Fed up with NDP, lefty BC voters have wandering eyes
victoria — the anger directed atthe New Democrats during this election campaign is nowhere to be found at tonight’s rally, but an invisible cloud still hangs overhead. The overwhelming victory on May 16 of the misnamed BC Liberals, a loose coalition of federal Alliance supporters and the recycled remnants of Social Credit, is certain.
“If dramatic tax cuts for corporations are what matter to you, then Mr. Campbell is your best choice. But if compassion, equality, fairness and justice matter to you, we are your best choice,” Dosanjh tells the crowd.
Day after day, the premier has been hammering this point, reminding voters of NDP gems that the BC Liberals will ditch: comprehensive child care, pay equity legislation, the five-year tuition fee freeze and public utilities. Boring, say BC’s trend-setting pundits, who are always more interested in the horse race and in what pollster Conrad Winn characterizes as “hatred for the NDP.”
Why the hatred? While Alberta was awash in oil revenues, BC’s export-based resource economy suffered from the Asian flu in the mid-90s. Two recent budget surpluses after successive deficits have done little to restore the NDP’s credibility as fiscal managers. The fast ferries debacle, a government megaproject to revive the ship-building industry that sank in a sea of red ink, hasn’t helped.
Since day one of the election, media giants have been talking up the Green party, home to a small crew of the greenest on the very green West Coast.
Imagine, they mused, if BC’s highly polarized two-party system of free enterprisers versus social democrats were blown open. Hyperbole aside, voters of all political stripes feel unparalleled anger toward the New Democrats. It would be hard enough for any party facing the electorate after a decade in power. “British Columbia is the heartland of protest politics, and the NDP is the party of government,” says political historian David Mitchell of Simon Fraser University.
This is the vibe Victoria NDP city councillor Rob Fleming is getting on the doorsteps of some lefties of his generation. “If you’re 20 years old and voting in your first election, you might think the NDP is an establishment party.”
Add the disastrous financial management of megaprojects under former premier Glen Clark and lefty voters’ aversion to power, since it inevitably means compromise, and the result is toxic. “It’s the paradox of power. After 10 years of very activist government, gradually you displease your core constituents. This has caught up with the NDP,” says Mitchell.
Enter the Green party. Founded in 1983, North America’s first Green party has always attracted disaffected New Democrats pissed off that the orange team never went far or fast enough on the eco issues. The NDP always has to find a tricky balance in a coalition that brings together two powerful West Coast voting blocs — forestry workers and anti-logging environmentalists.
The core of the Green party remains hard-line environmentalists, but in recent years it has welcomed social activists dismayed that the NDP hasn’t done more for the poor. Others flocked to the Greens when the credibility gap during Clark’s reign became too wide.
Green party leader Adrienne Carr, a political lightweight, says she’s ready to make history by leading North America’s first Green opposition. New Democrats say the Greens can’t do anything but take enough votes in a dozen key ridings to make sure the legislature is without a progressive voice, guaranteeing a left-wing wipeout.
If Dale Hofmann and Louise Blight are any indication, this doomsday scenario is possible. Hofmann, a former New Democrat, is running under the Green banner in an East Vancouver riding, one of the few seats the NDP is favoured to win — if the Greens don’t peel off enough votes to let the right-wing candidate slip up the middle.
Hofmann is no more an environmentalist than a logger, but the anti-poverty activist makes it sound like the NDP in BC has governed like Mike Harris. (In fact, though, imagine increased health and education spending for 10 years straight, the highest minimum wage in the country, social housing expansion, a universal child care program, a reduction in tuition fees and the best eco record in North America.)
“There’s nothing you could do that’s worse,” says Hofmann loftily. “The only people responsible for splitting the vote are the NDP.”
Blight just shakes her head at such rhetoric. The former Greenpeace staffer and ardent environmentalist is working hard to keep Victoria for the New Democrats. She says a Green vote is a vote for the very brown BC Liberals. “If you’re thinking politically, you have to support the New Democrats. Their record on the environment is very good, and as environmentalists we have to think strategically about how we vote.”
Victoria’s Art Vanden Berg, the first — and only — city councillor elected under the Green banner in British Columbia, is less charitable when he talks about the party he left in January, just 14 months after he was elected. “They’re extremely narrow. It’s the equivalent of Stockwell Day and his relationship with Christianity.”
Vanden Berg thinks the usually vicious press corps is treating the Green party with kid gloves. “They’re pumping up the Greens to wipe out the NDP. They finally see the chance to tear the “socialists’ down to nothing.”
If that’s true, Carr doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she uses the right’s message to attack the NDP, repeatedly talking about a “credible” and “principled” opposition. “They’re looking for a new political home, a principled alternative,” Carr says of progressive voters. “Every party has to start from somewhere and move up from zero.”
Or ensure a progressive shutout. Pollster Winn says the Green numbers are “soft” and the party “doesn’t have the ability to deliver them.” Mitchell, a respected political analyst, says the best the Green party can hope for is one seat. We’ll soon see where the progressives park their votes.
Number of NDP provincial and
territorial governments: 3 (BC,
Saskatchewan and Manitoba)
Number of Liberal governments: 2
(Newfoundland and the Yukon)
Number of PC governments: 5
Number of provinces and territories
that have had NDP governments: 5
(Ontario, BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba,
Ontario and the Yukon)