Playing it forward

“The NDP gets knives out… they credit the party leader with doing a good job of rebuilding the party…but cannot take it to victory.”

“There is some perception of lack of depth which seems to hurt…”

“Discontent rumbling in NDP… some sections of the present organization has become listless and demoralized…”

It was a bad week for the NDP when it should have been a really bad week for the government.

They had just won a by-election but by a narrower margin than predicted and the knives came out almost immediately…

Wait.  Stop.  Yes, the knives are drawn in the NDP and some are saying all of the above.  But there was no by-election last week to precipitate this.  What the heck is this Reid person talking about?

Time to cop a plea to a literary device here.

The quotes are from the Winnipeg Free Press circa 1997, not the Vancouver Sun November 2010.  They come from a dark time within the Manitoba NDP, two years before four-term leader Gary Doer swept to victory in the 1999 election.

Exactly.  Gary Doer, the most successful New Democrat Premier in Canadian history went through the same kind of battle Carole James is going through now.

And like she did today, he won out.  Within two years he was Premier serving the first of his three terms in government.

Before that came to pass Doer went through his 40 days in the wilderness.  Like Carole James, Doer had brought the party back from the dead, following the collapse of the Pawley government.  Unlike BC, the Manitoba NDP was a bit more forgiving.  Doer was on his fourth try before dissent erupted.

Here’s what Doer said about his critics in 1997:  “All of us as New Democrats share the same objective, which is to defeat the Conservatives.  Some, the clear majority, want to go with someone who has improved the party’s fortunes in every election and brought it back from oblivious to being the alternative… in seven years.  And some, a small minority, want to go with someone else who they believe might improve our fortunes even more.  But they don’t know who that is.”

It’s a perfect description of where the BC NDP is at today.

The Manitoba party chose to put down the knives, back the leader and go to work opposing the Conservatives and proposing change that Manitobans could get behind.  They were in worse shape when they chose that course than the BC NDP is in now.

In 1999, the Manitoba NDP was behind the governing Conservatives and Doer was far behind the Tory leader, Gary Filmon.  But they exploited the government’s problems, moved to the centre and sometime in the middle of the ‘99 campaign moved ahead.  They maintained that lead through all three of Doer’s terms as Premier.

James is better positioned today, than Doer was in 1997.  She’s a better speaker.  She’s a great campaigner.  The Liberal brand is badly damaged and they can’t attract an outsider of any caliber.  They’ll be stuck with someone tightly tied to the Campbell record.

And then there’s the record.  The Liberals still have the legacy of the HST hanging around their necks.  They have BC Rail, privatization and an unworkable re-org of government ministries.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  No opposition in Canada has more to work with.

The main thing James has going against her is any sign of disunity within the party.   If the caucus and the party can rise to her challenge today she will be BC’s next Premier.

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11 Responses to Playing it forward

  1. BC Mary says:

    Nice way of looking at things, Ian.

    I hope you’re right … and I hope Ms James gets on with the campaign to take over the BC Government. The current administration is scaring me more, each passing day.


  2. Norm Farrell says:

    Indeed, this is a critical time for the NDP. The dissidents must decide if they can be part of their current political family, depart or be ejected. The price of staying is full cooperation with colleagues and the leader backed by the majority. Thirteen caucus members are signaling their roles as dissidents. For some, leaving is probably the appropriate choice. Those scowling and blank faces shown in scrums and televised meetings are the faces of disloyal politicians. Those who don’t get on board with their larger group of colleagues should be given a sharp boot. Nicolas Simon, Katrine Conroy and Jenny Kwan, from their demeanor, are candidates for that treatment.

    I said it is a critical time for the NDP but, more importantly, it is a critical time for British Columbia. Those of us who believe the BC Liberals have committed massive errors that will penalize future generations, want to see a change in government and an effective opposition that will focus on honest conduct of the people’s business. Politicians that selfishly focus on their personal ambitions or discordant philosophies deserve to go home and collect the generous pensions they voted themselves.

  3. Sue says:

    The big challenge for James will be to address and resolve the issues – including the lack of a coherent policy program and other issues of style and approach – that are causing dissent within her caucus, and disinterest within the membership and (to some extent) the electorate, so that she can actually win in 2013. She needs to do this at the same time the Liberals have the chance to turn a new page in their leadership.

    Right now, James shows no signs of addressing what lies beneath, at her peril.

  4. Sarah B says:

    Wow. Great context Ian. Good research. There is all sorts of talk about kicking the dissenters out. That’s not the NDP way and I hope that’s not Carole’s way. They had the right to act the way they did, as dumb as it was politically (though no one ever accused Jenny Kwan of being smart). It is, instead, for the dissenters to decide if they can now get behind their leader and their party (85% of whose members disagree with the dissenters). If they can’t, they should renounce their memberships. If they continue to foment dissent, so obviously against the will of their party, Carole will then have every reason to move against them.

  5. Robert says:

    I have held my nose and voted NDP the last 2 elections. Not because of the leader of the NDP (who I feel has been too wishy washy and never stood firm) but because I destest the Liar in power. I will now park my vote where it is most favorable to me.

  6. Norm Farrell says:

    Sue, the question remains as to where the coherence is breaking down. Is it in the leader’s vision or does it appear because one-third of her caucus has a different agenda and, whether consciously or unconsciously, distorts or loses the message. For example, I think the NDP critic on Finance has done a credible and sincere job. However, the Attorney-General’s critic has never thrown hardballs.

