Take Back the Party!

Notice of Public Meeting to Discuss the Future of the BC NDP

Tuesday, July 7
YWCA Hotel (733 Beatty St.)

Panelists include:

  • Tim Louis (local activist, former COPE councilor)
  • Mike Palacek (Recording Secretary, CUPW Local 846 (Vancouver), Fightback editorial board member)

The BC NDP offered little to go out and vote for in the last election. As a result, voters stayed home and Gordon Campbell and the Liberals took power. Again.

Where was the voice of BC's working and marginalized people? Where was the party that represented our interests? As we begin another four years of cuts and service reductions, it's time for our voice to be heard.

The NDP is the party built by labour, and the toiling and marginalized masses in Canada to represent their interests.  This is especially true in British Columbia where the party has held power several times over the past decades.  Each time they have been brought to power by the working people of this province.  The process taking the party towards the center, and away from its traditional base, is not new.  Few can forget the days of infamy in which Mike Harcourt, then leader of the NDP and premier of the province lashed out against, "welfare cheats, deadbeats and varmints", used armed force to crack down on First Nations at Gustafsen Lake, and arrested over 1000 environmental activists at Clayoquot sound. Or in 2000 when Dosanjh, Harcourt's former attorney general during the Gustafsen Lake siege, used back to work legislation to force approximately 20,000 CUPE workers off the picket line.

These are reflections of a process in which the NDP has methodically alienated those who it should be representing.  With the last election it became painfully clear that the traditional base of the party refused to support the NDP at the polls.  With a victory through mass voter abstention big business' best friend, and the provinces most hated premier, Gordon Campbell, was handed a 3rd term.

Calling all concerned individuals and organizations to come together in an open forum to discuss the future of political representation for working and marginalized people in British Columbia.

Mike Palecek, one of the speakers for tonight, was recently interviewed on CFAX (AM 1070) and his interview can be heard at

As part of this discussion, we are publishing a short history of the BC NDP and its role in BC politics, written by Fightback contributor Kevin Bell.

BC NDP – Socialist ideas the only way forward.

Historically the NDP in British Columbia has been the political voice of labour.  Times have changed for the party over the decades.  Long gone are the days when its leaders gave voice to Socialist ideas.  As Trotsky said a reformist party is a party with a short memory. Mass voter abstention characterized 2009 general election, with only 48% of elligible voters even bothering to cast a ballot. We are now at a point where the party has zig zagged so far to the right that the leadership has managed to alienate it's traditional base.

In the midst of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930's the NDP leadership stood on its most conciliatory and equivocal program in history. The question now facing us is not just how to take the party back, but how to build the party and re-found it based on traditional working class values while learning from the mistakes of the past.

The working class origins of the BC wing of the NDP  are clear.  Traced back to a coalition of Socialist Party of Canada (BC) and the League for Social Reconstruction, plus others, in 1933 the party was founded as the Provincial section of the national Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.  In 1961 the party changed its name in line with the national CCF, as it merged with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party.

As a classic party of reformist Social Democracy, revolutionary politics have never been on the agenda for the CCF/ NDP.  However for a significant period the party did hold Socialist ideals, and managed to capture the imagination and loyalty of the working people in this Province.  Within the context of the explosive class struggles of the 1930's and 40's it proved an effective tool for workers to assert themselves politically. 

In 1941 the Bourgeois Liberal and Conservative parties were forced into a coalition to prevent a CCF electoral victory. In 1951 this coalition fell apart and a desperate attempt at electoral reform was launched in order to preserve the dominance of the Bourgeois parties. This was a costly mistake and led to the decimation  of both the Liberal and the Conservative parties in the 1952 election.

Incidentally, this electoral reform, known as the “Alternative vote” is essentially the same system as was voted on (and defeated) in a parallel referendum on the “Single Transferrable Vote” during the 2009 Provincial election.  Also known as “Instant- runoff voting,” voters put forward a second choice on their ballot.  Those candidates with fewest first choice votes are eliminated and those votes transferred to the second choice candidate.

