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NDP might win, but... by Peter Kelly
  Sep 30, 2010

Commentary
The NDP under Carole James is poised for a landslide election at this moment. But there is another 3 years to go before the vote. A lot can happen between then and now. Its a perfect storm for the party, the governing BC Liberals are mired in scandal after scandal, and dealing with a new sales tax they neglected to inform voters about before the election. The BC Liberals conservative flank is fracturing off, and its supposed left flank is bleeding to the Greens. In 2013, unless thing change, the BC Liberals are facing their own “2001” election.
But this is no overwhelming victory for the NDP, they are disliked almost as much as the BC Liberals. The BC NDP governed the province from 1991 to 2001 with their own controversies and scandals. One might argue that it happened so long ago...but that argument was heard in 1991 just before the election in referencing the 1972-75 Dave Barrett NDP Government - “..but it was such a long time ago..”
The BC Liberals deserve this defeat more than the NDP deserves the victory. For an opposition party, I am shockingly disappointed at their lack of performance not just in the opposition benches, but MLA’s in the communities.
The Liberals have gift-wrapped scandals for the NDP to crush them with...but in two elections since, could not close the deal. The NDP doesn’t chase down support, they wait for support to reluctantly come their way. When voters are pissed off enough at Social Credit/BC Liberal, etc - THEN the NDP win power. Not out of the skill of campaigning, message control, and coalition building.
Winning power in BC is all about building bridges. The BC Liberals and Social Credit were skilled at this because the non-NDP voters out there are almost opposed to each other as much as they oppose the NDP. Social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, federal Liberals, *some* environmentalists, and certainly most business groups oppose the NDP, but have little to do with each other.
Its been the skill of the centre-right coalition party to gather all of them and hold them together long enough to win power in Victoria. Keeping power has been a tricky measure though. But the fear of the NDP taking over is usually the motivating factor in keeping everyone in this big tent.
There is a myth that the NDP is a progressive big tent party as well. That might have been true when Mike Harcourt was leader. His leadership saw the party aggressively draw in the equally fractured progressive voters into the NDP’s fold. Environmental activists, liberal social activists, some small businesses and of coarse labour unions formed the NDP’s 1991 coalition...and even though they got less actual votes (and less share) than 1986, it was a party united as a governing coalition. It would never happen again.
The NDP did win again in 1996, but largely due to two factors. Premier Glen Clark was a master at wedge issues, and the BC Liberals had a problem with their right wing - had little choice but to campaign on the right. This left the opening on the centre to the NDP and Clark was only too pleased to accommodate.
Since 1991, there has been a battle within the NDP. Its a battle between pragmatists and puritan socialists. The NDP is constitutionally a Socialist Party, and the purists are legitimate defenders of this political constitutional reality of the NDP. The pragmatists are the ones that are in favor of coalition building to win power, while the purists argue that compromising everything is what lead to the 2001 disaster in the first place.
They are both right. But there is little middle ground for these two camps within the NDP. Right now, the pragmatists are in power within the party, but the purists are the activists. Apathy by one group towards the other means that little happens outside the party while this fight goes on. BC suffers.
BC is crying for a new government and is sick of the poisonous corruption that leads it now. The NDP will likely win power, but only long enough for a refreshed centre right to gather its strength again and knock it off in the following election...and it will be entirely their own fault.
The NDP will take power and unleash a programme that will seemingly appear right wing...they’ll hack and slash all things “BC Liberal”. Then they will re-brand things and start the spending all over again. The fights at the activist levels will show up in the halls of power when the Premier and Cabinet will be trying to pass somewhat centrist laws against the will of a decidedly left wing activist base. The result will be more apathy at the grassroots level since the leadership isn’t listening to the party, the activists will respond by leaving the party or withdrawing efforts (including fundraising) from the party.
This cycle will go on until the activists can undermine the leadership enough to trigger a leadership campaign where they can elect a true left winger into leadership. Since BC isn’t any more a left wing province than a far right wing province, this move will galvanise a predominantly moderate voter and oust the NDP; electing the BC Liberals all over again...or whatever party replaces them.
To put this election away, the NDP needs to hit the road with town hall meetings. They need to pledge to beef up the conflict of interest laws and install legislative guarantees for freedom of information requests. They need to pledge to revert BC Rail back to a Crown Corporation (forcing the BC Liberals to defend their tainted sale of the former crown rail service). The NDP needs to have a frank talk with taxpayers on sales tax reform - exactly what the BC Liberals should have done in advance of the last election.
If the NDP wants to be a true, progressive big tent party that offers a reasonable governing alternative, then they have to start acting like one. They have to aggressively start chasing down the votes from natural electoral constituencies that *should* be voting for them.
In that respect, I have to refer to America’s Republican Party as an example of coalition building. They got it together. They started reaching out to conservative groups of all shades. They didn’t promise all things to all groups, but they did promise that if we all worked together, we can oust the Democrats from both houses, win the White House, and command public sentiment with our issues.
The GOP sent its representatives to meet and greet and share ideas with local chapters of the NRA, religious groups, business groups, and other special interests within the general conservative universe. It was a stroke of genius because these far flung groups with little or no connection to each other found themselves being courted by a party that shared some of its values.
How does this apply to the NDP? Do they send representatives to my union’s meetings and events? No. Does the NDP send representatives to environmental based organisations? Unlikely. What about non-profit societies that advocate liberal social issues? Probably not. How can you claim to be representative of the whole movement if you make no effort to listen to the very groups you claim lordship over?
BC has a robust and motivated progressive political movement, but it is poorly led...if led at all. The NDP once was the standard bearer of this movement, but infighting and power struggles have made it a special interest party of the left wing; and little else.
The NDP might win this election coming up, but not because they’re popular. Hopefully between now and the 2017 election, a real progressive party can form itself and supplant the NDP from its position as the only party viable of winning an election on the centre left.

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