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BC NDP must return to grassroots and principles: campaign

VANCOUVER - The NDP slogan for the recent provincial election was “Take back your B.C.,” but since that failed, a group of New Democrats has launched a campaign to “Take back the party.”

Last night they gathered in downtown Vancouver to debrief and strategize over the May 12 defeat.

“It isn’t a loss in and of itself that brings us here today,” said former COPE Vancouver city councillor Tim Louis.

“It’s the type of loss that we witnessed in this last election,” he said in his opening remarks to the crowd of around 60 people.

The campaign lacked principle, Louis said, describing it as an attempt to “photocopy the Liberals,” and “be Liberals with manners.”

But while there was much disappointment and anger shared throughout the meeting, organizers stressed the message of their movement must be about bringing party unity.

“This meeting isn’t about dividing the NDP,” said Mike Palecek of CUPW Local 846, who was the second speaker before the meeting was opened up to the floor.

“This meeting is about bringing it together and the way to do that is by allowing different points of view to come out.”

Organizers have already received overwhelming support from party members around the province, Palecek said, including several candidates in the past election.

A couple of MLAs also contacted the campaign, he said, but were unwilling to publicly give their support at this time.

“The NDP’s always been a big tent party in British Columbia,” he said. “A different NDP would drop the bullying tactics so that our own elected members ... wouldn’t feel worried about stepping up and saying they disagree with what’s being done.”

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, many speakers talked about the need for the party to return to its grassroots.

“It’s very important that we have an NDP where the members are actually the decision makers,” said Alicia Barsallo, a party member for over 30 years. “We have to bring democracy into the NDP,” she said.

Several suggestions from speakers included getting involved in local riding associations and becoming delegates for the upcoming party convention in November.

“If there is anyone here who is not a member of the NDP, the sooner they get themselves signed up the better,” said Jean Macintyre from North Vancouver.

“I hope that we can get things organized so that we can go as a group to the convention and shake them up -- because that is what they need,” she said.

There was also much discussion about the need to force the party to incorporate policies adopted at conventions into election campaigns. Some of these proposals included free tuition, increased social assistance rates, and restoring public services such as B.C. Rail and B.C. Ferries back to government control.

If policies like these were part of election platforms, it would increase the turnout at the ballot box and that will only help the NDP, Louis said.

“We know from looking at elections past that when the voter turnout goes up, the left does better,” he said.

“By attempting to appeal to the portion of the electorate that are never going to vote NDP, the NDP loses the portion of the electorate that want to see the Liberals thrown out of power and that’s why the voter turnout goes down.”

Organizers said they are planning future meetings and hope to hold meetings around the province to strategize about the best way to bring the party back to the grassroots and win in 2013.

But they also reminded supporters that their key target must continue to be the B.C. Liberals.

“Carole James isn’t the enemy,” said Palecek. “The enemy is Gordon Campbell. Let’s not forget that and we’ve got a big fight on our hands.”

“We’re going to have to fight in the streets against Campbell and his cronies over the next four years,” he said.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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