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What Happened to the New Democrats?

UPDATED: Tyee contributors weigh in. Please add your view as a comment.

By  Tyee Staff and Contributors, 15 May 2013, TheTyee.ca

DixOffStage600px.jpg

Photo by Joshua Berson.

[Editor's note: These views from Tyee contributors arrived last night and this morning. We ask that you post your own views in the comments thread.]

Playing to win
Mark Leiren-Young

So apparently the only news outlet that called the election correctly was 24 Hours Vancouver, on the front page, in the ad paid for by the Liberals. Adrian Dix went into the election like the 2013 Canucks with a third period lead. Instead of playing to win, they played to avoid losing and almost every game it seemed like the other team would tie it in the last second, take the Canucks into overtime and win in the shootout. It was like Dix was haunted by classic BC NDP campaign gaffes throughout recent history... "restraint is over," "can we start again," "axe the tax" -- so he decided not to say much of anything in order to avoid stepping into the, um, tar sands.

Dix didn't go negative -- which was admirable. But he also didn't go all that positive, which was odd. Yeah, child poverty is bad and motherhood and gluten-free apple pie are good -- but there was always a sense that he was playing coy and cute to avoid pissing anyone off. I vaguely recall hearing a political quote when I was a kid that went along the lines of, "When the government is falling, it's the Opposition's job to get out of the way." Dix did such a fine job of getting out of the way, that Clark was able to shuffle back in.

I can't help wondering if Dix and the NDP acting like they had this in the bag and all those impressive poll numbers convinced NDP supporters it was okay to skip voting as long as they remember to "like" their candidate on Facebook. And this just in: 52 per cent of British Columbians don't vote, but do answer calls from pollsters.

Bitter? You bet
Bill Tieleman

"Politics determine who has the power, not who has the truth." -- Economist Paul Krugman

Last night's victory by Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals will go down in British Columbia political history as one of the biggest upset victories ever.

Unfortunately, it will also go into the books as a triumph of fear over hope, of choosing incredibly negative, personal attack ads over policy and vision and a revolting example that using taxpayer dollars to advertise your own party cause works.

Bitter? You bet.

Not because the BC Liberals won -- political opponents have to accept that some times the other team had a superior campaign than your own, more ideas, a more effective leader or just did a better job.

No, bitterness comes only when the other team plays dirty and never faces the penalty they should -- to lose the game.

That's what happened in this election.

Clark's team ran the most right-wing, Republican-style campaign Canada has ever seen.

The BC Liberals were relentlessly nasty, using wealthy allies to air slurs against NDP leader Adrian Dix while spending voters own money to promote the party with a collection of demonstrably false claims about B.C.'s budget, job creation and debt.

And yet, it worked.

For that, the BC NDP must bear its own share of the blame.

It allowed a 20 per cent lead to disappear in a failed campaign that flailed instead of fighting back.

Despite the Harmonized Sales Tax betrayal, the BC Rail scandal and Christy Clark being the most hated premier in Canada, the NDP blew it.

And now B.C. will suffer the consequences of electing a leader who is more vicious than visionary.

The new provincial order: challenges and opportunities
Tom Sandborn

The night's surprise ending provides one more proof that polling is at best a dark art, not a science. Now the BC Liberals will form the next government and dominate the Legislative Assembly with enough votes to impose their version of economics and progress without too much bothersome consultation or compromise.

Premier Clark has an opportunity to turn away from the perpetual campaigning that has distracted her during her first term and to pay more attention to actually governing. It remains to be seen if she will see or seize that opportunity.

She won't being doing that as a member from Vancouver-Point Grey, having been defeated in her riding by the NDP's David Eby. Clark may be challenged by the embarrassment of being defeated by the upstart human rights lawyer and having to lead her party from the visitor's gallery until some Liberal stalwart steps down to create a byelection opportunity for her in a safe seat.

Whether or not she has to do that, eventually, she will have to actually take a position on the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines. Her new majority will provide an opportunity for her government pursue its fever dream of enormous liquid natural gas revenues that will miraculously banish all debt and deficit from the province, a dream that is more than likely to turn into a nightmare of environmental damage and business losses well before the longed for and probably illusory No More Debt Day arrives.

A word about attack ads. They work to win elections, as this latest lesson teaches us yet again. We don't have to like the fact, and most people when polled are eager to say that they are above such primitive appeals to rancor and panic. But given the success the Liberals had this time out with ads clearly designed to elicit fear and loathing, it is safe to predict that we'll see more of the same in future elections, perhaps even from the NDP, which managed in this election to avoid their opponents' tone of personal rage and insult pretty successfully.

