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Eby and Heyman offer answers to NDP heartbreak

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Like you, I'm gutted.

I'm devastated that this province can look forward to four more years of unfettered neoliberal policies. This election result is a disaster for labour, for students, for teachers, for the environment, for First Nations rights, for poverty and for affordable housing.

There are already rumblings of what went wrong: vote splitting, the success of negative campaigning, the lack of killer instinct by Dix and his party.

But of course, these are all vagaries -- what does it mean to be a "street fighter" in politics anyway? Grow a beard? Fortunately, traumatized dippers can look at two specific auguries while running their hands through the entrails of last night's vote that will shed light on what went wrong. Last night witnessed two monumentally impressive successes in a night of failure and defeat: the key riding wins of David Eby and George Heyman.

First, Eby has called his campaign a referendum against Christy Clark's leadership. If that's true, and she lost her seat, then all the negative campaigning in the world shouldn't have made a difference. True, Point Grey is not representative of the province as a whole, but it does indicate that the electorate harbours serious questions over Clark's record and leadership. Combine this with the 20-point lead Dix enjoyed only a few weeks ago and it's clear that Clark didn't win this election, Dix lost it.

Why? Unlike Dix, Eby's campaign was clear on the environment from day one: no to pipelines, no to tankers, yes to funded public transit. He also ran a grassroots campaign: talking to students, unions, environmental groups and residents -- any way people opted to organize themselves, he listened. He had no choice but to run under the vague umbrella grandiloquence of the party -- some nebulous notion of "change for the better." Better what? -- but also met people door-to-door with issues they cared about and developed the priorities they wanted actualized. Of course, Eby himself is a grassroots advocate with a long history of working with residents in the Downtown Eastside and social justice activists. It's especially notable that Clark, who ran on a similarly vague notion of a "strong economy" lost her seat in the second-wealthiest riding in the province.

The new NDP MLA from Vancouver-Fairview, George Heyman, boasts an even stronger environmental pedigree as former Chief Executive of the Sierra Club B.C. While many pundits are talking about the votes the NDP leaked to the Green party, Heyman not only fought off a strong Green candidate, he beat popular incumbent Margaret MacDiarmid. His campaign was endorsed by high profile environmentalists who refused the NDP party as a whole the same privilege. As former president of the BCGEU, he didn't hide his labour connections but exploited them to get his vote out. He also defeated NDP-insider Geoff Meggs in the candidate nomination battle based on his ability to bring new members to the party.

What neither winning candidate did was present himself as part of the party of management: practical, competent and a Very Serious Politician. They took nothing for granted and mobilized their people to get the vote out -- who were in turn motivated by grassroots organizing and actual policies that resonate with British Columbians.

It's the same dynamic that saw the NDP increase their riding count in metro Vancouver, but lose almost everywhere else. Why would a citizen of Prince George vote for "practical change" when they can get the real faux-corporate talk from the Liberals or So-Creds they've voted for all their life? If the NDP wants to form government, they need to stop relying the belief that the Liberals will simply play themselves out of power in British Columbia and find their nerve. Offer clear policies which promise change in and of themselves by addressing the concrete needs of British Columbians; not vague promises that someday, things will be better.

Otherwise, progressives in this province better get used to disappointment.

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