|Power in the BC Legislature is the BC NDP goal - Bill Tieleman photo|
Saturday, March 08, 2014
And if BC New Democrats continue to reject the resource sector, they will lose. Again.
Tuesday March 4, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."
- Boxer Joe Louis, 1914-1981
The fundamental problem facing the B.C. New Democratic Party is simple to state and hard to solve: going green has browned off key voters needed to form government.
And as the leadership race begins with veteran MLA Mike Farnworth announcing his candidacy Sunday, he and his likely competitor, MLA John Horgan, have to address a growing split in the party that comes back yet again to B.C.'s classic jobs-versus-environment debate.
Environment-minded New Democrats are the first to say we can protect the environment and create jobs, too -- just like going to heaven without dying.
But if they really mean rejecting oil and gas pipelines and projects, ditching the Site C dam proposal, kiboshing mining and exports, fighting fracking for natural gas, and preserving forests from logging, then the NDP is doomed to an extended stay in opposition.
British Columbia won't prosper if its main industries are tourism, film and television and high tech alone, valuable though they are to the economy.
Leader hopefuls see the challenge
What's worse, some New Democrats don't bother to connect private, resource-sector economic activity with the taxation revenue needed for a strong public sector.
Yet it's corporate taxes and income taxes from workers in the oil and gas, forestry, mining and other sectors that help pay the salaries of teachers, doctors, nurses, hospital, municipal and provincial government workers, all of whom play vital roles.
Public sector employees and other urban professionals are often the loudest in demanding a stop to resource sector projects on environmental grounds. But while everyone wants ecological heaven, no one wants to accept the need for resource extraction to keep improving needed services and their wages.
Port Coquitlam MLA Farnworth seems to understand the daunting conundrum the NDP faces. He said that outgoing leader Adrian Dix's decision to oppose the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, announced in the middle of the May 2013 election campaign, was a big mistake that cost the party key suburban and rural ridings.
"I think many voters said, 'Wait a second. Resource development is important and these are our jobs,'" Farnworth told The Province's Michael Smyth. "It allowed the Liberals to characterize us as a party without an economic vision."
Juan du Fuca MLA Horgan has also pointed out the NDP's huge challenge.
"We have lost our way when it comes to speaking to resource-dependent communities. There is a chasm between the Coast and the Kootenays that is not represented by the NDP," Horgan said in Oct. 2013 when announcing he wouldn't run for leadership, a decision he's now reconsidering.
Or not green enough?
For some green NDP activists, however, opposing Kinder Morgan doesn't go far enough.
Harold Steves is a Richmond city councillor and respected former NDP MLA in Dave Barrett's 1972 to 1975 government, which introduced the Agricultural Land Reserve against huge opposition. The reserve has stood the test of time, though is challenged once again today by the BC Liberals.
Steves said after the May election that the NDP was simply not green enough for him.
"What has been missing from the NDP caucus is a strong environmental presence," Steves told The Georgia Straight in Sept. 2013.
Steeves pointed to Vancouver-Fairview MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of the Sierra Club in BC and ex-BC Government and Service Employees Union president, as a potential leader, but Heyman will not run.
Though environmentalists like Ben West of ForestEthics and Tzeporah Berman endorsed Dix's anti-Kinder Morgan position when announced mid-campaign, after the election they criticized Dix for not "selling" it better -- in rather ungracious thanks for listening to their lobbying.
"I think Adrian Dix did a lousy job of explaining why he opposes the Kinder Morgan pipeline," West said in Oct. 2013.
West went further in November in The Georgia Straight: "The truth is that Dix didn't take a position on Kinder Morgan before the election, and he never really took a clear position during the election either."
Did West read what he himself and Berman said after Dix's announcement on Kinder Morgan? "The BC NDP have also taken a strong stand against increased oil tanker traffic on our coast and the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals," Berman wrote after Dix spoke.
But like West, Berman was quick to blame the NDP after the election. "People were nervous about the way it was rolled out," Berman said in November. "In the future, the BC NDP need to clearly articulate the kind of economy they want to create -- about what the party is saying 'yes' to."
Along with David Suzuki, Berman had previously trashed the NDP during the 2009 election campaign over its opposition to the BC Liberals' carbon tax in a calculated and transparent attempt to influence the results.
The uncomfortable truth is that environmentalists' pressure on the BC NDP to go greener has not resulted in a delivery of votes, and arguably cost the party the last election.
