Delegates to the British Columbia NDP’s virtual convention voted down a resolution aimed at ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies and endorsed Premier John Horgan’s continued leadership of the party.
“We need to address the climate emergency on the scale that is necessary and that means stop making it worse,” said Ashley Zarbatany, a delegate from the constituency of North Island who is a chair of the BC NDP’s Standing Committee on the Economy and Environment, during debate Saturday.
The convention, which had 715 delegates attending, was the first since the BC NDP won a majority in October 2020. It was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and was delayed three weeks because of the province’s flooding, landslide and transportation emergency.
Several times during the two-day convention Zarbatany spoke about blocked efforts over the past two years to get motions about limiting the LNG industry in front of delegates and about the perception the NDP is losing members over the issue, especially younger activists, a point other speakers said they agreed with.
“We can’t continue to underwrite and finance on the taxpayer dime LNG Canada,” Zarbatany said, adding that the committee had tried to amend the resolution ahead of the convention. “It’s like paying for suicide, so I cannot support that.”
She and other delegates sought to send a resolution supporting the government’s investment in the CleanBC plan to address the climate crisis back to the resolution committee to add a clause calling on the government to immediately stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies.
“I am supporting this referral because I know, as so many of you know, there’s a pipeline-sized elephant in the room at this convention and in this province,” said Avi Lewis, a delegate from Powell River and filmmaker who ran for the NDP in the recent federal election. “It is our government’s continued support of fossil fuel expansion in the very teeth of a climate change emergency.”
Either the province ends fracking, stops the Coastal GasLink pipeline and ends fossil fuel subsidies, he said, or there will be more lives, livestock and livelihoods lost in disasters.
“Make no mistake, the devastating colonial violence of removing Wet’suwet’en land defenders from their territory — violence explicitly authorized three years in a row by the solicitor general of this province — that violence will be necessary as long as we are forcing fossil fuel projects through without consent.”
While NDP delegates might be concerned about workers and their jobs, Lewis said, it’s necessary to keep in mind that a very small number of people work in the sector considering the portion of the province’s carbon emissions it is responsible for.
“We’re doing those workers no favours by extending the life of that industry for another planet-choking decade or two,” he said. “We need a managed, compassionate, wind down of oil and gas in B.C., one that takes care of workers and Indigenous communities, not the profits of corporate gluttons.”
The majority of delegates, however, disagreed, voting 62 per cent against sending the resolution back to the committee to be strengthened. The original resolution in favour of CleanBC then passed with 83 per cent support.
Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman had spoken in favour of the original motion saying the CleanBC plan is comprehensive. “This is an ambitious plan,” he said. “It will take a lot of work, but it’s important. We’ve seen the impacts. We know what we have to do.”
During the debate there was little participation from delegates opposed to adding language about ending fossil fuel subsidies, though Celine McRae-Hamdy argued for keeping the original motion since several other resolutions on the agenda addressed the issue and moving it up would be “worse than queue jumping.”
None of the resolutions about subsidies made it to debate. They were among a total of 157 resolutions that met a similar fate, included in the convention guide but too far down the list to make it to the floor in the limited time allotted for debate.
In the two hours devoted to resolutions Saturday, delegates passed a total of 14 on a range of issues. They included measures related to safe drug supply, universal child care, housing affordability, union certification, protecting old-growth forests and making sure wealthy people pay their share of taxes.
In a couple more hours of debate on Sunday delegates passed resolutions supporting moving faster to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, pressing the federal government to provide more housing for Indigenous people, create more housing for LGTBQ2S+ seniors and add a new equity vice-president position to better represent marginalized groups on the party’s provincial executive.
Emergency resolutions also passed related to climate change and the adaptation of infrastructure and to RCMP violence in the enforcement of the injunction allowing the Coastal GasLink pipeline to be built on Wet’suwet’en territory.
Speaking in favour of the latter resolution, Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen said the northern RCMP have said they are conducting a review and that he agrees the government needs to redouble its efforts so that differences can be reconciled before they get to the point of enforcement.
Delegates to the convention also voted 83 per cent against holding a leadership vote and therefore in favour of John Horgan continuing to head the party.
While support for Horgan’s leadership remained strong, it had fallen from the 96.4 per cent he received at the last convention in 2019 and the 97.5 per cent at the 2017 convention held not long after the NDP formed government for the first time in 16 years.
Horgan, who is receiving radiation treatment for throat cancer, addressed the convention in a prerecorded speech that celebrated the NDP government’s record, including its response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that by working together we can accomplish anything,” he said. “In the forests, in our waters, on our land, in our historic relationships, now is our time friends to make the world a better place.”
The party also ratified its recent executive elections, including that of former Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band and NDP candidate Aaron Sumexheltza as president.
According to a poll conducted by Stratcom in the first week of November, the majority of British Columbians continue to approve of Horgan’s performance — about double the support for either BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau or BC Liberal Interim Leader Shirley Bond — and voter support for the party is slightly higher than it was in last year’s election.
Read more: BC Politics