The agonizing wait is over in British Columbia. The election is done. The corporate media won. That last overwhelming reality speaks to the biggest crisis democracy faces here and across the country: a concentrated, corporate media ruthlessly determined to smash governments that dare to even think about taking progressive initiatives.
Don't get me wrong; as the government, the provincial New Democratic Party made mistakes - too many mistakes and too big. Mega projects like the fast ferries and the Sky Train were bad policy - and handed the opposition clubs to bash the government with. Exporting raw logs was an affront to the ecology and economy. The NDP's attitude toward people on welfare smacked of the neo-liberal, deserving/undeserving poor philosophy. And former premier Glen Clark walked into his casino fiasco with his characteristic arrogance in full bloom.
After two terms in power, almost no government is deemed to "deserve" another one.
But, unlike any other NDP government facing certain defeat, this one did not go down whimpering. It didn't try to please the business class or send striking workers back to their jobs.
Instead, it ran on a platform that opposed tax cuts. It passed legislation to force the labelling of genetically modified foods. It achieved an historic agreement between all stakeholders to save the Great Bear rain forest.
When you're fed up with the mistakes and blunders, it's easy to forget that this was the only government to oppose the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) and the World Trade Organization. It also:
- increased minimum wages;
- froze and then reduced tuition fees;
- that took the strongest stand of any government in the world against tobacco companies;
- banned water exports;
- increased health and education spending;
- built three new universities and
- became the first and only jurisdiction in North America to give protection to 12 per cent of its land base.
A big part of the reason why people forgot these things had to do with the fact that every one of them was attacked relentlessly by the provinces' biggest media outlets - The Vancouver Sun, The Province and the overwhelmingly dominant CTV outlet, BCTV. For sheer ideological and partisan savagery, no other provincial media comes close. The world's only public hearings into the MAI were ridiculed - and then boycotted; tough anti-tobacco legislation was denounced on the front pages as a "tax-grab." Efforts (flawed as they were) to sign treaties with First Nations were dismissed as providing special rights to a minority.
Many people also seemed to forget that former premier Glen Clark was brought down by a political conspiracy consisting of BCTV, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Liberal Party. While Clark was guilty of stupidity, he will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. In order to create maximum damage to a government and party that B.C.'s elites are determined to bury once and for all, Clark's trial was delayed.
Is the NDP about to go the way of the old Social Credit Party? While Green Party leader Adriane Carr might hope so, the vultures aren't circling just yet.
The Green Party was not a spoiler in the same manner that Ralph Nader's Greens were accused of being in the recent American presidential election. The B.C. version of Green is a group of environmental zealots whose engagement on other issues is shallow and opportunistic at best. Carr dissed a forty-six-day strike by transit workers by suggesting that transit should be an essential service. She did the same to striking nurses, saying "enough is enough." Invited some months ago to speak on a panel about the threat of trade agreements (panellists included the NDP's Gordon Wilson, her opponent in the election) she used her entire time to denounce the NDP: not a word about trade.
The Green Party failed to get a seat, but they did help to knock off some the biggest names in the NDP by splitting the vote:
- NDP leader and first premier of colour, Ujjal Dosanjh,
- former Progressive Democratic Alliance leader Gordon Wilson,
- populist leadership contender Corky Evans,
- and Canada's first openly gay cabinet minister, Tim Stevenson.
All of them lost by margins smaller than the Green candidate's vote.
Even here, the corporate media managed to work overtime to ensure a wipe-out of the NDP - shamelessly promoting the Greens as "mainstream" and, for two weeks, suggesting that it was a toss-up which party would be the opposition (the Greens received 12 per cent to the NDP's 21 per cent). But a majority of those who consider themselves green don't support the party. David Cadman, the highly respected co-chair of the British Columbia Environmental Network, went public to make the point that the NDP had the best environmental record in the country.
The future of progressive politics in B.C. is impossible to predict, except that it will be decided largely outside the legislature. And there is no question that the NDP faces a crisis. But for those on the left outside the party, the problems of the NDP are their problems, too. They start with a corporate media that will try to trash any effort to challenge the corporate order.
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