Greens not gaining from NDP
Despite arguments that the NDP must get greener to win power, in fact the B.C. Green Party has seen its percentage share of the provincial vote shrink from the 2005 to 2009 to 2013 elections, despite a historic breakthrough for Andrew Weaver in Oak Bay-Gordon Head to become the first Green provincial MLA in Canada.
The Greens took 9.18 per cent of the vote in 2005, dropped to 8.21 per cent in 2009, and then 8.13 per cent in 2013. In terms of raw total B.C. votes, the Greens slipped from 161,849 in 2005 to 134,570 in 2009, then rose slightly to 146,607 in 2013.
Most of that bump-up can be accounted for by the high profile climatologist Weaver increasing the Green vote in Oak Bay-Gordon Head from 2,330 in 2009 to 10,722 in 2013.
In that riding, the Greens replicated the federal consolidation of resources strategy that helped elect Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands for the party in the 2011 federal election.
But to find multiple star candidates and the financial and human resources to back Greens in several provincial ridings to challenge both NDP and BC Liberal incumbents likely won't be possible by 2017.
That means the contest will again see the NDP and Christy Clark's BC Liberals face off again over jobs and the economy.
If the NDP doesn't find the appropriate balance between protecting the environment and supporting B.C.'s critical natural resource sector, the 2017 election may not even be close.
Monday, March 03, 2014
How will Justin Trudeau's Liberals grip the West? After all, Pierre Trudeau's Grits quickly alienated BC and beyond
|Young Justin Trudeau with father Pierre Trudeau at 1987 Montreal Expos game - will he measure up in 2015?|
Tuesday February 25, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"Trudeau had a minority government at the time... to say his government was detested in the West would be no overstatement."
- Ex-B.C. premier Dave Barrett on Pierre Trudeau in 1973, Barrett (1995)
Coming out of their weekend Montreal convention, federal Liberals are already sure Justin Trudeau-mania will carry them into government in the 2015 election.
And those who underestimated Trudeau to date are either out of politics, like Bob Rae, or managing strip bars, like ex-Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau, whom Justin beat in boxing.
Currently holding just two British Columbian seats -- Joyce Murray in Vancouver Quadra and Hedy Fry in Vancouver Centre -- polls show there's reason for optimism.
But while emotions run high, statistics don't lie -- and in B.C. the original 1968 Pierre Trudeau-mania faded astonishingly fast after that first giddy election.
So I'd say federal Liberals in B.C. who are preparing for cabinet seats, staff jobs or patronage appointments -- minus the Senate, of course -- should read some political history before packing for Ottawa.
Gripping the Grits
What's particularly important to remember is that for all Justin Trudeau's shiny appeal, he does not hold a candle to his father Pierre's accomplishments prior to entering politics.
Pierre Trudeau was a brilliant Quebec law professor, co-founder of the influential Cite Libre magazine, a noted intellectual, and Liberal justice minister under Prime Minister Lester Pearson before leading the country himself. Like or loathe him, the senior Trudeau was impressive.
But despite that, only once in five federal elections did Trudeau take a majority of British Columbian seats -- in his 1968 Trudeaumania campaign, where the Liberals won 16 seats and 41.8 per cent of the vote, their high water mark in the last 46 years.
|Triumphant Pierre Trudeau at 1968 Liberal convention|
The New Democrats under the revered Tommy Douglas managed to take seven seats and 32.6 per cent of the ballots that year and the Progressive Conservatives were shut out but managed 18.9 per cent of the vote.
Pierre Trudeau's alienation of the west didn't take long. By the 1972 election, Trudeau lost three-quarters of his B.C. MPs, winning just four seats and 28.9 per cent of the vote while the NDP under new leader David Lewis took 11 at 35 per cent and the PCs jumped back to eight with 33 per cent.
That resulted in a two-year minority government, though the Liberals regained a majority in 1974, but only eight seats in B.C. to the PCs 13 and the NDP's lowly two.
The 1979 election that pushed a disliked Pierre Trudeau out of 24 Sussex Drive and a young Joe Clark into the prime minister's seat saw the Liberals in B.C. reduced to one lonely seat and 23 per cent of the vote, while the Conservatives rocketed to 19 B.C. MPs with 44.3 per cent and the NDP under new leader Ed Broadbent took eight seats and 31.9 per cent.
