Tuesday, November 12, 2013

BC NDP is far from doomed - just depressed - but lots of reasons to be optimistic

Former NDP Premier Dave Barrett and Bill Tieleman - April 2009
The party's not doomed, just depressed. But there's many a reason for good cheer.

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday November 12, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits."
- Helen Keller, blind and deaf author/activist
These can be seen as dark days for the B.C. New Democratic Party as its convention approaches this weekend. But the party is not doomed, just depressed.
There are good reasons for the latter:
• Losing the May provincial election that every pollster and pundit predicted it would win.
• Leader Adrian Dix forced to announce his resignation after one disastrous campaign, despite leading the polls for months before the election.
• A BC NDP election review report last week that faulted poor campaign strategy, the positive only approach, ineffective advertising, lack of swing riding polling, an inadequate database, a failed policy platform rollout, "major policy shifts mid-way" -- Kinder Morgan -- and an underwhelming ground game, to list just some of its conclusions.
• An emboldened BC Liberal government led by Premier Christy Clark that feels it can do no wrong after surviving a near-electoral death experience.
• And two of the NDP's most powerful icons silenced by declining health: the BC NDP's first premier, Dave Barrett, and former IWA-Canada union president Jack Munro.
This as BC Liberals threaten to pave over perhaps Barrett's proudest and most lasting achievement -- the Agricultural Land Reserve that protects diminishing farmland.
If the BC NDP is depressed, it's no wonder. But it's far from doomed.
Three years to battle a lightweight premier
The BC NDP needs simply to reverse the last election results in nine ridings to form a majority government in 2017.
Winning just nine seats from the BC Liberals would give the BC NDP 43, up from the 34 it won in May, enough to govern the province.
That would only take convincing a few thousand voters to change their choice -- or a few thousand of the 42 per cent who didn't bother voting in 2013 to cast an NDP ballot.
A new BC NDP leader will have three years to argue the case against a tired, visionless BC Liberal government that will have been in power for 16 straight years by 2017 -- well beyond most administrations' best before date.
Premier Clark has proven herself a charismatic campaigner, but her record of governance is bereft of accomplishments, and she faces huge financial challenges that likely mean serious cuts to healthcare, education and other public services.
The damning report of B.C.'s Child and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond over government wasting $66 million that should have helped aboriginal children in need and Surrey Memorial Hospital's new emergency ward already overflowing are just two examples of trouble to come.
Clark's reputation as being a lightweight on policy has not been dispelled.
The BC Liberals also face extraordinarily difficult decisions ahead on the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan expansion pipelines, which are fraught with peril.
Not so bad, comparatively
The BC NDP should look around Canada at other Opposition parties before whining about its own fate.
Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was also widely expected to become premier by most polls and observers, but lost in 2012 to Conservative Premier Alison Redford by a stunning 44-seat margin.
Wildrose would need 27 Conservatives seats to switch over for majority power.
Even further behind is the Saskatchewan NDP, taking only nine seats in the 2011 election, 40 behind the Saskatchewan Party of Premier Brad Wall.
Nova Scotia's first NDP government dropped to a miserable third place in last month's election, winning just seven seats out of 51.
And Newfoundland's Opposition Liberals took only six seats in 2011, putting them 31 seats behind the ruling Conservatives and just one ahead of the NDP.
All these Opposition parties have a far more difficult path to power than B.C.'s NDP -- and you can bet that each of their leaders would give their eye teeth to be in the position the new leader chosen next year will be.
Pick of the leaders
The BC NDP will likely have some substantive choices for leader in 2014.
Possible candidates range from veteran NDP MLA Mike Farnworth, who came second to Dix last time, to new MLA David Eby, who beat Premier Christy Clark herself in Vancouver-Point Grey, to federal NDP MPs Peter Julian, Fin Donnelly and Don Davies, with none yet declared and others considering -- because the chance to become B.C. premier is worth taking.
Needless to say, the challenge is significant. Modernize the New Democrat election machine; carefully balance jobs and the environment; recruit star candidates; deal with the threat the Green Party presents in some ridings; raise enough money to compete with a BC Liberal party reinvigorated with business donations, and much more.
But even the NDP presidency is seen as important enough to have two serious candidates running province-wide campaigns: three-time Surrey NDP MLA Jagrup Brar, who I have endorsed, and veteran North Vancouver city councillor Craig Keating -- both with strong support.
So party members at this week's convention should stop overstating the "belligerent circumstances" the NDP faces, and realize that their worst foes -- "wavering spirits" -- can easily be overcome.
After all, Premier Clark did it!



Richard Hughes said...

Bill, all of the ammo you line up for 2017 was on the table this May and we lost.

The NDP spends far too much time seeking approval of our opponents. We waste currency, credibility and common sense courting the corporate crowd.

There was a time when accepting corporate money was forbidden.

Now we seek it out and then wonder why half of the paper support did not materialize.

We are boring, dull and without a narrative that will register with voters.

We also embrace LNG which is doable until we cuddled up with the "Fracking' game.

We scream about Ag Minister Pimm and the Liberals agenda with the ALC and yet by supporting fracking we are saying goodbye to thousands of acres of farmland that will be sacrificed to build the Site 'C' dam.

That water will be for 'FRACKING!

The BC Greens are gaining momentum because we have turned brown and that stain will be hard if not impossible to bleach away.

Mike Summers said...

