NDP Convention Turns into Victory Celebration

But party’s finances, need for rural strategy challenge delegates.

By Andrew MacLeod 6 Nov 2017 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

At a reception Friday night at the NDP convention in Victoria, party leader John Horgan stood surrounded by supporters and observed “We’ve lost a lot of elections in the last 80 years.”

By Horgan’s count the score is four wins against 22 losses. That record makes it that much more exciting to have formed a minority government in July with support from the BC Green Party, he said.

“We have a government that’s working for you,” he said to much applause, drawing a contrast with the BC Liberal government he characterized as working for people who were already rich. “We have made it abundantly clear that New Democrat values are mainstream values. We are not the marginal; we are the mainstream.”

The three-day gathering frequently felt like a belated victory party. While there were debates of resolutions and updates on the party’s shaky finances, it was mainly a chance for the faithful to celebrate the recent success.

“Congratulations on a wonderful, fantastic campaign,” BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger told delegates in a speech Saturday. “Our progressive values were front and centre in that campaign.... What we have achieved in that campaign will change lives in this province, and thank you all for that.”

Party president Craig Keating called it a “historic victory” and said “We need to celebrate the amazing changes that John Horgan’s government is bringing to the province of British Columbia.” He encouraged delegates to share the message about what’s going well and to remind people of the effects of 16 years of BC Liberal neglect.

Horgan wins 97.5 per cent support

One party activist noted he wasn’t hearing the kind of talk about ripping the party apart that was prevalent in some circles at the last meeting two years ago. Nor was there any sign of the sort of open dissatisfaction that emerged at some past NDP gatherings.

Instead 733 delegates voted 97.5 per cent against holding a leadership convention, effectively an endorsement of Horgan continuing in the job. Horgan later joked to reporters that the people voting in favour of a leadership contest were likely close relatives who wanted him to be more available for family activities.

“I’m gratified by the support of the delegates here,” he said. “I’m going to do my level best to keep being me, and I’m glad that 97.5 per cent of the people who showed up here in Victoria feel the same way.”

“I’m going to be relentlessly optimistic and I’m going to reach out to people who have not been reached out to in the past and I’m going to try to bridge some of the divides we’ve had in B.C. for my entire lifetime,” Horgan said. “I’ve seen nothing but partisan rancour for most of my adult life.”

Horgan said the government remains focused on making life in the province more affordable and providing the services people need.

Rural votes and party finances

Despite the success, the party does have improvements to make. A report prepared independently by Karen Abramsen from Kelowna that circulated at the convention analyzed the party’s relatively poor performance in rural parts of the province. The campaign had targeted urban and suburban voters, she wrote.

“While there was no clear corresponding set of populist announcements that rural B.C. electors could, quite literally, take to the ‘voting’ banks on election day, the NDP were seen as blue collar ‘job-killers’ due to their opposition to big projects like Site C, pipelines, Ajax Mine, etc. — thus ending up actually losing the NDP thousands of votes and two incumbent seats in rural B.C.”

She called for developing a “two-pronged election strategy” to win seats in both urban and rural parts of the province.

Another challenge was made clear in party treasurer Amber Hockin’s report. There wasn’t as much money in 2015 as the party would have liked to introduce Horgan, then new leader, to the public.

And in 2017 the party was unable to borrow the full $1.8 million it hoped to ahead of the election.

“Despite our best efforts, the internal debt remained an impediment,” Hockin’s report said. Even as it fought the 2017 campaign, the party had debt coming due from 2013. “The party was not able to secure a loan in the amount provided for in the budget. We achieved a smaller loan, $770,000, for the campaign.”

In power 16 weeks

Many of the resolutions delegates voted on reiterated NDP positions, including action for renters, improving access to post-secondary education, building more housing co-ops and introducing $10-a-day childcare.

Asked about childcare and the NDP’s election promise to provide it for $10 a day, Horgan made no specific commitment. “It’s been 16 weeks and we have a four-year term, and we’re going to do everything we can to implement the program we ran on,” he said.

In his main convention speech on Saturday Horgan acknowledged some of the tough choices facing the government, with whether to continue with the Site C dam at the top of the list. “We have a serious challenge ahead of us,” he said, but added he knew the decision would be made in the best interests of British Columbians by people who are compassionate.

He also mentioned the Green Party, whose three votes in the legislature the government counts on to survive. He said sometimes he’s surprised to read Green Leader Andrew Weaver’s critical quotes in the media, but understands them as Weaver’s desire for the government to do better.

“I truly believe we will be a better government because of the outcome on May 9,” Horgan said. “It’s all about give and take.”

He reminded delegates of the progress the government has already made, including laying the groundwork for a referendum on proportional representation, appointing the fair wages commission, eliminating bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland and getting started on a poverty reduction plan.

“We’re going to do more,” he added.

The government has also established a minister responsible for mental health and addictions, removed fees for adult basic education and English-as-a-second-language students, and sees fighting climate change as an opportunity, he said. It is bringing back a Human Rights Commission, banning big money from provincial and municipal politics, and intends to make sure ferry fares are fair, he said.

If the government has done a lot in 16 weeks, imagine four more years, Horgan said.

“British Columbia is filled with New Democrats. They just don’t know it yet.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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