Skeena NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Robin Austin has made official something he has been hinting at for months – he won’t be running in next May’s provincial election.
“I’ll be 59 when the next election is held and I was 46 when I first went for the [NDP] nomination in 2004,” said Austin.
“It’s really a personal decision. I’ve done three terms and I’m looking forward to a renewal in the party. And my wife would like me to stop doing this and take a job that’s closer to home,” explained Austin, who announced his decision at the annual general meeting of the provincial Skeena NDP constituency association April 23.
Following his nomination in 2004, Austin defeated sitting provincial Liberal MLA Roger Harris in the 2005 provincial election, Liberal candidate Donny van Dyk in the 2009 provincial election and Liberal candidate Carol Leclerc – and current Terrace mayor – in the 2013 provincial election.
Austin’s been his party’s critic for education and northern development over the years and also chaired an all-party legislative committee examining the aquaculture industry.
That committee produced a report critical of open net salmon fish farms and called for a move to ocean-based, closed containment facilities to protect wild salmon stocks.
Austin said he won’t endorse any candidate for his party’s nomination and will give the same advice to anyone considering becoming a candidate for the nomination.
“I’m looking forward to a strong contest and hope at least two people come forward. The more people that run, the better the race,” said Austin.
“When I ran for the nomination there were four of us and that drew a lot of excitement and new [party] members. There were 400 people at the nominating meeting at the Best Western. It went three ballots,” he said.
If there was one main regret Austin’s had over his MLA career, it’s that he never sat as a member of the governing party.
“There’s a role for the [Official] Opposition but you can accomplish so much more if you are on the winning side,” said Austin.
While Austin said he had no expectation of the NDP leaping into government during the 2005 election, after having elected just two MLAs in the 2001 election, that expectation did grow in succeeding years.
“After three terms in opposition it would be nice now for someone from Skeena to win for the NDP and for the majority of voters elsewhere to vote for the NDP so that person would then be on the winning side,” said Austin of the 2017 election.
And if there was one benefit to Austin’s years as a MLA, it was meeting a wide variety of people and being exposed to a wide variety of issues.
“You get to meet so many people. It’s been a complete privilege to do this job, a fantastic honour,” he said.
Austin’s announcement sets in motion a search for candidates for the Skeena NDP nomination but a timetable has yet to be announced.
Both the NDP and the Liberals have said they want their candidates in place sometime this year so as to build profiles and public awareness well in advance of next May’s provincial election.
The NDP has said it will encourage more women and more aboriginal people to run to better reflect the overall population.
Local BC Liberals will also be looking for a candidate, most likely in late summer or early fall, says Skeena Liberal constituency association president Carol Fielding.