2009 was a low point for working people who traditionally look to the BC NDP as their party in BC provincial politics. 2010 holds little hope for any improvement on the political front for the mass of society. At odds with the party’s rank and file, the leadership of the BC NDP continues to lurch to the right, further alienating its base and leaving little hope for an independent political alternative in defence of workers’ rights and social conditions. The handling of the campaign against the HST is one example of this.
After the debacle of the 2009 election where only 48% of British Columbians bothered to vote, the provincial NDP seemed to be facing a crisis that could only be solved by a complete overhaul of its leadership and program. The convention that followed, however, saw the leadership close its ranks. Despite attempts from the rank and file activists in the party to challenge the leadership and bureaucracy, a new president who represents small business interests was elected.
Where has this left the party? Polling numbers show increased support for the NDP; undoubtedly the party brass takes this as a validation of their turn towards the middle class, “petty bourgeois” layers of society. But this support is illusory and transient. It is based on negative sentiment towards the provincial Liberals who continue to alienate their base of support amongst small businesses, and independent contractors and professionals. The introduction of the harmonized sales tax (HST) in BC has proven to be contentious within the coalition of big and small business interests that forms the base of support for the BC Liberals. At best, businesses’ support for the NDP will only be temporary; as was shown by the NDP’s time in government during the 1990s, business in BC will never tolerate a party that is tied to the interests of BC workers. If the BC NDP leadership believes that it can consolidate this discontent with the Liberals, the logical conclusion is going to be the party abandoning its working class origins and abandoning the interests of BC workers.
In a period when the so-called “recovery” from the global economic crisis will mean sharp attacks and cutbacks, workers and youth are looking for a party that will defend their interests. That party has traditionally been the NDP. However, the BC NDP has done nothing to re- establish itself in this role. This has been particularly the case in the party’s response to the HST; rather than taking an independent stance, the NDP of Moe and Carole have decided to tail end the populist right wing demagogue, and former premier, Bill Vander Zalm.
Vander Zalm is the former leader of the BC Social Credit party, the old party of the BC bosses and declared enemy of workers, unions, and the vulnerable in society. In an effort to rehabilitate his image, Vander Zalm has opportunistically taken advantage of the anti-Campbell sentiment seething in the province by launching the anti-HST petition campaign. A tactic meant to defeat the introduction of the tax, this campaign involves a petition for a referendum on the tax. Rather than lead the way themselves, the leaders of the BC NDP have instructed party activists to jump on Vander Zalm's bandwagon. In a parody of the Stalinist tactic of the “popular front,” the leadership of the BC NDP is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the so called “progressive” representatives of the bourgeoisie.
This alliance can only end in disaster for workers, students, and even small businesses. Should the BC NDP find itself taking power in 2013, the NDP will be under incredible pressure from its bourgeois “partners” to continue the Liberals’ current program of cuts and attacks aimed at the working class. It is important to consider that we are now in a fundamentally different historical period than the recovery after the Second World War. The age of reforms is essentially over and we are now on a slippery slope to what the Economist magazine calls “pre- Bismarkian conditions of work without end.” Already, we have seen the mandatory age of retirement eliminated in this province, with little more than a squeak of opposition to it from the current labour leaders. Capitalism will pull itself out of crisis, but it will be at the expense of working people. Even the banks and the IMF believe that the recovery from the crisis will be anaemic. By tailending Bill Vander Zalm and courting “small business” support, the BC NDP is leaving workers and youth without an alternative. Capitalism is the cause of crisis; more capitalism will not solve the problems it creates.
The BC NDP must take an independent class stand if we are to avoid seeing our standard of living driven down to levels unseen in Canada since the 1930s. A question mark hangs over the party and increasingly, workers and youth are answering that question by turning away from the party. Any increased support that the BC NDP has seen over anger about the HST is temporary and conditional on the party severing its ties completely with labour. We only need to look to Britain to see what the results of Blairism have meant to the Labour Party there. Real growth must be based on a solid foundation of a program which stands in defence of labour and community interests. Workers and their allies in the province are facing a future of continued attacks, and social turmoil. A political solution is the only means by which we can prevent this, and that depends on a thorough going cleansing of the party of those elements who would rather collaborate with the bosses than stand for the workers.