The nice guy finished second
Steve Burgess

As of this morning it seemed a safe bet that the week's biggest third-period collapse would belong to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Stop the press -- we have a new champion. B.C. election 2013 is an epic shocker, topping even last year's Alberta vote. Brace yourselves, motorists: following the Liberal victory, Canadian political leaders are going to be racing through red lights across this nation. Also comparing their opponents to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and maybe Stalin if there's a moustache involved.

In short, the next time someone bemoans the negative tone of modern political campaigns, spray them with a mouthful of whatever hard liquor you're drinking right now. Adrian Dix's nice-guy approach turned out to be the equivalent of trying to shake hands with a scorpion. People say they hate negative politics. People also say looks and money are unimportant, they love your new hat, and it must have been the dog. People lie.

A fracking high cost
Andrew Nikiforuk

The biggest challenge facing the new government will be the scale of its Soviet-like subsidies for shale gas development and the missing science on hydraulic fracturing. 

British Columbia taxpayers are now subsidizing massive water allocations, road construction and basic scientific research for uneconomic shale gas development by multinational and Chinese national oil companies. The full climatic change implications of the development have been ignored. Other liabilities such as massive groundwater contamination have been relatively unexplored. The Clark government has also proposed that taxpayers fund hydro dam construction to subsidize power for the energy-hungry liquified natural gas plants largely owned by foreign companies. In fact, the Clark regime has proposed the same problematic and dangerous hydrocarbon agenda that has buried Alberta in debt and dysfunction.  

NDP missed a new category of voter
Charles Campbell

Why did the NDP lose? The economy? The Greens? Not going negative? The critical issues are more complicated, I think. In the interior for various reasons they lost five ridings they might be expected to win: Caribou-South, Fraser-Nicola, Boundary-Similkameen, and two in Kamloops. Greens were a factor in one, perhaps, but in general the Green vote does not all come from the NDP.

There's a particular set of voters that the NDP didn't connect with and the Liberals did. Same in Surrey-Tynehead, Surrey-Fleetwood, Delta North and I'll throw Vancouver-Fraserview in here. It's what the Liberals did and the NDP didn't do to connect with a somewhat distinct set of voters.

Then there's Port Moody-Coquitlam and maybe a couple of Maple Ridge ridings making up another set. Those ridings decided the election, and the NDP needs to look very closely at every aspect of its strategy in connecting with three geographically and culturally distinctive sets of middle class voters. Only in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and arguably Comox did the Greens clearly take seats from the NDP.

Expect a change in NDP leadership
Andrew MacLeod

For the NDP, the party will have to assess what went wrong and whether to keep Adrian Dix as leader. In 2009, Carole James said she felt she hadn't been able to be Carole during the campaign. Was Adrian able to be Adrian? Was the reaction to the NDP voters turning down a platform that had the feel of political calculation? Did the party take its base for granted and not give people enough of a reason to vote for them? Expect a change of leadership and some major soul searching. If it doesn't happen, things look bad for 2017.

For the BC Liberals, it's business as usual. Don't expect the legislature back any time soon. They'll have to bring in a new budget. Will it be in surplus, or will there be another post-election surprise? As the Hospital Employee Union's Mike Old pointed out, the good news is the debt will be gone in 15 years.

Brace for more education wars
Crawford Kilian

The new Liberal government will face some serious challenges, especially in two issues little discussed in the campaign: education and environment.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation was relatively quiet during the campaign. Now we can expect teachers to go back into the trenches for the next stage of their decades-long war with a succession of provincial governments. The Liberals, after all, scrapped their contract back in 2002. A court decision that the move was unconstitutional made no difference.

In post-secondary, the "teaching universities" like Capilano can resign themselves to a limited role, chiefly as absorbers of foreign students and deliverers of programs providing trainees for current industries. Many of those trainees will continue to begin their careers thousands of dollars in debt.

Environment and energy will be knotted together as B.C. pins its future on liquid natural gas and very likely an expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline into Burrard Inlet. Expect a flurry of lawsuits, marches, and barricades.

NDP, Liberals, doesn't matter: education pains still loom
Katie Hyslop

B.C.'s renewed Liberal government faces so many unchanged challenges, but in particular a public education system that's still crying out for cash. Whether it's class size and composition issues, downloaded costs to school boards without the extra funding to cover them, or public sector workers who previously accepted "net zero" or cooperative gains settlements, a balanced budget might be hard to achieve while keeping educators, parents, and students happy.

