to — that’s why we live in a democracy,” before walking away.

The interaction inspired its own hashtag #IamLinda, which critics used to share their reasons for opposing Clark.

“That symbolizes, I believe, for many British Columbians, the sense that the government’s not working for them,” said Horgan, who has represented his Victoria-area riding since 2005 and was acclaimed party leader three years ago. 

“I am able to wade into a lunchroom or a boardroom or a kitchen, or just walk down the street, and I’m quite happy to disagree with people and have people disagree with me.”

The NDP has focused largely on the seat-rich Lower Mainland, home to a number of battleground ridings. The NDP leader said he’s pleased with how the campaign has gone.

In one of the debates, Clark touched Horgan on the arm and told him to calm down, causing him to coolly ask her not to touch him again.

Horgan describes himself as a happy-go-lucky guy who is quick to call out injustice — a far cry from the “Hulk Horgan” nickname the Liberals have bestowed upon him in an attempt to focus attention on his temperament.

“I’m angry when children die in care. So are you. Everyone is. If you’re not passionate about life and if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then you’re in the wrong profession.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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