The next provincial election is 11 months away, but thanks to the B.C. Liberal freefall, wannabe MLAs are lining up.
According to the latest Ipsos Reid poll, 48 per cent of voters favour the provincial New Democratic Party compared to 29 per cent for Christy Clark’s Liberals. The B.C. Conservatives poll at 16 per cent, with the Green Party at six per cent.
Simply put. The NDP is poised to take power, and people want in.
Last month, Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes launched her NDP MLA nomination bid in Vancouver-False Creek. As a two-term park board commissioner, Vision personality and NDP booster, Barnes is connected. She’s a typical NDP candidate.
Her nomination rival is not.
Born in St. John, N.B., Matthew Toner graduated with a degree in economics from Carlton University before joining the Bank of Canada’s investment division, then later, the Canadian consulate general in New York. “I was a broker between Canadian companies and the guys in New York,” he said, during a recent Courier interview. “Partnerships, matchmaking, strategic alliances, stuff like that.”
With an eye on earning, Toner left government for the fast-paced world of dotcom startups. There was a social media business. An online ad agency in Toronto. And then the dotcom crash of 2001.
When the dust settled, Toner landed in Vancouver. In 2006, after a fun-filled stint as an EA Sports game designer, he founded Zeros 2 Heroes Media in a 3,000-square-foot space on the top floor of a three-storey building at Cambie and Hastings. The company employs more than 30 people, and like the tech industry, evolves daily.
Right now, projects include mobile apps, games, comic books and websites for a TV show called Continuum, and software projects for clients in New York and Denmark.
Toner lives alone, renting near Tinseltown. He’s a private sector job-creator from a non-union industry. His vision for Vancouver rests on innovation—a Silicon Valley North for young capitalists.
So why the NDP?
“Yes, I thought you’d ask me that.”
While Toner believes the NDP is moving toward the political centre, his candidacy isn’t about ideology. He’s the tech-industry candidate. It’s his reason for running.
“It’s an important industry, like an invisible pillar of the Vancouver economy that often gets short-shrifted at the expense of other, better understood industries in this province… If you look at the people who sit in office, none of them have that background, they haven’t got that expertise. They don’t understand how this stuff works.”
Toner’s campaign remains in utero. He filed candidacy papers to the NDP head office two weeks ago and has yet to hammer out a platform. But if elected, he’d push for tax credit reform to benefit entrepreneurs and increased tech education at post-secondary schools to better feed the industry. When asked about government regulation, he sounds more B.C. Liberal than NDP. “You’re not in the business of picking winners if you’re the government. Let the market sort that out, they’re way better at it than you are.”
Investors, he said, have cooled on Vancouver, opting for more productive tech centres such as Seattle and Montreal. He pointed to the recent downsizing of Radical Entertainment, one of Vancouver’s major game developers, as proof of the industry’s local decline.
As the fall NDP nomination meeting draws closer, Toner hopes to rally members of the tech industry who may not identify with any political party. “We’ve been alienated as a political group. We’re not joiners, we’re not voters, not really political people.”
But will his pro-business campaign attract traditional NDPers in Vancouver-False Creek?
“We’ll see… I think it’s going to be an interesting experiment to see how these two groups come together, if they can.”