The next BC election is set to occur in May, and the nature of our first-past-the-post system has the BC NDP in a pickle, being sandwiched from both sides by the Grits and the Greens.
Quick B.C. history lesson: from 1952 to 1972, center-right Social Credit Premier “Wacky” W.A.C. Bennett was able to split the center-left vote between the centrist Liberals and the NDP. As the Liberals shifted right at the helm of Gordon Campbell, the NDP was able to win consecutive terms despite several scandals by splitting the center-right vote between the Liberals and the declining SoCreds. However, as the SoCreds disintegrated into political oblivion, and the BC Green Party rose, the Liberals were able to split the center-left vote between the NDP and the Greens.
Such is the challenge the NDP faces.
A traditionally center-left party, the NDP faces opposition on some issues from the Greens to the left and the Liberals to the right. If they move an inch to the left, the Liberals pounce. If they move an inch to the right, the Greens pounce. If they do not move at all, risk repeating the same devastating loss that happened in 2013.
Another problem for the NDP is the rural/urban divide in B.C. The NDP seems to have gone all in on the idea of strengthening their grip on their strongholds in Vancouver, Burnaby, the Tri-Cities, and Victoria, where they hold 20 of 27 seats; meanwhile, they attempt to expand out from urban areas into Liberal-held suburban swing ridings, such as Surrey–Fleetwood, Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, Delta North, and Surrey–Tynehead, putting at risk rural swing ridings in the Interior.
This strategy has already worked—when Liberal Douglas Horne, who had won Coquitlam-Burke Mountain by 12%, ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the federal election, a by-election ensued. NDP candidate Jodie Wickens won by 8% in a nine point swing for the NDP.
One reason for their success is due to their opposition to the highly controversial Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline. The NDP is gambling that the support they gain in the Lower Mainland outweighs the support that they will lose in the interior. This could prove either costly or brilliant, depending only on the outcome of the election. But one thing is certain: they had no choice. They had to come out strong against the pipeline or risk votes leaking to the Greens.
The Liberals, on the other hand, have a choice, but seem to have no interest in expressing a strong opinion on the pipeline. They do not want to alienate any of their voters on the right, but at the same time want to milk every vote, including from more moderate Liberals or undecided voters.
After the Federal government approved the construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the BC Liberals publicly set five common sense conditions which must be met for the pipeline to be built. But privately, the BC Liberals were popping champagne bottles after the Federal government’s decision. In reality, the conditions were about as murky as our waters will be after an inevitable oil spill, and on January 11, 2017, Premier Christy Clark announced, based on nothing, that Kinder Morgan had suddenly and magically met the five conditions.
Anyone with tuppence worth of brains can tell that those conditions were intentionally vague so as to pass the pipeline through. For example, the Liberals promised consultation with BC First Nations; however, a number of First Nations groups are still vehemently opposed to the pipeline—some have even taken to the courts. Apparently for Christy Clark, “consultation” with our First Nations refers to ramming the pipeline down their throats. In addition, the City of Burnaby, its mayor, and much of the people of Burnaby also oppose the construction of the pipeline.
However, there is another big-ticket issue that could really hurt the NDP, especially in the Lower Mainland. They stand opposed to the Liberals’ popular foreign buyers tax, which levies a 15% tax on foreigners buying BC property. They argue that it doesn’t successfully tackle speculation in the housing market, but instead hits hard-working immigrants who wish to buy a home.
“They’ve done zero to address speculative investment, they are instead targeting skilled workers who want to come to British Columbia and make this a better place for all of us,” said John Horgan, the leader of the BC NDP, to applause from the NDP caucus and jeers from the Liberal benches.
The percentage of foreign buyers did indeed decline steeply immediately following the implementation of the foreign buyers tax, but they have already begun to trickle back into Vancouver. On January 6, 2017, the Globe and Mail‘s reported that “foreign citizens were involved in 4.1 per cent of all homes bought in November, up from 3 per cent the month before and more than quadruple the near-zero rate recorded in the month after the province launched the levy at the start of August.”
After 16 years of Liberal misrule in BC, can the BC NDP finally dethrone the Liberals, or will the Liberals run roughshod over BC for four more years?
Photo courtesy of the Province