Legislature losing its oratorical star
Expansive MLA Corky Evans decides to not seek re-election
Corky Evans, the loquacious logger and runner-up in two NDP leadership races, plans to quit provincial politics next May.
Arguably the best orator in the legislature today, Evans informed Opposition leader Carole James recently that he will not seek re-election in 2009.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, eh?” he told reporters in a conference call yesterday, flashing the folksy style that earned him comparisons to Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
“It’s not possible to be real happy or real sad, because you are both. I love this work, and also I think it’s time to move on.
“Its like a kid leaving home,” he explained. “You think, ‘Well good. I’m glad. They’re leaving home. Now they’re going to have a life.’ … But it’s also kind of sad because you raised them. So it’s both.”
James called Evans one of B.C.’s “true political and moral leaders.”
“Whether you’re a New Democrat or a Liberal, Corky’s skills, his abilities and his larger-than-life personality will be missed by everybody in British Columbia,” she said.
First elected as the MLA for Nelson-Creston in 1991, Evans twice finished second at NDP leadership conventions, losing to Glen Clark in 1996 and Ujjal Dosanjh in 2000. Over the years, he also served as minister of transportation, agriculture, health and rural development.
Defeated when Premier Gordon Campbell and the Liberals swept all but two seats in 2001, Evans won re-election in 2005 and recently served as Opposition agriculture critic.
Now 60, he said his decision to leave was prompted, in part, by boundary changes that excluded his Slocan Valley home from the NelsonCreston riding.
“Of course, I could have run and, of course, I would probably win because I have long history with folks,” he said. “But it didn’t feel like it would be about us then; it felt like it would be about me. And that seemed like kind of a difference and not something I was real comfortable with. And that was sort of the moment where I thought maybe it’s time to end this thing.”
As to what he’ll do next, Evans said bluntly: “Get a job.”
Born Conrad St. George Evans in California, he moved to B.C. in 1969 with his wife and two children. Over the years, he has held jobs as a longshoreman, first-aid attendant, youth counsellor and horse logger, losing one of his fingers in a work accident.
But it was in the B.C. legislature that he made his mark.
“When Evans rises, people actually go into the assembly hall to listen, rather than pack up and leave,” columnist Les Leyne wrote in the Times Colonist in 1997.
Evans attributes his style to the storytelling tradition passed down by his parents.
“I am, in fact, a bit of an anachronism and I’m comfortable in an oral world,” he said. “I’ve tried to use voice to express my thoughts and represent people.
“I get it that that’s not hip anymore, and Mr. Campbell’s got 600 people to make sure that he only writes or speaks words that they write. I’m very, very proud that I have been there for a long time and never spoken words that anybody else ever wrote.”
In recent weeks, he was at his passionate best defending medicare, attacking the government’s handling of the forestry crisis, and deriding the Liberals’ decision to ram bills into law without debate.
Of his time in public office, he listed the creation of the Columbia Basin Trust as one of his proudest accomplishments. The trust controls three power plants in the Kootenays and distributes the profit to community groups from Golden to Trail, he said.
“The trust is a great example of the commons and the first real functioning redistribution of resource wealth that I’ve ever known,” he said.
As for disappointments, Evans said: “I’m sorry that Glen beat me and I’m sorry that Ujjal beat me and I guess that’s about it. And I’m not even all that sorry about either of those things because I got to have a good life.”