Just nine months later, Trudeau roared back to power with a majority government 1980 election win after defeating Clark's hapless Tories in a dramatic vote in Parliament on Dec. 13, 1979, one I witnessed from the press gallery as a young Canadian University Press bureau chief.
But despite the Liberals' amazing comeback, in B.C. they were completely shut out, not winning a single seat at 22.2 per cent of the vote -- Pierre Trudeau's worst-ever result in the province in five elections.
And thus, Trudeaumania came to a whimpering close in B.C.
The BC Liberal factor
Clearly it would be a mistake to overly focus on federal election results in B.C. from 1968 to 1980 simply because the same Liberal Party is now lead by a second generation Trudeau.
There are a great many very changed elements to consider and a completely different political context in 2015.
For example, one factor is that the BC Liberal Party -- distinct and separate from the federal party of the same name -- is in fact a coalition of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives.
In the Pierre Trudeau years, the BC Liberals were minor third-party players, especially after key MLAs like Garde Gardom, Pat McGeer and Allan Williams all quit to become Social Credit MLAs and cabinet ministers under premier Bill Bennett in 1975, as the right coalesced to defeat Dave Barrett's NDP government.
In today's BC Liberal coalition, Premier Christy Clark is a diehard federal Liberal who once worked in Ottawa in a political staff job, while cabinet ministers like Rich Coleman and Bill Bennett are clearly seen as Conservative, even if they don't carry membership cards.
Most of Clark's key election campaign strategists -- Don Guy, Don Millar, Mike McDonald, Brad Zubyk, and brother Bruce Clark, for example -- are all federal Liberal supporters.
And while ex-premier Gordon Campbell forbade ministers and political staff from taking sides in federal campaigns, it remains to be seen if Clark will issue the same stern orders, particularly if Justin Trudeau appears to be poised for significant success.
But unless the BC Liberals are very popular in 2015, the federal party may suffer from a voter backlash, despite protestation they are different and separate entities. History shows that British Columbians like to balance federal and provincial governments, particularly whacking the federal NDP when B.C. New Democrats have been in power.
Every federal election features issues that arise which can dominate a campaign and favour or frustrate a party. In the 1974 election, Pierre Trudeau made fun of Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield's plan to introduce a 90-day wage and price freeze to battle runaway inflation.
"Zap, you're frozen!" Trudeau famously said to the media as he went on to recapture a majority.
And of course the next year Trudeau introduced -- wait for it -- wage and price controls!
Plus, Justin Trudeau has significant ties to British Columbia, from his mother Margaret and late grandfather (former federal Liberal cabinet minister James Sinclair) coming from here, to obtaining his Bachelor of Education degree at the University of British Columbia and teaching here for awhile.
Needless to say, 2015 is not 1968 or 1980, and the factors in next year's contest will be very different than in those five federal elections.
Liberals would be thrilled to see Justin repeat his father's 1968 performance by taking two-thirds of B.C.'s seats -- and they wouldn't worry about also repeating Pierre's subsequent alienation of the province.
But it would be foolish to ignore the real voting results in B.C. under Trudeau the Senior -- a superior politician to his son -- who still only once managed to convince most British Columbians he could be trusted to govern Canada.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Any government that thinks liquefied natural gas is a fix-all is clearly hallucinating.
|Premier Christy Clark talks about the LNG future in terms of The Jetsons - her is Jane Jetson from the 1960s cartoon show|
Tuesday February 18, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes / And she's gone / Lucy in the sky with diamonds"
- The Beatles, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"
How did LNG become the political equivalent of LSD in British Columbia?
Today's B.C. budget, like last week's throne speech, will mostly be about what a high time B.C. is going to have with liquefied natural gas solving all our problems, from debt to jobs.
But like LSD, or lysergic acid -- the drug made popular in the hippie 1960s -- LNG is not all groovy. It can be a thrill, or lead to a bad trip. And there are already signs that LNG, like LSD, can cause damaging side effects.
WebsiteDrugs.com says of LSD: "If taken in large enough doses, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations."
Premier Christy Clark is clearly suffering LNG-induced delusions, excitedly telling a business audience on Dec. 10 that "We have a chance to pay off our debt, a chance to create 100,000 new jobs, a chance to transform the face of our province."
Not so fast, premier. Geologist David Hughes spent 30 years with the Geological Survey of Canada, and he thinks you're hallucinating.
