by Gary Porter,
The October 24 provincial election in British Columbia was called by New Democratic Party Premier John Horgan after 3 years of a 4-year “supply and confidence agreement” with the Green Party of BC. John Horgan’s calculation was that voters would reward the BC record on managing COVID-19 with a majority government, free of reliance on the Greens. He was correct.
At the dissolution of the legislature, the NDP, a labour party with powerful unions directly affiliated to it, and with direct union representation at its provincial council and conventions, held 41 seats. The Greens held 2 and the right-wing Liberal Party 43. Andrew Weaver, former leader of the Green Party, quit the Greens to sit as an independent. Still, he abided by the supply and confidence agreement.
On October 24, the NDP captured 55 seats.* The Liberals were reduced to 29 and the Greens won 3. All 14 new NDP seats were won at the expense of the Liberals. A few more seats may change hands after counting mailed ballots is completed. The COVID-19 pandemic is uppermost in the minds of British Columbians. They know the NDP has done a better job than the other provincial governments, most of them Conservative, across Canada. The high level of concern about the virus is rooted in the labour base of the NDP.
At this writing, deaths per million in Canada is 269, and only 53 per million in BC. What a stunning difference! The BC Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, applied strictly epidemiological criteria. Dr. Henry’s pandemic management won her a praiseful review in the New York Times. Premier Horgan has avoided the spotlight, deferring to the medical experts.
Although mask-wearing was never mandatory in BC, it is high because public officials set a great example. British Columbian working people are well aware that they have been safer under NDP leadership than Albertans, Ontarians and Quebecois under right wing capitalist governments. Horgan also froze hydro rates, instituted new taxes to curb residential real estate speculation, eliminated Medicare fees and implemented several other modest reforms noticeable to workers. He increased the minimum wage and will raise it to over $15 per hour on January 1, 2021 – then indexed to inflation.
In the election campaign, the NDP promised a $400 per year renters’ credit, a rent freeze for 2021, the hiring of 7,000 additional health care staff, and a new medical school to tackle the doctor shortage – all measures benefiting working people.
Neither the Greens nor the Liberals criticized NDP pandemic management during the election. The Liberals proposed to suspend the provincial sales tax for a year, to increase low consumer demand and get profits rolling again. They attacked NDP moves to house the homeless, including the NDP decision to buy three low-end hotels and increase services to people living in tents. The Greens raised valid criticisms of Horgan’s massive concessions to the Liquid Natural Gas cartel, but they had no answer. Nationalization of the fossil fuel industry violates the Green Party commitment to capitalism.
The GP fell from 17% to 15% of the vote, despite a protest vote by some NDP supporters bitterly opposed to Horgan’s climate betrayals. The Liberal Party, created by the former Social Credit, Conservative and Liberal parties to oppose the NDP, was divided. It was plagued by brutal racist, sexist and anti-poor people gaffes, offering little more than blatantly pro-business planks.
The NDP, a working-class party, is dominated by reformist, pro- capitalist social democrats who avoid mass action, restrict the party to parliamentary election campaigns, and look primarily to the private sector to solve social problems. This contradiction between the working class base and the pro-capitalist leadership is partly a product of the low level of class struggle and resulting low class consciousness among workers in Canada. The rapidly escalating crises of capitalism and arising mass movements, will shatter the relative tranquility of the working class. The reformist NDP leadership will be found wanting.
The Greens had not been a constraint on Horgan’s pro-LNG cartel policy. He could count on the Liberals to support his heinous assault on nature.
During its three years in office, the NDP approved construction of the massive Site C dam project on the Peace River in north-east BC, and the massive natural gas project initiated by a global consortium. The purpose of the dam is to supply cheap electricity to the high-power-demanding gas fracking operations nearby. The fossil fuel magnates would get subsidized power, and BC workers would pay for it with higher rates in the future
The multi-billion-dollar Liquid Natural Gas project involves a 400 km pipeline and a liquefaction plant at tidewater in Kitimat. This is the pipeline project that launched a wave of protests and road, bridge, railway and port closures last February in support of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders who were attacked by heavily armed RCMP to break up their blockade of the pipeline construction.
On the twinning of the TMX oil pipeline between Edmonton and the Pacific at Burnaby, B.C., the NDP resisted by relying on the capitalist courts, losing at every stage. Instead of organizing mass actions together with indigenous resisters, Horgan, ever respectful of the bourgeois state, caved in completely.
The CleanBC climate plan sets a modest goal of 20% GHG reduction by 2030. It is based on sectoral targets to be attained mostly by providing incentives to capitalist industry. Capitalism is the cause of climate change. It cannot be the solution. So, the climate plan is, to say the least, over-optimistic and hypothetical. Meanwhile, the massive hydrocarbon infrastructure projects are tragically still under construction.
The NDP brass did badger a few left wing NDP candidates. Bryn Smith, in Surrey-White Rock, made social media headlines when the Liberal Party called him out for supporting Palestinian Rights against Israeli Apartheid, and for advocating nationalization of capitalist privately-owned businesses. The 25-year-old BC NDP Socialist Caucus member, with the backing of his riding association, stood his ground. He retracted nothing when the NDP brass came calling. He increased the NDP vote in the riding, coming within 700 votes of the Liberal — with 11,000 mailed ballots still to be counted. Far from being a hindrance, Bryn Smith’s socialist views increased his support, just as the Socialist Caucus predicted. *
The Socialist Caucus, energized by the developing radicalization, and with a new BC steering committee formed, issued a leaflet urging a vote for the NDP. The statement, advancing a socialist and working class agenda for BC, was distributed both within the party and to voters far beyond it.
The task now is to mobilize New Democrats and workers generally to push Premier John Horgan to exercise some courage with his big majority. Stop the Site C and LNG projects. Ease the huge housing affordability crisis with massive, publicly-built housing projects. Reverse 16 years of Liberal cuts to education and health care. Extend medicare to dental, optical and pharma care. Move boldly with unions to organize the unorganized, give full employment rights to gig workers and to so-called ‘contract’ workers. Nationalize and rapidly phase out the fossil fuel industry. Build a GHG-free energy grid. De-fund, disarm and disband the racist cops. Throw the RCMP out of BC. It is high time to represent workers, not the bosses!
* The final tally of votes revealed on November 8 that the NDP won 57 seats, the Liberals 28 and the Greens only 2. Socialist Caucus member Bryn Smith in Surrey-White Rock came within 224 votes of defeating Liberal Trevor Halford.