“Alternative voting” led to a victory for a new party called the Social Credit League.  A party which combined elements of populism and conservative religious ideology, Social Credit represented the interests of small business, agricultural and ranching.  While decidedly capitalistic it also stood for state intervention through rationalizations and infrastructure spending.  In the 1952 election, with the Liberal and Conservative parties in disarray the SoCreds won by one vote over the CCF.

Almost immediately this government fell on a motion of non confidence. The CCF made a bid to form government. The Liberals, with solid class instincts, refused to support them. The Bourgeois instead  flocked to the only viable alternative.  In the 1953 election the Social Credit party won a majority government.  The Liberals and Conservatives were reduced to fringe parties, a status which the Conservatives hold to this day.

The leader of the SoCreds, W.A.C. “Wacky” Bennett (related to the infamous  “Iron Heel” Bennett, Canada's reactionary Prime Minister during the 1930's) managed to successfully defend Bourgeois class interests against the CCF throughout the Cold War era of the 1950's and 60's with characterizing them as the “Socialist hordes” threatening a “red menace” at the gates.

The CCF, now the NDP,  first won an election in the province in 1972 under the leadership of Dave Barrett.  For the first time the “socialist hordes” held power.  Introducing many reforms in a short period of time Barrett's NDP overwhelmed BC politics with a lightning storm of legislative activity,  however all was not rosy.  At the same time that some lasting reforms were introduced, the BC NDP also slashed funding to universities.

In 1975 Barrett called a snap election, and lost, as the party bore responsibility for decades of shady accounting by previous SoCred governments which revealed the Province to be deeply in debt.  Bill Bennett, son of “Wacky” Bennett and a hardware store owner from the interior, won a majority government.  After a mere 3 years in power the NDP lost its position.  Despite a peak in popular support in 1979 it would not hold government again until 1991.

As the post war boom turned to slump in the mid 1970's restraint became the priority for the Bourgeoisie.  Post war reforms were subjected to attacks in the form of privatization and service reductions.  A non-competitive market for BC's raw materials meant that unemployment began to rise.  After winning a reduced majority in the 1983 election Bennett's government opened a savage attack on the working class and vulnerable people in the form of a anti- labour and anti- social budgetary package.  This became the spark for mass movement in the province, known as Operation Solidarity.

Throughout the 1990's the NDP continued to veer to the right under the leadership of Mike Harcourt.  Representing a decisive break with traditional working class values, Harcourt famously announced to the the Vancouver Board of Trade that the party leadership was “renouncing the redistribution of wealth and now stood for the creation of wealth.”

Winning the provincial election of 1991 with only 41% of the popular vote Harcourt capitalized on the split in the Bourgeois vote.  The scandal ridden SoCreds saw a significant portion of their support swing over to the resurgent Liberal party under Gordon Wilson.  The right wing vote split, Harcourt walked right down the middle to open an infamous period for the BC NDP which it continues to try and live down to this day. 

Despite a moderate program in the first two years of power, 1993 saw Harcourt's NDP open vicious attacks on precisely the people which the NDP should be courting.  Alienating the province's anti- poverty activists through draconian welfare reform and callous rhetoric; Harcourt also deployed armed force to smash environmental and First Nations protesters during the Clayquot sound protests; and during the Ts' Peten (Gustafsen Lake) siege.

While the NDP has existed as the party nominally representing the working people of the province, they have always struggled to broaden this base.  Important this is, it is not a thing which can be achieved without recognizing the ultimate inability of Capitalist interests to provide for solutions to the contradictions faced by not only the working class, but also the, environmentalists, First Nations activists, anti- poverty activists and even struggling small business owners.  In the urge to represent “ordinary British Columbians” on an unprincipled basis, the NDP has now found itself representing precisely no- one.

Currently the NDP is little more than a shambling bureaucracy leading nothing but itself.  Those who historically have turned to the party to stave off the attacks of capitalism this time chose to stay home.  We must win back the ranks of workers to the party, and  build bridges to the rank and file activists fighting against environmental destruction, the rights of First Nations people, and against poverty.  To achieve this only a clear, consistent and class loyal program is required.  A program which opens a debate inside the party which can re-found it based on firm Socialist principles.

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