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BC Politics

Six Months after Defeat, BC NDP Tries to Find Its Feet

After a 25-minute Dix confessional, party looks to re-energize, even Obama-fy, at convention.

Bob Mackin 18 Nov

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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'We have to take action to master the techniques of modern politics,' BC NDP leader Adrian Dix told 2013 conventioneers. Photo: bcndp, Creative Commons licensed.

The choice of venue was apt.

Six months after the NDP's anticipated election victory celebration suddenly turned into a wake, B.C.'s opposition party returned to the Vancouver Convention Centre for its biennial convention this past weekend. The ballrooms at Canada Place are coincidentally above the province's main cruise ship terminal.

The NDP knows where it is and where it wants to go. Trouble is, the party doesn't yet know what route to take or who will be the skipper in 2017.

Adrian Dix announced his intention in September to disembark after taking responsibility for the May 14 result. His first party-wide appearance since the election came Nov. 16 as he entered the hall to the sound of Feist's "I Feel It All," a pop song with reflective lyrics that might tell the story of a campaign criticized for not holding the Liberals accountable ("I know more than I knew before/ I didn't rest I didn't stop/ Did we fight or did we talk").

Dix offered a 25-minute confessional that was, at times, feistier than what he offered on the campaign trail.

"As we reject cynicism here, as we come together, part of that is being straightforward to ourselves," Dix said.

That included owning up to a multitude of failures. Dix and the NDP failed to communicate the platform. Failed to improve the party's "capacity, technology and response in modern politics." Failed to "prosecute" the Liberals' 12-year record of mistakes and scandals. Failed to convince voters of the risk of electing Christy Clark and the Liberals for another four years.

As for policy mistakes, Dix pointed to the plan to replace a registered education savings plan and the snap decision to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

"Ultimately, in an election campaign you don't win, the responsibility rests with the leader of the party -- there's no ifs, ands or buts about that," Dix said. "We need a new leader who will take us to victory in 2017."

In the meantime, Dix said the party is running a "campaign of opposition to a government without a mandate, without direction, that puts the 'V' in vapid in terms of public policy." It isn't easy, he conceded, because the ruling Liberals are ducking accountability by cancelling the fall sitting of the legislature.

Dix was unapologetic for trying to campaign on the high road. Cynicism, he said, is "toxic to what the NDP is all about."

"Yes, we have to take action to master the techniques of modern politics, that is self-evident. Yes, we have to raise the money to ensure that our new leader can respond to any attack whenever it comes on TV," he said. "We also have to get closer to people and communicate. Because those people and communities are changing."

A campaign that succeeds

After the new leader is chosen, Dix will remain as the MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. His roots are in Kerrisdale, the same upscale Vancouver neighbourhood from which Mira Oreck came. Oreck was a constituency assistant when Gregor Robertson was the NDP Vancouver-Fairview MLA and became a Vision Vancouver strategist when Robertson successfully ran for mayor. She returned to Vancouver to deliver her case study to the NDP convention on how to reach those changing people and communities.

While working on the Vision Vancouver campaign in 2008, Oreck said she was enchanted by the Sarah Silverman viral video aimed at gaining support for Barack Obama among young Jewish voters.

The video urged them to "schlep over to Florida and convince your grandparents to vote for Obama" to avoid another 2000-style Republican surprise in the key Sunshine State.

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BC NDP 2013 conventioneers talked party finances and new tactics, and honoured 'Union Jack' Munro. Photo: bcndp, Creative Commons licensed.

Oreck studied for a master's degree at the New School in New York and joined the Jewish Council for Education and Research political action committee to produce the pro-Obama "Wake the Fuck Up" video starring Samuel L. Jackson. The 2012 campaign video is based on the "faux children's book" called "Go the Fuck to Sleep."

"Hope had worked the first time around, but with challenging realities many Americans, even those who easily aligned with Obama and his platform, were unenthusiastic, the pollsters knew and so did the Romney campaign," Oreck said.

Oreck said Obama supporters needed a call to action that "tapped into the emotions of voters; it addressed exactly how they were feeling at that moment, sluggish, disappointed, uncertain."

The two videos, four years apart, harnessed the energy of young cynical voters by employing humour.

"We need to invest in this conversation and we need to allow it to energize us," Oreck said.

Both videos shared the core element to any good campaign, an element that Oreck said the BC NDP knows all too well: Never take anything for granted.

"The campaigns that succeed take nothing for granted."


Of oversight and overruns

A report from NDP provincial secretary Jan O'Brien said the NDP raised $10.2 million as part of its "zero-debt election" strategy for 2013.

Campaign headquarters, however, reacted to the narrowing of public opinion polls during the election with an extra $1-million advertising spending spree.

That left the party with a $1.8 million debt. The oversight committee found further problems.

"The budget set for the election was exceeded without due diligence or enabling authorization of the appropriate bodies under the constitution of the BC NDP," Gerard Janssen told conventioneers on Nov. 17. "It is clear that the rules for the expenditures of monies during the election period must be tightened and made up front and disclosed to the appropriate party body promptly."

A Surrey-White Rock member who spoke at one of the provided microphones said he was "shocked and appalled."

The real issue may be return on investment. If the NDP had fulfilled expectations and won in May, the deficit wouldn't be as hard to swallow.

The NDP dropped from 36 to 34 seats with a 39.71 per cent popular vote, while the Liberals won four more seats for 49 with 44.14 per cent of the popular vote.

Brar on the losing side again

Jagrup Brar lost his Surrey-Fleetwood seat by just 200 votes in the provincial election to Liberal Peter Fassbender.

On Nov. 17, Brar's bid for the party presidency fell 182 votes short. North Vancouver city councillor Craig Keating, who lost a run for the North Vancouver-Lonsdale seat, was elected to succeed Moe Sihota by a 485-303 margin.

In Surrey-Fleetwood, Elections B.C. counted 134 spoiled ballots. NDP convention staff said there were 937 delegates registered but only three ballots spoiled.

Union Jack

On the eve of the convention, longtime woodworkers' union boss Jack Munro died of cancer. On Nov. 16, the convention took a pause to remember all those activists who passed away over the last year.

The last name listed was 82-year-old Munro, but spelled with an e on the end.

"Jack was a truly huge guy," said Rod Smelser, who was honoured with an NDP life membership. "(He) would have laughed it off assisted by a couple of profanities.

Diversity and equity

The NDP kept its affirmative action policy of replacing outgoing male MLAs with women or minorities, despite calls by some members for merit-based nominations.

Heidi McDonald delivered the Pride Caucus report and elicited some good-natured laughter when she said Canada Post was a welcoming workplace for lesbians.

"If you were a young lesbian, a butchy young lesbian back in the day, that was a good job, they gave you boots and a leather jacket and it was much the same as you wore every day," McDonald said.

Flip the lid

The list of resolutions tabled at the convention included one calling for washroom access to transit users. A campaign to improve public toilets in B.C. and bring back the Public Toilet Act, which was repealed by the Liberals in 2009, was on-site with a table.

Pyramid power, but no sphinx

The NDP prides itself on being inclusive, but it apparently can't tolerate fragrances (which have been known to cause allergic reactions). Signs at the entry to the meeting hall declared "this is a scent free event." The ban appeared to be enforced by the honour system.

Convention decor showed a silhouette of various downtown buildings, but, oddly, not Canada Place. What was supposed to be the North Shore mountains looked instead like pyramids, an apt symbol for a party that, until the weekend, was criticized for appearing to be in denial about the 2013 loss.


When the convention was declared closed, it was 1,269 days until the next scheduled B.C. election date, May 9, 2017.  [Tyee]

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