Gordon Campbell, one of the most hated premiers in British Columbia’s history, has won a third term in office. His government is surrounded by the BC Rail scandal, to which Campbell can only say, “I cannot comment because the matter is before the courts”. He was actually caught and convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol in his first term. His attacks against the public sector have repeatedly brought the province to the brink of a general strike. He has frozen the minimum wage for eight years and sold off BC’s rivers to the highest bidder. Under Campbell’s government, BC Ferries have slashed services and jacked up prices. He closed 300 schools and did nothing while BC’s child poverty rate slipped to the worst in the country. The economy is in free-fall and tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs under his watch. Clearly, Gordon Campbell cannot be given credit for his election victory. No; the responsibility for this defeat lies squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the BC NDP.
While the final numbers in the legislature are about the same, the NDP lost over 80,000 votes compared to the 2005 election. It is very clear what happened. The NDP platform did not give working class people anything to vote for. The bureaucracy relied on the electorate to vote against Campbell and did not offer a real alternative. The endless compromises and concessions emanating from the BC NDP provincial office have taken their toll.
Just days before the election we wrote:
“…Party strategists fear turning off “middle of the road” voters but as Trotsky pointed out, if you stand in the middle of the road you will be hit by traffic from both directions. Rather than winning liberal votes, the NDP leadership is turning off their own supporters. They have also proven themselves completely incapable of inspiring the mass of the working class that normally doesn’t bother voting.”
Unfortunately this perspective was proven correct. While all of the pundits, politicos, and Elections BC officials were predicting a high voter turn out, only Fightback understood the actual process at work. The 2009 election did set a record - for the lowest voter turnout in history! Just 48% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. More and more people are feeling like they do not have a voice in BC politics. None of the parties had anything to offer the average working class person. As a result, the majority stayed home. This is what sealed the defeat for the NDP.
A Question of Leadership
After spending a week to consider her options, Carole James has announced that she intends to stay on as leader of the party through the next election in 2013. This comes as a surprise to many in the general public. Radio polls have shown as many as 70% believe she should resign. Ultimately, the leader must take responsibility for this defeat.
Carole was quick to show that she has learned nothing from this pathetic performance. She continued her same tired line about wanting to end the polarization of politics in BC. Completely unaware that this polarization reflects real class interests, James continued, “It’s an issue of doing politics differently… Until you see labour and business and seniors and young people at that table, we haven’t grown up as a province.”
Carole James and the other reformist leaders in the party live in a magical land where the capitalists and workers can live happily together. They just need to learn to cooperate and share so they can get over their little differences and work together as a team. It is incredible that anyone could maintain this view of the world in the present economic crisis. And these people have the audacity to call us utopians!
To the Left!
It is becoming increasingly clear to all, that if the NDP wants to actually win an election, they need to do something very different. The majority of people did not vote in this election. Young people in particular are the least likely to cast a ballot. And what is even more telling, is that the more money you make, the more likely you are to vote! It is all very clear. Those are NDP votes that are staying home. Those who are the most abused and oppressed by capitalism are the least likely to vote. And why would they? When you work 40 or 50 hours a week, time is precious. Why would you waste an hour going to the polls, when you could spend that hour with your family? The oppressed layers of society will not come out, unless they know that their vote will mean something. The NDP needs to adopt bold socialist policies that will make a difference in people’s lives. That is their only hope of forming government.
Political columnist and well-known NDP supporter Bill Tieleman seems to understand the problem. He said, "If Carole James wants to talk to business councils and chambers of commerce about how she can get along with business, NDP voters traditionally will stay home. And that's what's happened the last four years." Tieleman is not alone in this view. There are increasing calls for a shift to the left from both inside and outside the party. University of Victoria political ccientist Dennis Pilon pointed out that, "The people who are missing are people who probably would have voted NDP."
Pilon argues that the NDP would be better off with a more class-based political platform. They need a program that speaks directly to the mass of the working class who are feeling the pinch of the recession. In his opinion the NDP’s message should be, "You're getting screwed and you're getting screwed because business runs everything."
Class Struggle on the Horizon
Now that the election is out of the way, Gordon Campbell can get on to more pressing issues, like pushing down wages and living standards for the province’s workers. We have yet to see what the response of the Liberal government will be to the economic crisis. One way or another he will be forced to attack the working class, the only question is the timing.
The Liberals probably prefer to wait until after the 2010 Olympics for wholesale cuts, but the economic situation may not allow it. The ruling class is worried that the Olympics could become a flashpoint for the most oppressed layers of society. One can’t help but notice the fact that the government is spending billions and billions of dollars on a two week party, while the working class is getting squeezed. It is difficult to walk down a street in east Vancouver without seeing the words “Riot 2010” spray painted on a building or a garbage can or a mail box. Regardless of how the government behaves between then and now, there will be large scale protests during the Olympics. There will almost certainly be violent confrontations between anarchist groups and the thousands of police and military troops being brought into the city for the event.
But the Olympic demonstrations may just be a warm up for the wider working class. In the spring of 2010, most of the public sector contracts are up for renegotiation. The last round of bargaining saw the Campbell government buy class-peace with long-term contracts. The years of mass mobilizations before nearly brought the province to a general strike and the government was not eager to repeat them. But now, the situation is markedly different. We are heading into the worst recession most of us have ever seen. Buying class-peace is not an option. The ruling class is preparing for war.
The next few years will be turbulent ones in British Columbia. With the working class heading in one direction, and their leaders heading the other, there will almost certainly be a clash. Carole James may not succeed in her attempt to push the party farther to the right. The left in the party must be prepared for this struggle. We socialists are used to fighting the bosses, but we also must be ready to fight to make sure our leaders are on the same page. Carole James clearly is not. Denis Pilon quite correctly points out “This is the woman who has done more to separate the party from its historic ties to unions. She’s talking about cozying up to business. There’s no socialism here.”