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The Mainlander

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The Mainlander is the Lower Mainland’s go-to online publication for coverage of municipal politics. Traditionally a working-class city, developers and speculators have transformed Vancouver into North America's most unaffordable resort-town -- but not without a fight. The Mainlander chronicles the daily struggle between residents and capital, a struggle waged from the legal terrain of zoning bylaws, to the halls of resident councils, to the streets of the Downtown Eastside.

Why did the NDP lose?

| May 15, 2013
Why did the NDP lose?

Adrian Dix and the NDP have been defeated in an election that was widely expected to yield a comfortable win for the centre-left party. Over the course of the month-long race, B.C. politics threw off the political intensity often associated with battles of left and right. Instead of attacking the B.C. Liberal record, Dix and the NDP chose a strategy of passive precaution, waiting for the other side to falter.

Even if the campaign was marked by few highlights, Dix framed his party's approach in both lofty and strategic terms, arguing that the new B.C. NDP had risen above partisan bickering and the petty politics of the B.C. Liberals. Supporters framed this "21st century" approach as a necessary path for winning government. Beneath the media strategy -- the story went -- a progressive platform was held waiting to be implemented once in power.

No definite plan

In reality the NDP allowed itself no alternative platform from which to launch a criticism against the BC Liberal record. On each big issue the NDP chose instead to emulate the BC Liberal platform: rock-bottom corporate taxes, privatized affordable housing, health care austerity and ongoing neoliberal reforms. Instead of fighting on the basis of a progressive policy platform, the NDP message was simple: We can govern; we can oversee the status quo because we are as mature as the common-sense Liberals.

NDP's uninspiring decision to emulate -- and indeed flatter -- the politics of the ruling party resulted in a record low voter turnout of 48 per cent, down from 58 per cent in 2005. No doubt there will be disagreement in the coming days about the extent to which the NDP, if elected, would have enshrined the historic dismantling of the welfare state, already underway since the 1980s. What is less contested is that fact that neither party in the running was planning to bolster public spending, significantly raise taxes, or reverse the rise of P3s.

The irony is that in the attempt to move away from empty politicking and content-less media wars, the NDP ran one of the most meaningless campaigns in its recent history. Andy Lai, a tenant organizer at Lion's Manor, dubbed the NDP acronym "No Definite Plan," and the CBC rightly called it "a lackluster campaign that was basically a series of events with no real substance, flow or vision." The question in many people's minds was, "one careful and pragmatic step at a time, yes -- but stepping towards what?"

Is it possible that a do-nothing campaign served to entrench rather than reverse the cynicism of B.C. voters? People of colour, First Nations communities, people with low-incomes were simply not the focus of the NDP machine, whose overriding aim was to allay the fears of urban property-owners and convince the white middle class that the NDP is no longer a socialist outfit.

Liberal candidates steer NDP

Given the candidates, too, there is little surprise that the NDP failed to highlight the failure of the B.C. Liberals. The NDP's George Chow, for example, was roundly defeated in Vancouver-Langara. As a former Vision councillor in Vancouver, Chow was part of years-long relentless praise heaped on B.C. Housing and B.C. Liberal MLA Rich Coleman. The inability for Chow and Mayor Robertson to raise a criticism of BC Liberal housing policy cannot be overlooked as a cause of the NDP defeat.

Journalists have long commented on the “tight bond” between city hall and Coleman[1] but the larger significance of political Trasolini-ism has been under-acknowledged. The housing crisis in B.C. is deeper than it has ever been and people are spending more and more money on ever-deteriorating housing. Yet Vision, Chow and the NDP have insisted on a politics of compromise that makes popular politics almost entirely illegible.

Vision's path adopted by the NDP is today discredited in a manner that was already becoming apparent with Geoff Meggs' defeat in the Fairview nomination race, where he lost to George Heyman. In contrast to Chow's provincial defeat in Vancouver-Langara, Heyman has since been able to win the Fairview riding by staying closer to NDP's labour tradition, combining it with green principles. Heyman's significant victory of Margaret MacDiarmid yesterday hints that it is a bold environmentalism rather than a discredited vision of centrist compromise that can "bring the NDP into the 21st century."

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[1] Mike Howell, "Mayor, housing minister build tight bond," The Vancouver Courier, June 10, 2010 (edit)

 

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Comments

Everyone assumes this election result was a failure of the BCNDP to inspire people to vote. Maybe, but it is also a result of the BC Liberal's ability to suppress the progressive vote.

The May 14th BC election is just another example of a stolen election. The conservative movement have discovered a means to alter voter turnout. Bottom line - the progressive movement has no significant defense against it. The only people who have a chance at discovering what progressives need to know are these guys. Please help them reach their fundraising goals before its too late.

 

 

There's nothing unusual about the majority of voters in a Canadian province being middle class and white. Moreover the NDP has actually won previously in BC, so obviously some of those middle class white voters can be won over.

Once you write off the electorate as not being interested in "poverty or racism" you set the stage for the NDP to become just another liberal bourgeois party that offers no real hope for the kind of major social change and environmental about-face that is so desperately needed. BC voters obviously decided to vote for the real Liberals instead of the wannabe ones.

If you look at the demographic of BC, the majority of voters are middle class and white.  The NDP had to formulate a platform that would not alienate these people, as they have rearely dealt with issues regarding poverty or racism.  How else would you be able to pitch a left-of-central government to an overwhelming liberal demographic?  If they would have pitched a strong left stance as they do in Manitoba, they would not have done so well, I promise.  Who would favour higher income tax to help those most needy?  Not those who actually feel that people are needy because of life circumstance, but they are vulnerable because of life's choices. The defeat, while disappointing and shocking was due to the BC citzenship that value what liberal governments give to them, such as funds to renovate their houses because the majority of people who vote in BC actually own houses, or expect to one day.  The NDP were thinking strategically, and rightly so.  I am sad to see them lose, and do not feel that it has anything to do with leadership, as provincial politics rarely does.

If the NDP's failure to inspire voters to turn up at the polls teaches the party to do things differently next time, it will be an important vindication of the principle that people can influence politics for the better by refusing to vote when they are offered nothing real to vote for.

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