42% of potential voters didn't vote for the NDP.
Or the BC Liberals, or the BC Conservatives, or the BC Green Party, or anyone for that matter because ALL political parties will give the same things in their minds.
You have to abandon the treasonous deeds of Michael Harcourt when HIS government short changed the people of BC and he stole DIRECT DEMOCRACY from us.
Unless that aspect changes, and voting is BINDING on politicians, and is unrestricted in any way, you and everybody else will never get their votes.
If you want them, give them something to vote FOR. For a change.

Anonymous said...

One of the great electoral mysteries of BC is how the NDP vote has remained so stable over literally generations. Since the Barrett breakthrough in 1972, with the exception of 2001, the NDP popular vote has hovered between 39% and 44%, achieving a plurality only in 1991.

That's 40 years of vote stability. A big fraction of the voters who cast ballots for Barrett are dead, and yet the generations coming in behind filled their shoes in the exact same partisan proportions. It's really hard to fathom. It's even stranger if you juxtapose the immense changes in the BC population over the same time period. A huge influx of immigrants, big changes in ethnic diversity, leading to... no change in the partisan make-up at all.

Like the weather, the single most predictive variable for voting in intent is your last vote. And from that point of view, the history is indeed bleak. The demographic shift that is aiding Democrats south of the border is less helpful here in BC, because of the presence of the Green party to sop up new, environmentally-minded young voters. Not that the Green effect was determinative in the last election, Greens mostly won large votes in riding the NDP won anyways, not in tightly contested ridings.

While the rural resource ridings remain a seat-rich target, the next redistribution will further entrench Metro Vancouver as the gravitational centre of BC politics. The next election after redistribution will be won in the suburbs of Metro, not in the resource hinterlands. And the next election will be fought around some issue we haven't begun to consider, four years being an eternity in government and politics.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mike, even the Federal NDP have opened their eyes to see that they will never be a relevant political force in Canada unless they can break the monopoly of the right wing (Liberals and Conservatives)by adopting PR as part of their platform.

The NDP need to undo the damage Harcourt did, in fact its why the NDP are powerless as an opposition today.

Get of the high horse, return to acting like the people your supposed to represent, adopt PR not only Federally but provincially, or split.

I can support the Federal NDP, but as is I cannot support the provincial NDP who want to play the 4 year dictatorship game.

Terry Hand said...

The NDP has always promoted the image that it works on behalf of the "little guy" the men and women of the province who go each day to their 9 to 5 jobs (and those who cannot unemployed). These voters, many of whom share that image, as passed down from their parents who were union employees in the various sectors of industry, or even municipal and government jobs etc.

The Liberal party is perceived by many middle class and small business owners as being the only choice because they [Liberals] work on behalf of business and are perceived to be better qualified by many to run the province. Well they are working on behalf of business, they work on behalf "big" business and do little or nothing for small business owners, in fact in many cases they are a hindrance to the small business owner.

In 1991 the people of BC voted 83% in favour of having a Direct Democratic vote in government. The power to veto bad government legislation and to also propose much needed legislation.

The NDP government turned its back on its loyal voters, it accepted the majority vote of the people requesting a slice of Direct Democracy by agreeing to install legislation for the Initiative and Recall Act, but then proceeded to create the Act in a fashion which would render any initiative almost impossible to achieve, for example requiring 10% of eligible voters signatures in ALL 85 electoral districts (something that Refed will change).

This action was a clear slap in the face to NDP voters, I mean what party that claims to be "for the people" would not jump on the opportunity to provide the very people they claim to represent the opportunity to finally have some say in the affairs of the province?

Its a given that the Liberal government don't want to see the people of BC with any authority over them, but that action by the so called people's party [NDP] was a huge shock to me. There isn't one BC party currently that wants to and has the mechanism to put the people of BC as the sole authority over their elected representatives and thus their government. With the exception of BC Refed party, ONE of Refeds initial aims, is to provide the people of this province with the power to make the decisions affecting this province. There has never been a time in history where having that authority over government was more important than today.

We people/voters need that mechanism even between elections, whereby we can STOP our politicians from making bad decisions which will affect our province and our children for decades to come.


e.a.f. said...

one can hardly say Mike Harcourt "stole democracy" from us. If we had had a leader with the political sense Harcourt had, we would have won the election.

Many people who sat at home thinking the NDP would simply win, helped the NDP loose the election. The crucial part of an election is the riding constituencies and they have been weakened over time. They need to be revitalized. Whomever wins the presidency this weekend has a lot of work ahead of them. Good luck to them.

The Party can't be all things to all people. it needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. It is time to start growing again.

Anonymous said...

The NDP needs still to figure out who or what they want to be.

The NDP convention didn't do much in that regard.

The NDP also needs to realize that BC is still dependent on resources which create good paying private sector union jobs, somtehing the environmentalists and anti-everything crowd doesn't seem to want to accept.

Anonymous said...

Agree fully with the previous comment. The NDP CANNOT present a simple, straight forward, understandable economic vision for the province because the party is currently riven by factions with radically different economic agendas.

I think the NDP would find success by being enthusiastically pro-development, but in a way that protects the environment and labour standards and the rights of First Nations - a "yes we can" party, rather than a "no we can't" party.

It would be refreshing to hear a Leader of the NDP say, "A BC NDP government will lead Canada in economic growth. We will welcome investment, but with strong, clear environmental standards. We will promote growth, but negotiate better outcomes for the people of BC. We will be strong partners with the private sector, but not be in bed with them. We fully recognize that first and foremost, working people in BC need work."