"The LNG export plans of the B.C. government are unlikely to be realized at the scale envisioned and must be seriously questioned," Hughes wrote for Watershed Sentinel, an environmental magazine.
"Arm-waving assertions by B.C. politicians of more than 950 tcf [trillion cubic feet] of recoverable resources are misleading, as they convey none of the geological and economic uncertainties in these estimates, nor the scale of the environmental and technical challenges in attempting to recover them," Hughes concluded, spoiling Clark's high.
Big energy bummer
The Canada West Foundation also urges caution on liquefied natural gas. In a report ominously titled "Managing Expectations," the foundation warns that "B.C. is coming late to the party" on LNG, and will face serious competition from Australia, the Middle East, Africa and the U.S.
"The opportunity for B.C. to supply Asian markets with LNG is solid, but not guaranteed," the report says, adding "China has lower cost or more strategic alternatives to LNG."
Last month in Australia, which is years ahead of B.C. in LNG development, Arrow Energy's major partners pulled out of a $10-billion LNG project, laying off 400 workers.
(You can take a quiz on LNG at a B.C. government website -- I was number 1,445 to do so and scored 80 per cent -- but the serious questions some experts raise about its viability aren't being discussed there.)
But LNG is like political LSD, and "under the influence of LSD, the ability to make sensible judgments and see common dangers is impaired."
LNG is a great asset, but it's not sensible for Clark to make incredible claims it will eliminate B.C.'s $56-billion-and-growing provincial debt or create 100,000 jobs.
"When I was growing up in Burnaby, shows like The Jetsons showed a fantastic vision of the future: two-day work weeks, robot servants, and flying cars," Clark wrote in an article last month about LNG.
Unfortunately, an LNG industry that solves all of B.C.'s problems in a few short years is just like the Jetsons -- imaginary.
Don't be deceived: A behind-the-scenes fight to succeed Adrian Dix is well underway.
|John Horgan, left, Mike Farnworth look on as NDP leadership winner Adrian Dix speaks on April 17, 2011 - Bill Tieleman photo|
Tuesday February 11, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"All war is deception."
- Sun Tzu
Don't be deceived by public indications, because a fierce war is already being fought for the B.C. New Democratic Party leadership.
But this is a battle being fought by shadow warriors -- until they choose the right time to step into the light.
When the B.C. Legislature resumes sitting today after an inexcusable absence of 200 days, attention will naturally focus on the BC Liberal government's throne speech, its stated agenda for new policies.
And while the traditional jousting between Opposition and government will dominate proceedings, simultaneously behind the scenes NDP MLAs will be involved in another, internal fight to determine who will next lead the party into the 2017 election after Adrian Dix steps down.
To date the only leadership announcements have been to say "No, thanks": MLAs John Horgan, Judy Darcy, George Heyman; Members of Parliament Nathan Cullen, Peter Julian, Fin Donnelly, Jinny Sims and Kennedy Stewart; and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and city councillor Geoff Meggs have all declined the chance to succeed Dix.
But even this list of non-combatants is deceiving, for serious efforts are underway by party and labour activists to convince Horgan -- the fiery veteran who placed third in 2011's leadership vote -- to reconsider and run again.
Meanwhile, shadow campaign teams are actively soliciting support from MLAs, unions and key individuals who can provide the votes and money needed to win the one-member, one-vote contest that concludes in September.
Who hasn't said no
Veteran MLA Mike Farnworth, a former cabinet minister under NDP premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark in the 1990s, is generally seen as the frontrunner after placing second to Dix last time.
Many of Farnworth's past backers are actively seeking support again now and believe he could have won the failed 2013 campaign against Premier Christy Clark.
But others, including Horgan himself when he announced he would not run last October, feel that it's time for new blood in leadership to face the future.
"I was hearing an inevitability about it. I felt it was best to get out of the way for our younger members. It will open up the party to new ideas. It was imperative I made this announcement to clear the field," Horgan told media then.
But late Sunday it appeared Horgan was indeed reconsidering. In an interview with CKNW AM 980 Radio's Shane Woodford, Horgan said: "I am candidly a bit disappointed. I was hopeful that we would have seen some of the younger people step up but I also understand, having been a leadership candidate, how absolutely daunting it is. It is a difficult task criss crossing the province particularly just so closely after a defeat."
