(Written January 2019)
The NDP was described recently as a complicated party(Ken Boon is the president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association and a director of the Peace Valley Environment Association quoted in an article in the Tyee: https://thetyee.ca/News/2019/01/14/BC-Energy-Minister-Site-C-Reversal/)
No. Once upon a time the NDP was a complicated party. But that was a while ago. It was a time when people joined the party because they believed in social progress. Many saw themselves as part of one or several movements – the union movement, the women’s movement or the environmental movement. The struggle both within and without the party was to create and maintain a coalition of people who wanted to build, in the words of Tommy Douglas, “a new Jerusalem”. This was not easy because there were so many different and passionate views. These were views of and from the left – socialist, not corporate – divergent on many issues but sharing a faith that good government served the interests of all of members of society, not just the rich, and anyone who believed in the possibility of a just and fair community (ie one which respected the rights of all people etc and the environment) were welcome to join.
The NDP was a coalition. As successor to the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the NDP retained in parts of Canada a Christian (largely United Church of Canada) hue. In the formation of the NDP, the priorites of the union movement were welded onto the CCF platform of equality for women and Christian regard for the poor and sick. The leadership of the CCF had always included women and Tommy Douglas as leader of the CCF had been instrumental in estblishing the single payer health scheme in Canada. In 1970 Douglas and other members of the NDP voted again the imposition of the War Measures Act. The NDP were long anti-war and the party’s opposition to Canada’s membership of NORAD and NATO were long standing. Members of the NDP even referred to themselves as socialists.
During the 1980’s the NDP lost several key provincial elections. It became clear that BC would not escape the neo Liberal political tide. Elected after 16 years in opposition, the NDP government during the 1990’s struggled to prove that it was not a revolutionary or even radical party of change – but rather it was a competent manager of the economy as it was. Big projects were out and good government was in. But the standard for ‘good government’ was the economy – competence was measured by the business community. Carried by the neo Liberal economic tide and a deep desire for public approval (good polling data), the NDP moved to the centre of the political spectrum. Unfortunately for the party, the business community (ie the right wing) were never going to vote for them and by leaving the aspirations of supporters at the door, the party destroyed its base. Defeated in 2000, took ten years to rebuild. The election in 2013, like the election in 1983, was another turning point. By 2017 the NDP had re-invigorated its base, energized the young and was ready to govern.
Sadly, it is now clear that the NDP had lied repeatedly during the last election. With hindsight the lies seem so obvious, but the party argues that they were not lies, but policy. Party policy was open to interpretation. Set out in a context of the NDP as the historic party – the party of the working class, the party of social justice and environmental action – supporters were willing to accept vague statements on key issues such as Site C, as commitments. And some, like me, simply believed that an NDP would do the right thing. We might not be able to rely on the party technocrats, but surely we could rely on the promises of our elected members. How could such good people be part of a government which approved Site C and the Liberal LNG nightmare? And why wouldn’t a government elected with the support of the union movement refuse to advance worker’s rights or reform the WCB. Surely a government of the left would support electoral reform, address serious issues of fee for service in the health program and of access to justice. But no.
Relying on reputation, a grand coalition of left wing movements, the NDP managed to get elected, albeit with support from the Greens. The subsequent approval of Site C, the endorsement of the LNG program, the failure to campaign for electoral reform, the refusal to address issues at the WCB – all indicate that the platform was misleading. The NDP could have simply stated – “We will do what the Liberals are doing, but we will be nicer. And if we can, we may even address some social issues.”
The result – the government is a bit nicer, although as time goes on people will forget how mean the Liberals were and begin to complain about the NDP as well. The government may be less corrupt – issues with money laundering and casinos are being addressed. Schools seem to have more teachers and so on. But again, the objective is good government as defined and determined by the business community. No structural or systemic reform which might displease the capitalist class are going to be risked.
The NDP was complicated once but now it is quite simple – do whatever is necessary to win the next election. Betray your supporters, if necessary, because if you want to win, you need not just supporters but right wing people as well. The problem for the party is that having betrayed so many of their supporters one time too many – they have destroyed the party. The proud and noisy coalition of the left has died.
For me, it is sad – all that passion and work, for what? Most people don’t care. But they won’t know what they have lost because they have no idea that this New Jeruselum was once possible.