If Nicholas Simons gets his wish, he’ll be the first openly gay man to lead a major political party in BC.
The Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA joins Harry Lali, Dana Larsen and John Horgan in the race to replace NDP leader Carole James, who stepped down in December after weeks of internal party bickering. Other high-profile NDP MLAs such as Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth are expected to make announcements this week.
James stepped down on Dec 6 after 13 of her MLAs publicly refused to support her. Vancouver East MLA Jenny Kwan told reporters James had to go for the good of the party. Simons supported Kwan.
After an NDP provincial council meeting in November supporting James’s leadership, caucus members were handed yellow scarves to indicate their support of James. Simons did not don one, becoming one of the so-called Baker’s Dozen in the revolt to topple James.
Horgan backed James.
Simons believes that while there are hurt feelings in the party, it can move forward and present a unified vision for the province.
“As far as my colleagues and I are concerned, we’re looking through the windshield, not the rearview mirror,” he says.
He says public policy should be based on research and science, and drafted in consultation with British Columbians to promote the province’s well-being.
Simons doesn’t believe his sexuality should be a factor in his political life any more than being a cello player should. But, he says, it is important for people to be open about who they are.
“If people see me as open and honest about my character, they expect me to be open and honest about other things. It’s a continuum,” he says.
A former crime prevention coordinator for the Northwest Territories, Simons believes hate crimes should be prosecuted as such but suggests society needs to look past the crimes to see why they occur in the first place.
“We should make an effort in schools to create situations where people are brought up not to accept any form of discrimination,” he says. “Until we have a society where there is acceptance of diversity, we’re going to have hate-crime legislation.
“It would be reassuring that schools didn’t tolerate bullying on any day of the year,” he adds.
He believes school codes of conduct should specifically include rules against homophobic bullying and has voted accordingly in the legislature. In May 2007, Simons and his NDP colleagues voted against passing what many gay activists considered toothless safe-schools legislation that did nothing to protect BC’s queer youth.
“I wouldn’t be voting against anything to do with [supporting] the rights of homosexuals,” he says.
Simons, a former president of the Sunshine Coast Arts Council, also thinks funding to the arts cut by the BC Liberals needs to be restored.
“The importance of the arts goes beyond the social benefit we accrue to the community,” he says. “There’s an economic impact. The return on investment shouldn’t be ignored. If we let the arts languish, our society becomes duller and less imaginative, less able to find solutions to other problems.”
Simons was first elected in 2005. While he has not held a political leadership role, he believes his previous experience would serve him well as leader.
He has spent more than 15 years working in the areas of health, justice, social services and child welfare.
He served as the executive director of health and social development for the Sechelt Nation from 1997 until his election in 2005, overseeing health, child welfare, alcohol and drugs, financial assistance and justice programs.
Prior to his employment with the Sechelt Nation, he worked as a child-protection social worker for the Ministry for Children and Family Development.
“I have never been a leader of a political party, but most people who become leader of a political party haven’t been before,” he says. “What I think people are looking for is someone who understands what the needs of the public are.”
The NDP is scheduled to choose a new leader on April 17.