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BC NDP, Fight those Wavering Spirits

The party's not doomed, just depressed. But there's many a reason for good cheer.

By Bill Tieleman 12 Nov 2013 |

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at or visit his blog.

"Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits." -- Helen Keller, blind and deaf author/activist

These can be seen as dark days for the B.C. New Democratic Party as its convention approaches this weekend. But the party is not doomed, just depressed.

There are good reasons for the latter:

• Losing the May provincial election that every pollster and pundit predicted it would win.

• Leader Adrian Dix forced to announce his resignation after one disastrous campaign, despite leading the polls for months before the election.

• A BC NDP election review report last week that faulted poor campaign strategy, the positive only approach, ineffective advertising, lack of swing riding polling, an inadequate database, a failed policy platform rollout, "major policy shifts mid-way" -- Kinder Morgan -- and an underwhelming ground game, to list just some of its conclusions.

• An emboldened BC Liberal government led by Premier Christy Clark that feels it can do no wrong after surviving a near-electoral death experience.

• And two of the NDP's most powerful icons silenced by declining health: the BC NDP's first premier, Dave Barrett, and former IWA-Canada union president Jack Munro.

This as BC Liberals threaten to pave over perhaps Barrett's proudest and most lasting achievement -- the Agricultural Land Reserve that protects diminishing farmland.

If the BC NDP is depressed, it's no wonder. But it's far from doomed.

Three years to battle a lightweight premier

The BC NDP needs simply to reverse the last election results in nine ridings to form a majority government in 2017.

Winning just nine seats from the BC Liberals would give the BC NDP 43, up from the 34 it won in May, enough to govern the province.

That would only take convincing a few thousand voters to change their choice -- or a few thousand of the 42 per cent who didn't bother voting in 2013 to cast an NDP ballot.

A new BC NDP leader will have three years to argue the case against a tired, visionless BC Liberal government that will have been in power for 16 straight years by 2017 -- well beyond most administrations' best before date.

Premier Clark has proven herself a charismatic campaigner, but her record of governance is bereft of accomplishments, and she faces huge financial challenges that likely mean serious cuts to healthcare, education and other public services.

The damning report of B.C.'s Child and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond over government wasting $66 million that should have helped aboriginal children in need and Surrey Memorial Hospital's new emergency ward already overflowing are just two examples of trouble to come.

Clark's reputation as being a lightweight on policy has not been dispelled.

The BC Liberals also face extraordinarily difficult decisions ahead on the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan expansion pipelines, which are fraught with peril.

Not so bad, comparatively

The BC NDP should look around Canada at other Opposition parties before whining about its own fate.

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was also widely expected to become premier by most polls and observers, but lost in 2012 to Conservative Premier Alison Redford by a stunning 44-seat margin.

Wildrose would need 27 Conservatives seats to switch over for majority power.

Even further behind is the Saskatchewan NDP, taking only nine seats in the 2011 election, 40 behind the Saskatchewan Party of Premier Brad Wall.

Nova Scotia's first NDP government dropped to a miserable third place in last month's election, winning just seven seats out of 51.

And Newfoundland's Opposition Liberals took only six seats in 2011, putting them 31 seats behind the ruling Conservatives and just one ahead of the NDP.

All these Opposition parties have a far more difficult path to power than B.C.'s NDP -- and you can bet that each of their leaders would give their eye teeth to be in the position the new leader chosen next year will be.

Pick of the leaders

The BC NDP will likely have some substantive choices for leader in 2014.

Possible candidates range from veteran NDP MLA Mike Farnworth, who came second to Dix last time, to new MLA David Eby, who beat Premier Christy Clark herself in Vancouver-Point Grey, to federal NDP MPs Peter Julian, Fin Donnelly and Don Davies, with none yet declared and others considering -- because the chance to become B.C. premier is worth taking.

Needless to say, the challenge is significant. Modernize the New Democrat election machine; carefully balance jobs and the environment; recruit star candidates; deal with the threat the Green Party presents in some ridings; raise enough money to compete with a BC Liberal party reinvigorated with business donations, and much more.

But even the NDP presidency is seen as important enough to have two serious candidates running province-wide campaigns: three-time Surrey NDP MLA Jagrup Brar, who I have endorsed, and veteran North Vancouver city councillor Craig Keating -- both with strong support.

So party members at this week's convention should stop overstating the "belligerent circumstances" the NDP faces, and realize that their worst foes -- "wavering spirits" -- can easily be overcome.

After all, Premier Clark did it!  [Tyee]

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