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BC Election 2020

A Word to Progressives Who Want to Punish the NDP

Mad they called an election or furthered Site C? Please don’t act impulsively.

Bill Tieleman 19 Oct 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose government relations and political consulting clients include unions and businesses in the resource, health, tourism and public sector. He was a columnist for The Tyee. Email Bill, tweet @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“Impulsive actions led to trouble, and trouble could have unpleasant consequences.” — Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

As the provincial election battles rages, some progressive voters want to punish the BC New Democrats and Premier John Horgan for calling an election — one they can actually win to form a four-year majority social democratic government.

Other progressives are thinking about denying the BC NDP their support because of Site C.

Perhaps some feel that the New Democrats are going to win anyway, so they can cast a protest vote or just not vote at all to express their displeasure.

I am here to argue that would be a mistake. Have they forgotten what it was like for progressives to be out of power in the province for 16 long, depressing years?

Despite polling showing the BC NDP with a double-digit lead, we’ve seen big advantages turn into defeats before, here in 2013 most notably. Many races this election are in ridings where the margin of victory last time was a few hundred votes or even less. Provincewide polling doesn’t show riding-by-riding races, and its seats that count most. (The BC Liberals won more votes but fewer seats in the 1996 election that delivered an NDP government.)

It’s my strong belief that in this critical election, some progressive voters are acting impulsively in a misguided effort to penalize the BC NDP government while ignoring the enormous trouble they risk by helping elect a BC Liberal government under leader Andrew Wilkinson.

Of course, as a lifelong New Democrat who runs a consulting firm assisting unions, businesses and other organizations with strategy, communications and government relations, some readers will doubtless disregard any and everything I say here as either self-interested, partisan or unprincipled — so be it.

But I’m proud of my progressive credentials — as a former communications director to an NDP premier and a BC Federation of Labour president, a long-time political columnist and commentator here at The Tyee and elsewhere, and as a campaign strategist.

I well recall the BC Liberal record of slashing and burning public services after then premier Gordon Campbell’s disastrous 25 per cent income tax cut in 2001 blew a gaping hole in the budget.

That’s especially important in this election where Wilkinson, a party president and then deputy minister under Campbell, and a cabinet minister under ex-premier Christy Clark, is promising a provincial sales tax cut of almost $11 billion over two years alone that makes the previous BC Liberals look like cheap pikers.

How can anyone forget that under the BC Liberals there were:

Or that his successor Premier Christy Clark presided over:

The list of political malfeasance could and indeed did fill volumes.

And now some voters are willing to risk all that and more just to whack the BC NDP? That’s simply self-destructive behaviour!

Let’s deal with some objections by progressive voters to the BC NDP, starting with Horgan’s early election call.

About the CASA agreement

The complaints are generally either that it should not have been called during the COVID-19 pandemic; that it should have proceeded at the fixed election date in October 2021; and/or that it violated the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC Greens.

Already more than 640,000 British Columbians have voted by mail this election, an option proven secure as well as safely convenient.

But even voting in person — as New Brunswick just showed in its election — can be done completely safely by following standard COVID-19 protocols. Advance poll or election day balloting will likely be safer than a regular trip to the supermarket.

Second, it unfortunately appears that COVID-19 will still be among us a year from now, when the election was scheduled to happen.

Third, with a minority government, an election has always been possible since the BC NDP were sworn in — any defeat in a confidence vote in the legislature would have sent British Columbians to the polls in short order.

Fourth, fixed election dates in B.C. and Canada are a relatively new phenomenon imported from the U.S. Our parliamentary system has always given ultimate authority in calling elections to our legislators, with the approval of the lieutenant-governor — which was given for this election.

Fifth, and perhaps most cited by critics, is that the election call breaks the CASA agreement. CASA does state that it will continue for four years or “until the next scheduled election” — but it also says that to “promote stability, the government must be able to negotiate with the three BC Green MLAs as a single, recognized caucus.”

