by Gary Porter
Eight hundred delegates met in Victoria, November 23-24, to assess two years of NDP government in British Columbia and to consider policies to meet the needs of working people, the poor, the homeless and oppressed.
Affordability is a major public issue. The average family income in the province is $72,400. For Canada the number is $71,800. But the average house price in Vancouver is $1,095,000. In Toronto it is $807,000.
The affordability crisis has aggravated homelessness and drug addiction, particularly in the warmer climes of Vancouver and Victoria, where Canada’s marginalized and victimized tend to end up. Inflation in BC is 2.4% compared to 1.4% across Canada.
The minimum wage will rise above the B.C. Federation of Labour target of $15 an hour by 2021, 4 years after the NDP won government.
The convention adopted resolutions calling for decriminalizing all drugs, lowering the voting age in BC to 16, access to free dental care for children, free parking at hospitals, and limits to cell phone and internet bills — reforms aiming to make life a bit more affordable. On Jan 1, 2020, BC families will no longer pay Medicare fees. These regressive fees were $900 annually. BC is the last province to remove flat fees and shift to an employer health tax. It took the NDP two years to remove the fees.
NDP Premier John Horgan did not mention the deal with LNG Canada in his speech, nor did any other leader during the convention. His decision in 2018 to spend $6.5 billion in tax cuts, exemptions and subsidies to aid the most powerful and richest corporations in the world was never discussed. The project is a massive fracking operation in North East BC, which, when finished, will be the largest single-source of GHG pollution in BC.
The Saanich North and the Islands NDP Electoral District Association unanimously adopted a strongly worded resolution attacking the deal and calling on the NDP government to cancel and denounce it. The leadership-dominated Resolutions Committee blocked it from coming to the floor.
The NDP campaign platform promised a $100-per-month welfare and disability increase. The NDP government announced the increase. It came 10 years after welfare rates were last increased, bringing a single person’s monthly rate up to $710 per month from $610. According to Statistics Canada, at least $1,500 per month is needed in order to reach the 2010 B.C. Market Basket Measure.
Wood as fuel is a bad idea. It produces huge quantities of carbon. But the use of wood to make furniture and build homes would be excellent.
The wood industry, which employs 140,000 workers in BC, is under attack. High U.S. tariffs, pine beetles, massive forest fires and low market prices for wood have resulted in many corporate failures and big layoffs. Why is wood shipped out of the country as raw logs, to be refined and used elsewhere? Because it can be refined using cheaper labour, hugely increasing profits.
A Steelworkers’ Union emergency resolution was adopted calling for steps to aid the workers laid off, and to end raw log shipments. The NDP leadership supported these small reforms. But they offered no fundamental solution.
This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a socialist plan both to protect the job security of wood workers and construction workers, and make good housing available to workers. As a bonus, it could be entirely based on green energy. Nationalize the wood industry. Take it out of the private market-driven economy. Let workers control operations and build public high-quality green energy-based housing for working class families.
In BC schools, a student who gets a $60,000 car as a 16th birthday gift may sit next to students who daily walk an hour to and from school because bus fare is unaffordable.
The conceit of public schools is that our classrooms will somehow be the leveling space of these stark socio-economic differences by providing an equitable education. But the disparities still stand in the way.
That is why the BC Teachers’ Federation demonstrated outside the convention calling for more resources, more funding and smaller classes in BC public schools. How is funding students at $1,866 below the Canadian national average going to do that? Premier John Horgan’s plan to “build a better B.C” clearly does not have public school students in mind.
Jessica Lar-Son is constituency assistant to Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and a spokeswoman for the Young New Democrats. She ran against incumbent Craig Keating for BC NDP President and got over 25 per cent of the votes cast. She was pleased with the result, saying she felt it showed some dissatisfaction with the lack of democracy at the convention.