Tag Archives: British Columbia

High Expectations confront New NDP Gov’t in British Columbia

by Gary Porter

Victoria, B.C.: After only 120 days in office, the freshman New Democratic Party government on Canada’s west coast had to face delegates elected by the membership of the mass labour-based party at its provincial convention, November 3-5. Expectations were high on the major issues affecting working people, indigenous communities, women, visible minorities, and the impoverished in British Columbia. After 16 years of harsh Liberal Party rule, public services have been slashed, fees increased, the public infrastructure neglected, the environment ravaged, climate change ignored, labour rights attacked and all restrictions on corporate campaign financing were removed — resulting in a wild west show of bought and sold politicians.

In the May 2017 election, the NDP won 44% of the vote, and the Green Party 16%. The parties won 41 and 3 seats respectively out of a total of 87. The two parties came to an agreement by which the NDP formed the government, with Green Party support on key issues.

Almost 800 delegates came from labour unions and riding (electoral) associations, the party youth wing and the women’s rights standing committee. The delegation reflected the true face of BC where over 30% of the population consists of visible minorities, 6% are members of indigenous nations and about 30% of the labour force is unionized. While professionals and some small business operators were present, big business was not in the convention hall.

The NDP Premier, John Horgan and several cabinet Ministers reported on early actions of the government. The list included: increasing welfare by $100 monthly, increasing the amount recipients can earn before social assistance reductions occur, cutting provincial medicare fees in half and promising to eliminate the fee completely over time, increasing the minimum wage (though it will take years to reach the goal of $15/hour), and announcing its opposition to the proposed Texas-based Kinder Morgan pipeline designed to carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to the fragile Pacific coast. The pipeline would result in an eightfold increase in tanker traffic in the Straights of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, endangering the marine environment, and affecting Vancouver, Victoria, and potentially Seattle.

The Premier announced he was “reviewing”, rather than opposing, the massive Site C power dam project in north-east BC. The project is outrageously expensive, unnecessary and likely to serve primarily to power development of the tar sands in Alberta. Some indigenous people oppose the project while others support it. Some unions, such as United Steelworkers support the project, and other unions reject it. Environmentalists uniformly condemn it.

The NDP government could play a leadership role and counter pose green public energy projects, incorporating equity hiring policies for women, indigenous peoples and visible minorities in a new green energy sector.

In fact, the NDP government faces a huge opportunity to get profit-oriented capitalist businesses out of energy production and distribution by simply expanding the scope and purpose of the government-owned BC Hydro, which distributes electricity to residences and businesses in B.C., and by taking over private energy corporations and operating them solely to meet public need rather than private profit.

The NDP leadership, however, is not socialist. It is social democratic — committed to reforming capitalism, not replacing it. Even so, social democratic parties have undertaken ambitious nationalization programs.

The convention delegates participated energetically in convention floor debates, although a mere five hours was devoted to dealing with resolutions submitted by unions and local party associations.

Socialist Action supports the NDP Socialist Caucus, which is open to all NDP members. The SC advocates social ownership and democratic workers’ control of the principal means of production, distribution, transportation, communication and finance. It advocates a dramatic reduction of work hours, with no loss of pay or benefits, to ensure that the working class obtains the benefits of automation. The SC calls for nationalization of polluters, the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples, fair trade, and for swiftly putting an end to Canada’s participation in imperialist military alliances such as NATO and NORAD.

Socialist Caucus speakers at the mic ripped the federal Justin Trudeau government’s tolerance of the utterly unfair tariffs on BC lumber imposed by the Trump administration, proposing that Canada cease buying American war planes, which would result in a loss of hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. arms industry. The SC advocated an annual cost of living increase to keep pace with the minimum wage, and argued for free tuition for all post secondary students to make education truly accessible to working class families and other low income British Columbians
These ideas won substantial, even wildly enthusiastic support, although none were formally adopted. The reason for that is simple: amendments can not be moved directly from the floor. Only motions of referral, with specific instructions to the resolutions committee, are accepted. Typically, referred motions never return to the floor due to the lack of adequate time for policy debate.

The convention did adopt resolutions for the reestablishment of a Human Rights Commission in BC, measures to fully restore union collective bargaining rights, for proper funding of the infrastructure, for much improved public transport in BC. The gathering called for halting the seizure of indigenous children by the child welfare system and instead demanded efforts to help indigenous families deal with the issues of drug addition, poverty and joblessness, and a plan to build 1700 affordable public residential rental units. Delegates mandated repairs to the infrastructure of the BC Hydro corporation and the BC Auto Insurance Corporation, badly undercut by the previous government which opposes publicly owned services on principle.

In addition, the closure of the wild west show, of unlimited corporate donations was approved. Party and candidate donations will be restricted to individuals only and to a maximum of $1200 annually. Unfortunately, this puts an equal sign between unions and private for-profit corporations, which mis-educates workers, limits the political intervention of workers’ organizations, while capitalists with enormous resources will always find a way around the rules. The NDP government pledges to introduce a system of proportional representation in BC, and to increase training for child care workers, expand childcare facilities and charge only $10 daily per child. The convention demanded that the Trudeau federal government establish a framework to add pharma care and dental care to existing medical coverage for all.

When the convention endorsed the $15/hour minimum wage, BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger said labour is patient, but not too patient — insisting that the measure be fully implemented before the end of 2018. The palpable tension between popular expectations and bureaucratic opportunism is a sign of things to come.

