It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. After 12 years of BC Liberal rule, the scandal-plagued right-wing government was set to take a beating. The NDP entered this race with a 20-point lead in the polls; they were unstoppable! Adrian Dix has been the most heavily lobbied politician in Canada for the last several months. Why? Because he was the next premier of British Columbia, and everyone knew it. But that’s not what happened on election night. Instead, it was the NDP that took a beating, actually losing seats and strengthening the Liberal majority. Amidst the stunned NDP activists at the “victory party”, one question was written across the face of everyone in the room — “How could this happen?”
Among the leading layers of the party, an idea has come to the fore that has been percolating within the NDP since Tony Blair managed to get hold of the British Labour Party — “In order to win an election, we must moderate our positions to win over the undecided voters at the centre of the political spectrum.” In recent years this idea has become gospel within the inner circles of the NDP, despite the many examples to the contrary. This idea of pushing to the right in hopes of coming up the middle has led to defeat after defeat for the NDP. But the sheer magnitude of this defeat must force every honest NDP member to some serious soul-searching.
Adrian Dix and his back-room strategist Brian Topp certainly did push the party to the right; the election platform was arguably the most right-wing platform ever put out by the BC NDP. Many of the party’s long time promises were completely absent — no mention of childcare, no mention of reducing tuition, no mention of improving public services. Other key tenets of the party platform were terribly watered down; banning raw log exports became a reduction of raw log exports. Ending child poverty became a reduction in child poverty. Dix even went so far as calling for the privatization of BC Place Stadium, something that even the Liberals opposed! On and on it went.
Dix thought he could show the province that he wasn’t a big-bad-scary-socialist after all, but instead a pragmatic, practical manager of the capitalist system. Of course, the ruling class in British Columbia is not going to be fooled by such nonsense. They lined up behind the BC Liberals and launched an unprecedented assault against the NDP in the form of attack ads. Dix’s equivocating did not win over anybody. Instead, the message that the poorest layers of society got, was that a vote for the NDP or the Liberals, or anyone for that matter, wasn’t going to make a big difference. And so they stayed home. Only 48% of registered voters cast a ballot.
To make matters worse, the BC Liberals sprinkled their campaign with right-wing populism, promising jobs, jobs, jobs, and even suggesting there could be a dividend paid to British Columbians for the expansion of the natural gas industry. They talked about a “debt-free BC”, lying through their teeth every step of the way.
This election had the lowest voter turnout in BC history, with less than half of registered voters casting ballots. It can be guaranteed that those who stayed home on Election Day were overwhelmingly from the poorest and most marginalized layers of society, precisely those who could vote NDP. But, why would they?
Is a corrupt government in and of itself going to motivate people to go out and vote? Not a chance. As far as most British Columbians are concerned, corruption and mismanagement in government is just par for the course. Nobody really expects the government to be on their side. Nobody really expects the government to be acting in anything other than their own interest. The real failure of the NDP in this election was a failure to show that an NDP government would provide anything different for workers and youth in BC. This strategy of standing in the middle of the road has once again proven a complete disaster.
Why would your average working class Joe bother to get off his couch after a long day at work, to go stand in line and vote in an election that would have no obvious impact on his life? Can you expect a busy single mother to round up the kids and take them to the polling station so she can cast a ballot for this campaign? Of course not. If the NDP had campaigned on their policy of introducing a public childcare program similar to Quebec’s seven-dollar-a-day daycare, you could guarantee that almost every one of them would be there to vote.
It is an ironic point that the BC bosses have much better class instincts than the NDP leadership. The richest layers of society knew exactly what was at stake in this election. One of the few points in the NDP platform directly targeted them with a promise to increase taxes on those earning more than $150,000 per year. Now, if this money had been earmarked for expansion of social programs it may have served to motivate some of the poorest half of the province to vote. Unfortunately it was simply earmarked for debt reduction, and so only served the purpose of enraging the province’s richest and most powerful people. They launched a vicious smear campaign against Adrian Dix. A well-funded campaign of vicious attack ads bombarded British Columbia. The ruling class did not fear Dix; what they feared was the pressure that the party leadership could come under from the party’s rank-and-file — the working class of British Columbia.
In the coming weeks, we are likely to hear the Blairite elements of the party speaking about the negative campaign the BC Liberals ran. They will say that the mistake was to let these attacks go unanswered, to refuse to go on the offensive. They will say that Dix’s idea of running a campaign from the high ground was a mistake. There is something to this, but there is much more to the situation than this. Such a half-hearted explanation will not suffice to explain the broader processes at work within society.
People don’t cheer for political parties like they do for sports teams. Most people cast their ballot for who they believe will best advance the interests of themselves, their families, and their communities. It is really this simple. Though some will hold their nose and cast a ballot for the least offensive party, the majority will stay home and in any event, being the least offensive party is nothing to strive for.
So now, with the election over and another four years of BC Liberal rule ahead of us, the struggle must turn to the streets and the picket lines. Christy Clark will likely go on the offensive against the labour movement. We have to be aware, that Clark winning an election does not mean that she has the support of the majority of British Columbia. On the contrary; the BC Liberals received just 723,618 votes from a total population of 4,400,000 people in BC. This election underlines the weakness of the political system in BC and the general crisis of bourgeois politics. Tumultuous times lay ahead for BC and the NDP must begin to reflect the needs and demands of the struggles to come.