This doesn't take into account postsecondary institutions, which have seen long-term building maintenance cuts, and whose students, paying some of the highest interest rates on student loans in the country, saw their grant program replaced with a loan-reduction program nine years ago.

For Clark's Liberals, enviro opposition won't relent
Geoff Dembicki

In an election fought largely on environmental issues, Christy Clark's Liberals were not the party of choice for B.C.'s environmentalists. Prominent activists, galvanized by the NDP's tanker opposition, threw their support behind Adrian Dix. Clark may have won without their support, but she disregards them in office at her peril.

Sixty-five green and civil society groups in February demanded each political party respect B.C.'s greenhouse gas targets. Five liquefied gas terminals, as the Liberals have touted, could result in emissions comparable to the entire oil sands industry. Clark is surely aware how greens have stymied the expansion efforts of Albertan heavy oil. She should expect an equally fierce fight over her natural gas ambitions. 

All fun 'til the hydro bill comes
Colleen Kimmett

The BC Liberals campaigned and won on a platform of low taxes and breaks for working families. It's going to hurt when they have to raise hydro rates on those families.

Although the party positions itself as the best fiscal manager, one of the province's biggest Crown corporations, BC Hydro, is plagued by debt and mismanagement.

Simply put, it's spending more money than it's making. A lot more. The fact that BC Hydro was deferring hundreds of millions of dollars of expenses was flagged by BC's auditor general in 2011. His report noted that the total deferred amount was projected to hit $5 billion by 2017 (the year of the next provincial election). If the Liberals want to bring down the deficit, they've got to deal with the necessity of raising rates, and that's going to cost political capital.

Climate change, First Nations issues aren't fading
Chris Rose

During the next four years there will be increasing calls for action to reduce toxic greenhouse gasses and mitigate climate change. B.C.'s new government will not be immune to this demand and it can, and should, work hard and quickly to help society wean itself off the fossil fuel nightmare.

Additionally, the government needs to begin immediately preparing B.C. residents for the need to raise taxes so that we can continue to afford the lifestyles we currently enjoy.

Of equal importance is finding a faster way of dealing with First Nations land claims so that Aboriginal people can start to become equal partners in our province.

Many journalists and other 'pro' election watchers got a lesson
David Beers

Let the other political journalists take apart the Adrian Dix-led New Democrat machine and make sense of how Christy Clark pulled together her fracturing coalition. I'll focus my critique on people like me -- those who keep close track of every political plot twist and policy statement, read polls. We do our math and presume to conclude where the politicians and their parties are sitting not just on my ledger sheet, but in the public's mind.

What this election seemed to show is that enough people make their decisions about who should lead them in a very different way. They make up their minds in the last days if not the last seconds. They are capable of sudden, hair-pin turns in their views. They take a measure of mood among their circles, absorb the buzz and reflect the wind-shifting consensus among their peers.

What can rule that mood is a shared sense of deep fear or palpable inspiration.

Personalities can inspire either that fear or inspiration. So can a general theme to an election campaign.

In this election Adrian Dix and his campaign hit lots of precise if small notes that a political journalist like myself might keep track of and tally, but overall the New Democrats apparently neither summoned enough fear of their opponents nor struck the themes or meme-like policy ideas that summoned enough inspiration. Campaigns are not PowerPoint presentations. They are emotional narratives. You would think that journalists like me, who describe ourselves as story tellers, would have better sensed where this tale was taking people in the late chapters.

Christy Clark paid good money for an ad wrapping a Vancouver newspaper with a fake headline that called her "The Comeback Kid." And then her chutzpah was rewarded at the polls.

The pundits were poring over a long-collected mound of past offences and legitimate policy critiques. Clark was swinging for the fences with an effervescent personality and sweeping promises of golden days to come warmed by a boundless bounty of natural gas.

In 2009, after losing a closer election to the Liberals, in her first major address afterwards, then-NDP leader Carole James declared:

"We have to share not only our vision, but the ideas and solutions that show our vision is achievable." Dix seemed to build his campaign on such a practical view.

But did he forget what else James said? She noted that the Liberals had made huge promises and shrugged off past broken promises. Next time, she said:

"We have to do a better job of making sure that we present [our] vision early -- that people see that we have an alternative vision for this province."

A sobering reminder for B.C.'s New Democrats, no doubt. And for political journalists like me who might too easily assume voters are earnest students who turn in their test after four years of homework. Something else moved their hearts and minds this election.  [Tyee]

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