That part went out the door with the rancorous departure of former leader Andrew Weaver, who quit the party altogether to sit as an Independent MLA. Weaver now endorses Horgan for another term as premier. So much for CASA.

It’s understandable that the BC Greens — who were surprised by the election call despite several months of public and media speculation — are very unhappy. They were unable to field a complete slate of candidates.

But let’s not pretend that the BC NDP and BC Greens were ever going to run a unity slate in a 2021 election or not fight tooth and nail for seats. In the legislature, the Greens did not support the BC NDP renter credit promise, labour code changes to allow more workers to join unions or $10-a-day child care plans. Several times they threatened to defeat the government.

Still, it’s clear that almost all of the CASA agreement’s goals the BC NDP and BC Greens agreed upon have already been met, including:

Those still objecting also don’t realize that all parties engaged in electoral politics do so in order to win power and implement their policies — their ideological goals. To achieve that success it’s necessary to literally be political — and that includes seeking a mandate from voters in a general election.

Probably not since the Second World War has seeking a mandate from voters been more important than now. It’s absolutely necessary to chart the course through the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis — from health care to economic recovery to public services — to ensure B.C. comes out of this terrible disease as well as possible.

And given that most mandates run for four years and this government has reached the three-and-a-half year mark, it’s more than reasonable to call an election.

But what about the damn dam?

Next, the Site C dam project.

The BC NDP government faced, as I’ve written, a Sophie’s Choice situation — the Christy Clark BC Liberal government had rushed into spending more than $2 billion in site preparation and construction on Site C by the time Horgan took office. The BC NDP had always said the project should not have been started and called for the project to be independently reviewed before proceeding — but the BC Liberals refused.

So as per the CASA agreement, the government referred the project to the independent BC Utilities Commission for an expedited review. And then it had to decide.

With $2 billion already spent and at least $2 billion estimated to return Site C to its previous condition — spending $4 billion for literally nothing — the government made the difficult call to proceed and reap the benefits of 1,100 megawatts of clean, green, renewable hydroelectric power for the future. And yes, hydroelectric power is still green despite what some critics claim. Even the Leap Manifesto’s appendix paper on eliminating all fossil fuels by 2030 showed the world would need 900 hydroelectric dams producing 1,300 megawatts of power — more than Site C — in a renewable energy mix.

B.C.’s building trades unions — who were all but shut out of the project by the BC Liberals — urged the NDP government to continue with Site C and welcomed its decision. (And I worked with them as advisor and lobbyist.) Many energy experts saw merits to Site C.

Some will argue that Site C is so fraught with geotechnical problems it will never be completed. But that position ignores BC Hydro’s long and successful history of dam building, even in challenging circumstances.

And even at a higher than anticipated cost, Site C will produce electricity to meet growing provincial demand for over 100 years.

Those who have fought Site C for years will never be convinced — and I respect their opinion.

At the moment, though, the question is: What would critics do? Defeat the BC NDP so the BC Liberals could finish Site C? Vote BC Green despite that party’s MLAs accepting Site C continuing as part of their deal with the BC NDP — and with zero chance of leader Sonia Furstenau becoming premier?

Could any party survive voter anger at wasting upwards of $6 billion to turn the site back to its previous state? Not a chance.

Beyond Site C, there are other important battles underway where the outcome is unknown — the fight for affordable housing for all, especially the homeless; dealing with the horrific opioid overdose crisis and the terrible waste of human lives resulting from drug addiction; the enormous challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewables without devastating B.C.’s economy or its significant natural resource sector; helping our hospitality, restaurant and tourism sectors recover from COVID-19; reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; continued improvement of health care and education; and much more.

That those who would risk the progress made so far — and the possibility of many other progressive changes for B.C. over the next four years — simply because an election was called early or they disagree on one issue shows disregard for hundreds of thousands of people who suffered under the BC Liberals.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, BC Election 2020

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