    In fact, at times, he has seemed disinterested in the game, despite the low hanging fruit. Now it turns out that Leonard Krog is one of the caucus dissidents. Here is a short extract from an April column of Vaughn Palmer:

    “With the legal proceedings arising out of the raid on the legislature finally scheduled to go to trial next month, the public should hope to learn more about the sale of B.C. Rail and not be concerned about the recent ban on publication issued by the judge.

    “So says Leonard Krog, New Democratic Party critic for the attorney-general’s ministry and himself a lawyer.”

    The easiest way to make a good leader appear ineffective is to have a dedicated rump working on separate goals.

    However, I admit to knowing little about goings-on in private offices. I can only judge by observing. James appears to have a consistent set of objectives but her volume is too low. Then again, she is working against a media dedicated to making her look second rate. Don’t underestimate the power of propaganda. Not only does the MSM aim to distort the message but PAB and the entire public apparatus works for the government, along with the very well funded business lobby.

    When it comes to political messaging in this province, you can think of similarities in another place and time when the plutocracy relied on Pravda, Izvestia and Radio Moscow.

  7. Kevin says:

    Ian, astute analysis as always from the inside with an ear to the ground.

    While James performed the best I have seen in her presser prior to the gang giving her the big group hug in Victoria I cannot help but think the confident declaration of an end to the in fighting is going to come back and bite you all in the ass. I understand that was not Caroles message as she obviously cracked the unity whip and the MSM spun that into her declaration to the end of infighting but the obvious contradiction is going to be the story for some time to come.

    The amateur hour of the dissident performance only serves the storyline and if in fact Gregor and company are behind the long knives as Lana’s involvement suggests (those guys sure been quite since the election eh?) then the party is split 6 ways to sunday and the implosion I would think inevitable. From this vantage point an earlier leadership review and moved up convention would have allowed better opportunity to frame things as they have through PC this weekend. Unfortunately everybody knows those meetings are largely irrelevant to what others usually understand as reality and the example is Gordo’s 84 % support on the eve of his resignation while polling in the single digits.

    The bottom line Ian? Is that the dissidents are not going away and either you boot them and manage them into the ground or you deal with a number of different parties on the ballot. I know we like to split the right and usually have to in order to win but that is not what has evolved here and Carole Taylor will keep Gordos coalition alive.

    Doer Dexter Doomed?
    By the way didn’t Dexter introduce the HST?

  8. Politic Humane says:

    Being a former Manitoban who grew up during their opposition years, I witnessed first hand many of the same criticism about Doer that people are now throwing onto Carole James. We can learn a lot from the NDP in Manitoba about how to win government, but we also need to think about their record in power and the lessons to be learned from that.

    Under Doer, the NDP in Manitoba were very good at winning elections, but when Gary stepped down he was asked what his legacy was. He said that it was the Bipole. Yes, a power line!? This is not the legacy that one would have envisioned or hoped for when the NDP first came to power. As New Democrats we want to leave a legacy that benefits people in much deeper ways. Of course MB New Democrats would have rather had him in power than the conservatives, and they did some good things, but not as much as they would have liked and now they are down in the polls and it could all be erased over night.

    Doer made a conscious shift to the centre to gain support and to block out the Manitoba Liberals who were gaining ground. This was the reality in a political environment that is nothing like the one here in BC. I think some of the dissenters here in BC have done so because they feel that all the party talk about reaching out to business has them scarred that we are moving to the ‘centre’, that we, like the Manitoba NDP, will forgo our values in order to gain power. I think this is the key issue that needs to be illuminated.

    I think Carole wants to build a holistic party, rather than one that shifts values in order to gain political support. If she could lay down some policy that illustrates this it would help bring some of these dissenters back into the fold. The NPD has stood up countless times on minimum wage and child poverty, or on poverty reduction. She should just lay down this policy and put it on the public record. These are principles that we stand for and so they should be committed to. This would give a measure of accountability to the values of the party and it would help calm criticisms by the likes of Bob Simpson and his supporters. Also, with the Liberal leadership race going on it might just be a good time to illustrate the differences between the Liberals and the New Democrats.

    This period will be the true test of Carole’s leadership and if she can pull it off the party will come out of it stronger than ever and ready to govern in 2013.

  9. JayZee says:

    Lana Popham has posted a quote from To Kill A Mockingbird on the need to follow one’s personal conscience despite the rules of the majority. If any of the unlucky 13 are thinking Atticus Finch would have done the same in their shoes, they deserve the slagging they got from Vaughan Palmer in his blog … and worse

  10. Donald McDonald says:

    I knew Gary Doer – and Carole James is no Gary Doer. Plus Gary had it easy compared to Carole – there are far more extreme far-left nutjobs in this province that Carole will have to placate that Gary never had to deal with. As well, the government unions have way way more power and influence here which is always an economy killer when ever the NDP get into power – the unions take over all government projects and suck all the money out of them without ever finishing them. Costs spiral out of control. Gary also benefited from all of that cheap Manitoba Hydro power, BC needs to invest and grow it’s power infrastructure, and you think the BCGEU is ever going to let that happen? Good luck. Nope – Carole is no Gary Doer, but it won’t be totally her fault.

  11. Donald McDonald says:

    I do find it interesting that the NDP “stands up for poverty reduction” given their policies in the 1990’s were the cause of most of the poverty. It is kind of a self-perpetuating business model though.

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