New Democratic Party leader Carole James said she will lead her party into the 2013 election and the NDP needs to do a better job offering a positive vision for the province.
"I'm looking forward to the campaign already," she said in a phone interview a week after losing the provincial election to Premier Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberal Party. "We'll start the outreach now."
James said she took the last week to talk with family, friends, party members and people in her caucus. She took time to hike at China Beach outside Victoria and reflected on the election and the next four years, she said.
"The thing we could have done better, and should have done better, was getting our positive vision out there," she said. "The negative messaging that came before the campaign, and in the first week of the campaign, from all sides, that really took over."
The NDP campaign needed more focus and avoided too many key issues, James said. Even as it was revealed during the campaign that the province is in its first recession since 1982, the party failed to speak about the economy in a way that connected with voters, she said.
"We didn't articulate in the way we should have a clear economic vision for British Columbia," she said. "We needed to do a better job showing people we had a strong, balanced approach."
Axe the tax
Speaking on election night, former NDP MLA David Cubberley identified the axe-the-tax campaign against the carbon tax as something that made the party look like it lacked vision.
"I'll be one of those who'll be saying that was a strategy that should have been thought through a lot more," he said. "The stand that we took had appeal in the short term for people who were somewhat victimized by the way that tax was done, but it was not a strategy from my perspective with enough vision to carry the day."
James said today she still believes the carbon tax is unfair and ineffective. While the party received negative coverage for its position, and condemnation from some environmentalists, she said she did not believe it changed the outcome of the election.
The tax is a good example, she said, of how the party was seen to be criticizing without offering a vision. Though the party had other environmental ideas, such as offering green bonds to fund projects, all anyone talked about was the carbon tax opposition. "The opposition message got out but the positive alternative wasn't heard."
She said she accepts responsibility for not getting that message out. Asked about her caucus colleague John Horgan's comments that the mainstream media suppressed NDP ideas, she said, "I don't lay blame at the feet of anyone. I accept responsibility for the part I played."
The way forward includes reaching out to the 52 per cent of eligible voters who stayed away from the polls, James said.
"You need to do the building and the work of that positive vision before the campaign starts," she said. "When people don't feel it's worth their while to come out and vote, that's not good for any of us in the province."
The NDP had the most to gain from attracting non-voters, many of whom would be poor or otherwise disenfranchised, University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon said. "The people who are missing are people who probably would have voted NDP," he said. And yet the party campaigned on issues that were meaningless to those people.
"We can't expect others to have more political analysis than is provided in the press or by the political organizers who are purportedly supposed to be organizing people," he said.
Instead of offering a Liberal-lite politics, Pilon said, the NDP would have resonated more with a return to class-based politics with messages like, "You're getting screwed and you're getting screwed because businsess runs everything."
The turnout was low because of the choices people had, James said. "I think there wasn't anybody who excited the voters."
The NDP will be returning with a strong team of MLAs with experience in opposition, as well as some new MLAs with fresh energy and passion, she said. "We've got a team that will hit the ground running that knows how to be an effective oppostion."
With the economy in recession and Campbell's February budget in question, the government will have some hard choices to make, she said. "I think we have some tough times coming for British Columbians."
Through those times the NDP will be there to hold the government to account, she said.
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