Thursday, November 26, 2009

The battle for future of the BC NDP is on - in Globe and Mail - and here

As the BC NDP convention approaches on Friday, the battle is heating up on the party's future direction.

In today's Globe and Mail, columnist
Gary Mason has part 2 of his series on the arguments for which way to go - the centrist approach that favours more appeals to business or the social democratic roots approach that would move the party into left-populist territory.

Mason interviewed me several months ago for this piece and my views are remarkable similar to the ones in my 24 hours/The Tyee column this week.

In opposition to my position, Mason interviewed former BC NDP Premiers Mike Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh - now a federal Liberal MP, and former BC NDP government aides Clay Suddaby and Brad Zubyk - now a federal Liberal advisor.

One might wonder why two federal Liberals would be offering advice to the provincial NDP but nonetheless their positions are outlined.

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair also weighs in on my side of the argument, as does political scientist Denis Pilon.

Here's a short quote from each but I encourage you to read the whole article, which is linked above, and Gary's other stories in the series - including the first one yesterday titled "
BC's NDP - a party in search of a playbook."

Harcourt's view: "Class warriors and socialists are as discredited today as the communist.”

Zubyk's view: "In the last campaign you saw the NDP's platform was drawn largely from a wish list of public-sector unions.”

Dosanjh's view: " I'm not settling scores here, but when I tried [as premier] to bring in the first balanced budget legislation, there was incredible opposition within our caucus."

Suddaby's view: "“I'm sympathetic to the idea of having a populist issue to run on, but just tying Gordon Campbell to this [carbon] tax did not have the right effect.”

And on the other side of the debate:

Tieleman's view: "Class is still the biggest dividing line in B.C.....You don't poach off the Liberals by being a pale imitation of them."

Sinclair's view: "At the end of the day, you have to represent somebody and the NDP is the closest thing we have to a party that represents ordinary British Columbians.”

Pilon"s view: "I'm not sure the NDP in B.C. can be effectively and completely converted into a middle-class-centre party."

All this should make the BC NDP convention an intersting place this weekend.



Anonymous said...

These BC arguements and issues run very similar to class conflict conditions in France during the 1930s and especially in the years between 1940 to 1944 in what ultimately became known to history as VICHY FRANCE.

The French Right Wing believed that only the "correct kind" of people should make decisions for the nation and all its citizens.

The "correct kind" were the top-business leaders, the movers & shakers in the police and security services, the private media, the church-elite and those people born into the right kind families . . . those with past royal titles and wealth or celeb status.

When the "wrong kind" of people briefly held power (those dirty Socialists) in the 1930s the Right plotted their down fall even going as far as to sabotage France's economy and plant fabricated stories about the evil socialist government in the Right Wing controlled newspapers.

But the RIGHT got its big chance in July of 1940 when France having just lost to Germany needed a suitable Right Wing Government (based in the city of Vichy, France)to appease Hitler and get a peace treaty.

Over the next four years the citizens of France under the control of an opportunistic Right Wing Premier named Pierre Laval had their wages rolled back,their freedoms taken away and suffered high taxes and service fees so the corporations (the backers of the Vichy Government) would have to pay little or no taxes.

Luckly for the people of France in 1944 the Allies (including Canadians from British Columbia) invaded France and overthrew this ultimate in a "free-enterprise" government.

How long have the BC Liberals been in power?

It is time for the NDP and everybody else to get their act together and find a good leader to roll back the past before its too late.


DPL said...

Jim is right, and the options are limited, you accept an uncaring government or one that might actually do what they say they will do. Mike was right back when he said you need money to get things done. I have no problem with some folks making a lot more money that others but they should be paying their fair share of taxes , not have other people working to make sure they pay as little as possible. Some multi millionairs attach themselves to good humanitarian causes and that's a good thing as well. Too bad a rich guy in this province won't take the lead in removing child poverty. However when I first heard Ms. James going on about moving to the right to get more members, she started losing long time members who figured she should be supporting the ones who arn't heading that way and arn't about to head that way. Being a person now cast as someone who keeps changing her mind on many issues causes others to stop supporting the NDP. When she went along with Gordo on large pay increases, and tried to tell us lower class folk that everyone should be able to have a pension I almost puked. Her so called logic, as she started getting raises bigger than by 35 year pension , and of course she pays a lesser percentage than most of the working class who do get pensions, and she does it over a much shorter time. Heck lots of people who work long hours for years have no pension at all besided the Canada Pension and finally the OAP( Both of course are taxed)But what really blew it for me was when she told me she wasn't an advocate. One wonders just why she has a tax payer paid community office, if it's not to do advocacy work? Even worse was how she broke a very long time NDP policy, and one that was plainly written in the policy papers for treaties and went along with Gordo on removal of land from the land reserve. She goes, and the party starts really fighting for the poor, not just talking about it, or a lot of folks will stay away. Sure we lose out but by God I don't support a leader who has lost her way. And Ms. Dithers sure has lost direction and support. My God, last election time the economy should have been a big issue but nobody talked about it much and a guy who supposedly didn't see a recession coming glided back into power with the help of many rich friendly companies. There are some sharp MLA's on the NDP side of the house, hopefully one will decide it's time to return to the party roots and sned her off to her pension, and the sooner the better

Anonymous said...