And Horgan admitted he was being courted to run again.
"Well there certainly is an increasing amount of pressure for me to revisit my decision. I haven't done that. As I say I am going to stick to what I am doing now and as time unfolds we will see what happens September is a long way away. I am going to get through this week and then I am going to get through the week after that."
Notwithstanding Horgan's second thoughts on a leadership bid, members holding his original view that it's time for a changing of the NDP guard are coalescing around new MLA David Eby, who became a giant killer by defeating Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding and entered electoral politics with a significant reputation as executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association and lawyer for Pivot Legal Society representing marginalized people in the city's Downtown Eastside.
UPDATE - On February 14 David Eby announced he was dropping out of the BC NDP leadership consideration because his partner Cailey Lynch is pregnant, with their first child due in September.
Both Eby's greatest strength and biggest challenge come from his past public advocacy roles, with former NDP government staffer turned turncoat BC Liberal Brad Zubyk already attacking Eby.
"He's a grandstander," Zubyk told The Province's Michael Smyth. "There are lots of people working quietly every day to help the homeless, but David Eby goes the YouTube route. He wants attention."
Those backing Eby are convinced a pre-emptive strike by Zubyk, who executed ex-corporate CEO Jim Shepard's $1-million pre-election advertising smear campaign against Dix, is a clear indication Eby is most feared by Clark and her strategists.
But other New Democrats are unconvinced either Farnworth or Eby are the right choice, so they are now heavily pressuring Horgan to re-join the battle, despite his October statement that it is time for new ideas and people.
Uniting browns and greens
They believe only Horgan can find a balance between the two solitudes that often plague the NDP -- the classic "brown" versus "green", or jobs versus the environment conundrum that bedevilled Dix after a mid-campaign announcement reversing his neutral position on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline by saying he now opposed it as well as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline plan.
That surprise decision appeared to be the turning point in the election, letting a hard-hat wearing Clark to triumph against overwhelming odds by making the ballot question who would best lead on jobs and the economy.
Dix's position played well in Vancouver and Victoria, but was devastating amongst blue-collar workers in key swing ridings like Kamloops and other Interior and northern seats.
Horgan is seen by several union leaders and former NDP premier Dan Miller, who Horgan served as chief of staff, as the only potential leader who could avoid a repeat defeat on the same issue.
"I think he'd be the perfect guy," Miller told host Vaughn Palmer of Shaw TV's Voice of B.C. on Jan. 30. "He looks good. He's a stand-up guy. He looks you in the eye. He's a straight shooter." It all sets the stage not for a "lacklustre" contest, as some have predicted, but a hearts and minds battle that may determine the party's path for years.
Step forward, warriors
Regardless of whether Horgan reverses course and enters the race or whether Farnworth and Eby ultimately decide to run, the reasons for likely candidates not announcing for leader are many and strong.
Starting a campaign without committed support can lead to major public embarrassment when key endorsements go to other candidates.
BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong was seen as a heavyweight in the party but couldn't convince a single MLA to support his cause.
Fundraising, especially after a massive party effort that raised record donations in 2013, will be difficult -- and half of every dollar given to a leadership candidate goes to the NDP provincial office.
But the entry fee of $25,000 and a party spending limit of $350,000 shows finding a lot of financial backing is critical.
And the successful candidate needs more than just member votes -- they require high profile endorsements, and must be able to herd cats in the NDP caucus, deal with the prickly press gallery, navigate tricky party politics around potential pipelines, liquefied natural gas, fracking and the possible Site C dam, plus develop a very thick skin to shield from both external and internal attacks.
Despite his campaign crash, Dix -- who I endorsed in 2011 -- set the bar high by calming a caucus openly at war that forced leader Carole James' departure; launching endless and successful fundraising efforts, especially in the business community; breaking major news regularly; demonstrating an exhaustive grasp of a wide range of issues; and driving BC Liberal support and Christy Clark's approval rating into what seemed a bottomless ditch.
Plus, whomever wins the NDP leadership will face incredible expectations of victory from a party that feels it was robbed of government by an amazingly poor campaign and will have been out of office for 16 years by the 2017 election.
Daunting prospects for any potential candidate, but if the risks are high, the reward is too: by reversing the results in just nine seats, the next NDP leader can become premier.
And that's enough incentive for warriors to step out of the shadows and into a party battle.