Columnists

Duncan Cameron
Capitalists win, all others lose in B.C. election

| May 21, 2013
Photo: BlueAndWhiteArmy/flickr

The capitalists won the B.C. election. Extractive industries make big profits in the province, and have bigger plans for its future. More port facilities for coal exports to China, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants, new pipelines across the mountains, increased tanker traffic in the Vancouver Harbour, and through coastal waters; these environmental disasters in the making represent lucrative ventures to Liberal backers.

Corporations support the BC Liberals as a form of insurance protecting shareholder privileges. Most of the business and commercial world follows the corporate lead.

In B.C., corporations contribute to political parties and have employees who contribute.

Campaign money wins elections, but it is not enough. In the election, however misleading on issues such as making B.C. debt free (after running it up), Liberal advertising looked better than NDP advertising. As government, following a now well-established pattern, the Liberals spent public money extolling their own virtues.

The B.C. media were squarely behind the re-election of the Liberals. The influence of major media may be slipping, but not at election time.

For years, Canadian capitalists have supported two parties: Conservatives and Liberals. When one fell from favour, the other could supplant them in power and in the public mind.

In B.C., the Liberal party is an amalgamation of three groups: the old right-wing populist Social Credit party (given renewed energy by the Manning Reform Party), much of the old Progressive Conservative Party, and the provincial and federal Liberals. So long as this capitalist coalition held, it was going to be difficult for the NDP to form a government.

When disgruntled Conservatives jump-started the party back into provincial politics, it looked to provide an opening for the NDP. In the event, the Conservatives flopped, and represented less of a threat to the Liberals than the Green Party did to the NDP. 

How people decide to vote, or to abstain from voting, depends on more than one factor. Leaders, campaigns, issues, and party loyalty all matter in soliciting support. Especially important are how the powers that be influence opinion, expectations and perceptions of political outcomes.

In the final analysis, voters feared voting NDP, more than they feared more years of Liberals in power. Years of capitalist propaganda hammered on the inability of the NDP to manage public affairs. Negatives matter in political campaigns; the BC Liberals got that right.

In a poor turnout (preliminary results were 52 per cent of eligible voters) the non-voters hurt the NDP more than the Liberals, who were able to get the over-55 group -- where they had considerable strength -- to vote, while the NDP youth supporters showed up in light numbers on polling day.

Powerful actors, money, public and private advertising, private and public media all combine to tell a story about the economy that is widely accepted as true. Citizens are expected to believe that corporations create wealth, provide jobs and incomes for Canadians, and that all of society benefits from their activities.

In reality, people in their communities create wealth for corporations through their work, and governments subsidize the corporate economy through providing research, health insurance and education for workers, plus social services, roads, rail lines, airports, ferries, and other transportation facilities including ports and secure sea lanes.

Nothing at all would get produced in B.C. or anywhere without citizen input. Yet people have been lulled into thinking resource-extracting corporations coming to dig up, clear-cut, frack and otherwise destroy the very earth below what is supposed to be "the best place on earth" are somehow doing us a favour by being here, when in fact they are guests abusing privileges.

So long as people in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada can be tricked into believing that we cannot do without corporate capitalist leadership in resource exploitation, the prospects for meaningful political change are limited.

Real political debate takes place around one central question: how shall we live? Watching neoliberals debate social democrats about who can best manage capitalism is a poor substitute for democratic discussion of how best to meet human needs in 21st-century Canada.

As an ideology, neoliberalism expresses the interests of the dominant, corporate class, handily identified as the one per cent. Social democracy looks to do better for the rest of us, but many of the 99 per cent remain unconvinced of the need for more robust personal or consumption tax revenue, or the benefits of expanded government services, or even more redistribution of income.

Governments may matter most to quality of life, and may be essential to protecting citizens from environmental degradation, and preventing climate crime, but can they deliver on jobs and incomes, the pocketbook issues?

The NDP showed considerable support in British Columbia with 39 per cent of the vote. Adrian Dix has the qualities to be a strong premier, and he has considerable talent for composing a cabinet. It remains that the positive campaign the NDP wanted to run had to be built on more than one step at a time. It needed an economic foundation people can believe in, and want to work to implement.

It needs to be clearly understood that only marginal benefits of corporate capitalism will accrue to the population of the province, while its citizens will assume the quasi-totality of the social, economic and environmental costs.

Working from a critique of extractive resource economics, the NDP can build a public investment, higher-wage alternative to business as usual in B.C. Nothing less than devising new ways to live will do. That is the challenge that faces the province and awaits the party while it recovers from the deception of losing an election most thought it would win.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: BlueAndWhiteArmy/flickr

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