The people of BC are in desperate need of motivation. We need someone who will inspire us all to stand up for change. Someone who can actually make the majority get off it's butt to end the fiasco currently leading our Province. Someone who can actually shut this government down today & not tomorrow. I for one do not see this type of leadership in the current leader of the opposition. It's time for change, I like many are starving for it.

Ron said...

Thank you for providing this forum, Bill.

In my opinion the New Democrat's policy and platform should be informed by leading-edge scientific and social scientific research blended with global social democratic good practice.

Health determinant research, return on investment studies, recent brain research, and leading-edge political economy should inform an ever-evolving,evidence-influenced, comprehensive policy framework for a social democratic government in B.C.

The social democratic Nordic countries constantly draw upon this research base as they sculpt a Nordic model focused on three inter-related policy objectives - social justice, economic productivity, and environmental sustainability.

The secret of their success is their national lifelong learning and literacy strategies which, according to the World Economic Forum place them among the top ten nations in terms of productivity and innovation.

Their social democratic governments have, in co-operation with social partners; labour, management, and social movements - identified national targets and associated strategies to achieve them.

Further, they set national targets within national policy frameworks but devolve responsibility to the municipal and/or local firm level.

For example, they have a national paid educational leave system that enables workers at the firm level to make decisions about participating in a wide variety of educational leave opportunies - but only once the need for the two national priorities - adult basic literacy and Swedish for New Swedes - is met.

The Nordic nations have generally higher tax rates than Canada but have significantly higher benefits: they have the lowest gini-coefficent (measuring the degree of income inequality) rankings in the world and enjoy unparallled equal access to the finest literacy, health, and education provision in the world.

In other words, they harness the participation, talent, and contribution of all their citizens.

No foodbanks, no slums, no massive under-education - which plague BC and Canada.

The only thing we seem to have is no sense of shame.

The secret to the Nordic success appears to be the fact that they place education/training - learning - at the heart of their economic, social and environmental strategies.

In sum, they invest in and celebrate a "learning culture" while we appear to foster a "hockey culture"!

In my opinion, we should - informed by leading-edge research and the Nordic model - sculpt a "made-in-B.C. social democracy.

Bernard said...

BC suffers from not having a strong NDP, an NDP that comes from a clear policy direction.

BC also suffers from not having any right wing party with MLAs. There is a large number of conservatives out there that are homeless and are no longer voting in BC.

BC was better served by the NDP of the 1970s and 80s and Social Credit. The clear division gave life to our politics. We had better government because of it.

To have a mildly centre right government and mildly centre left opposition will serve no one.

Anonymous said...

regardless of what Obama in fact is - he was voted in as a SOCIALIST

Dawn Steele said...

The line drawn between these two options is an artificial one and I believe, a disastrous one that will condemn the party to choose between one of two deeply unsatisfactory outcomes.

The options for moving forward depend on where you draw the lines. If you want an outcome that is going to work for the greatest number of potential constituents and bring the party the greatest possibility of success, IMHO, you'd need to throw out both options along with the tired thinking that underlies them and get out of the box entirely to create something entirely new that nevertheless respects core NDP values.

Take for example fiscal responsibility:
This is not a left-right-centre thing: Everyone wants fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, unless that imposes undue stress [whether the concern is excessive taxation or harmful cuts to social programs], or unless the short term benefits are outweighed by longer term costs. So the only thing to debate is:
1) When is it OK to run deficits (since everyone now agrees that this will have to happen at some point and that both Dosanjh and Campbell were thinking in terms that were too simplistic) and
2) what are the principles to follow to ensure that the social and other costs of balancing budgets are not unreasonable - in other words - where is the fair compromise, and
3) are there unique factors to BC that should be taken into account (e.g. planning to mitigate the wild swings of a cyclical economy) or other new things you've learned that can add value beyond what's been traditionally done.

Similarly, with social responsibility, I don't believe the choice has to be between Liberal Lite or class warfare. Most British Columbians believe in the social safety net and accept an obligation to contribute as long as social supports are being effectively targeted to meet real needs and that the cost is not ruinous to them personally or to the overall society and the economy. If social investments can be shown to save taxpayers in the long run, all the better.