Photo Credits: Joshua Berson Photography

British Columbia Turns Left

by Caitlin Brown

The May 9 election in British Columbia (B.C.) showed a dramatic attempt by voters to break from 16 years of austerity under the Liberal Party towards a left social democratic program. Like other regions of Canada, the western-most province was hit hard by the 2008/9 economic meltdown; its staple natural resource industries, fishing, mining and forestry, are plagued by continuing lay-offs and now face U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs. Intense real estate speculation fostered immense income inequality. The shift to the left electorally was a response to this situation.

Continue reading British Columbia Turns Left

BC election, Ontario budget show failure of NDP ‘moderation’

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The obvious lesson from the May 27 British Columbia provincial election is ‘don’t trust opinion polls’. But what can we learn from the NDP campaign, besides the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs is not the only team capable of blowing a huge lead late in the game? *

Consider the observation of Tara Ehrcke, president of the Victoria Teachers’ Association (affiliate of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation).  “My greatest disappointment about this election was not the outcome, but the fact that not a single party stood up and spoke out for a radical re-evaluation of the massive inequity in our society. No political party really spoke to the need to tax the wealthy and to reinvest that money in services that benefit everyone, collectively. Like every election in my adult memory (back to the Premier Bill Vander Zalm days of the eighties), the debate was between a neo-liberal party of the right, and an NDP trying to be a Blairite party of the centre who speaks left to a left audience, right to a right audience, and promises nothing to anyone for fear someone might not like it.”
Reporter Justine Hunter wrote in the May 16 Globe and Mail (BC Edition): “Over his two years as leader, Mr. Dix developed an agenda that was designed not to spook voters. The slogan was change, “one practical step at a time.” He courted the business community with the promise that he would not try to move too fast.
“It was a bad campaign,” said Innovative Research pollster Greg Lyle, a former Liberal campaign manager. The New Democrats were offering incremental change that was hard for voters to get excited about, he said. “He could have built a movement for a compassionate revolution.” Instead, he mounted a defensive campaign aimed at holding a perceived lead in the polls.
“It was a fundamental error, believing that their vote was solid.”
Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star columnist, put it best on May 16.  He wrote:
“British Columbia’s election was many things….it was also a test run for the new, moderate, incrementalist NDP — the NDP that, in its federal form, Jack Layton refashioned and Tom Mulcair inherited. Indeed, three members of Layton’s brain trust — Brian Topp, Brad Lavigne and Anne McGrath — held key positions in the campaign.
“So the fact that this new, moderate NDP managed to lose badly in B.C. — in spite of its early and overwhelming lead in the polls, in spite of voter fatigue with Clark’s Liberals — casts a long shadow.
“The NDP was determined to portray itself as bland. Dix may have been Glen Clark’s chief of staff during the tumultuous ’90s. But his campaign motto this time was minimalist: “one practical step at a time.”
“His promises — such as one to ensure that nursing home residents receive two rather than just one bath a week — were underwhelming. It was at its core a strangely defensive campaign, as if the NDP were saying to voters: “We know you’re sick of the Liberals and wary of us. But don’t be frightened. You can vote for us without fear of our doing much.”
“To that end, Dix presented himself in his stump speeches as softspoken, amiable and cautious. His message was: under the NDP, things will change but marginally. The strategy didn’t work.
“First, the NDP can’t escape its own past. By any reasonable standard, it ceased to be a socialist party long ago. But no matter how many times it tries to purge its constitution of anti-capitalist language, a good many voters still view it as a party of the left.
“Christy Clark’s Liberals seized on this… My guess is that the New Democrats nationally will run into the same problem during the 2015 federal election campaign. It will be difficult to convince those who mistrust left-wing parties that the new, moderate NDP has changed its spots.
“Second, by focusing on incrementalism, Dix gave B.C. voters few positive reasons to vote NDP. The centrepiece of the party platform was the worthy issue of skills training. But Clark’s Liberals offered education goodies, too.
“Andrea Horwath’s Ontario New Democrats, who prefer equally bite-size pieces of practical policy to broad vision might want to reflect on Dix’s failure here.”

That brings us to the budget of the Ontario Liberal minority government, which Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath decided to support in the third week of May.

Let’s be clear. Premier Kathryn Wynne’s budget is a capitalist austerity budget.  There is a 1% cap in annual programme spending; a 3% allowable annual rise in tuition fees; zero growth in hospital base funding; 2% growth in annual health care spending; $100 increase in the monthly Ontario Child Benefit (instead of the $200 promised in the Liberal poverty reduction plan), and income testing of seniors’ drug costs.  A 1% hike in social assistance rates; 0% increase in the minimum wage.  And, of course, all of this is built on a 2 year wage freeze across the public service, and on the imposition of unjust terms and conditions forced on Ontario education workers, including suspension of collective bargaining and the right to strike.  A working class party that supports such an agenda ends up paying a big political price. Just ask Bob Rae.

For what they’re worth, the latest opinion polls, following NDP endorsement of the buget, show the Liberals up, and the NDP dropping into third place, well behind the Tories. The NDP Socialist Caucus slogan sums it up best:  To survive, the NDP must turn left.

* If the judicial recount confirms the NDP win in Coquitlam-Maillardville, the B.C. Liberals will end up with 49 seats in the legislature, the NDP 34, and the Greens and independent Vicki Huntington one each.

The result would be almost identical to 2009, when the B.C. Liberals won 49 seats, the NDP 35, and Huntington won in Delta South. The final popular vote breakdown was: B.C. Liberals 44.14 per cent; NDP 39.71 per cent; Greens 8.13 per cent and Conservatives 4.76 per cent.