Similarly, most British Columbians want to see a healthy economy and respect for the environment as well as a socially-responsible government. Most so-called "working class" people see their fate tied to that of the investor class, so old-style class politics isn't going to cut it, although the interest in things like excecutive pay and child poverty shows that many are prepared to discuss whether the pie is really being shared fairly right now. Most people would rather see classes and sectors encouraged to work together in positive ways for the benefit of all or to sit down and negotiate fair compromises instead of strategies and values that result in absolute winners and losers.

No party can promise that it will be able to satisfy everyone all of the time. People don't really want to hear the truth that there will be tough choices, but many would like to be able to trust that when tough compromises are needed the process will be fair, transparent, principled and humane.

People are really weary and disillusioned by so many phony promises and repeated betrayals on one side, and a sense of the NDP being wishy washy and not really standing for anything on the other side. You can't predict the future but you can be clear about the principles and values that you will apply to handling whatever arises.

That requires an internal decision about whether you want to be able to chase opportunistic butterflies like the carbon tax and be seen as having no real substance or whether you're prepared to hamstring the potential to do so in order to establish greater depth and credibility.

Rather than helping the NDP, I think Mason's naive and simplistic definition of the "options" will prove to be the party's downfall if there are not people within who have the wisdom to approach and frame the debate with much greater sophistication and understanding of what people really want and of what is possible.

Anonymous said...

Bill, if "talking about it" worked then we wouldn't have had the First and, especially, the Second World War. Fact is socialism lost... Blair turned Labour into the "Right Reds" and Doer in Manitoba, to a lesser degree, did the same. Embracing the centre works, sadly, and both regimes did little to advance social justice. In doing so they abandoned the causes on which our respective parties were founded: equal protection, equal opportunity and equal treatment. In short they proved what we have always known: Liberalism and Conservatism are the cause of social injustice.

I know well the CCF/NDP's laudable history and the fact that we are better financial managers than either the Liberals or Conservatives. But 'fiscally conservative' still somehow means 'fiscally responsible' when in reality this is not even remotely true. Despite it being clear to even the most sycophantic “Tory” that capitalism and profiteering were responsible for the latest in a quickening series of recessions a socialist solution is still derided from all corners of society.

We lost the war, we forgot the other side’s lust for power is immutable, their tactics immoral and their ideology reprehensible. Since they are already beneath contempt they don’t have far to stoop to work any machination that preserves power in the hands of the wealthy elite. We have already seen the dismantling of the 40 hour - 5 day work week, the strive towards universal health care (the Quebec Court’s decision on wait times has effectively destroyed Medicare in Canada) and women’s equality. Where is the mass uprising of the working class over the theft of trillions in tax payer money to prop up free market enterprises? Instead we get “tea parties” suffering from Stockholm Syndrome if I am kind or these groups are paid agitators and a 5th Column if I am being more accurate.

But the struggle for democracy, for social justice, for equality and peace are all gone and almost forgotten. Not to mention not even close to having ever been achieved. So I am afraid the best thing the NDP can do is disband. The Greens has shown their true colours and are not a party of environmental idealists rather a group of willing participants in the demise of our planet for the sake of few dollars (in profit) more. The Tories and Liberals long ago sold their souls to the capitalist devil and the world over we see the same thing. We are watching the demise of our society like the Easter Islanders watched theirs fall. 2012 can’t come soon enough.

The biggest headlines and most change the NDP could ever bring to our faultering democracy is their resignation. From those ashes could potentially raise a phoenix or at least a Carthage; a sign of what could have been.

Benny Brimberg said...

I agree with Ron's point:

"...the New Democrat's policy and platform should be informed by leading-edge scientific and social scientific research blended with global social democratic good practice."

Focus groups need to be conducted in swing, even hard Liberal ridings, to understand what issues some of these will people will be willing to bend on. That information can be of great value to a campaign strategy. Polling alone is not enough.

It's not simply as easy is taking a principled stand and sticking with it. Unfortunately research costs money, but in this political era, competing parties can't afford not to do the expensive social science on voting behavior.

Clearly, the NDP under Carole James failed miserably to connect to voters in the last election. I call it Carole's "Lost in the Clouds" campaign.

Had Carole team done better research in preparation for the vote, the NDP might have have won. The campaign showed me they did almost no social science research, over and above polling, in preparation for the election. And they paid dearly for it.

Anonymous said...

Can I vote for Dawn Steele?

Seriously, she articulates so well what i'm looking for in a political party.

Chris said...

If the NDP is ready to give up its opposition to the carbon tax, they can have my vote back next election.

off-the-radar said...

@Dawn Steele
Thank you; you nailed it again.

I so much value and appreciate your thoughtful analysis and how well you communicate.

You inspire me (and others) to take a stand, live by our values and make a difference.