Ray McCarthy – the husband of the welfare minister Grace McCarthy – was on our phone, working a real estate deal. And he was screwing up the ribbon cutting for our new sheltered workshop serving mental health clients in the downtown area. We needed a good opening shot for the workshop. McCarthy and his wife, the minister responsible, could have cared less what we needed that day.
I ran that sheltered workshop. It was my first job in mental health and in hindsight it was just another measly half measure that didn’t put the tiniest dent into Vancouver’s emerging mental health crisis.
But what I took away from that ribbon cutting day 35 years ago was that these people, these hurt and sick people, meant little to the government responsible for their care.
‘These people” meant more to me. My mother was one of them. She lived in poverty in sub-standard rooms suffering from over-treated and under-treated depression for most of her life, until she took it two years later in 1980.
The health care system that confronted my mother did nothing to help her. Worse, the government and its cuts and priorities harmed her and everyone in the same boat. Changing that meant changing where I spent my time and energies.
But I didn’t want to just talk about it. I got involved in politics to do something, to make sure mental health services began to meet needs and were funded, not just talked about.
That’s one view of what the BC NDP needs to be. There are others.
For example, I’ve just finished reading an email from Corky Evans posted on Mark Lieren-Young’s blog. Evans believes we’ve lost our way and the evidence is that we are no longer a movement but now an institution. As he says, “ The only way I can think of to describe our problem is to say the Movement that we were has become the Institution that we are.”
Evans doesn’t send me his emails. But I see myself sprinkled throughout this one, from my run as Director of Polling and Outreach for the Premier’s office in the nineties as well as my spell serving Carole James, first as Director of Policy and then as her Chief of Staff.
I spent long days presenting strategic plans, communication plans and the information and analysis to support them while Evans sat in the southeast corner of the Caucus room and laughed at me and others like me, entertaining his courtiers while summarily dismissing anything I had to say.
Why? Because I believe in everything Evans disapproves of. When it comes to campaigning, I think it’s our duty to do what we can to win. I believe in a professional party. I believe in polling, focus groups, opposition research, GOTV, targeting, data bundling and management, message development, talking points – the whole damn thing. And I believe in doing it well. As best we can.
And I believe in this because people who need a social democratic government, and everything that stands for, need us to win and then govern well and long.
Evans thinks this is evil. Poison. The spawn of the devil. He is completely opposed to the constraints this puts on politicians like him, who want to speak their mind no matter what it contains.
“The message box… is not discourse. It is poison, like drinking the Kool-aid at Jonestown” Evans argues.
Evans believes all politics, including campaigns, are about what the politician wants to say. I couldn’t disagree more.
My interest is clear. It’s been clear since that day in 1978 when Ray and Grace McCarthy came to the sheltered workshop. I want the “institution” that is the BC NDP to win elections and become a government that would take on the issues we care about because they make a real difference in the lives of the people who need change.
I don’t understand what Evans thinks the NDP’s job is because in his email he begs off, making an argument claiming with that well worn false humility “I do not know how to fix this. I could not write a tract entitled ‘What is to be done’, because I do not know.”
But then a line later he does offer a prescription. We should talk more. Especially people like himself.
According to Evans people like me, on the contrary, should engage in a little self criticism, say we’re sorry for the message box, pardon ourselves for trying to win, admit to writing ads that bell the cat that is the BC Liberal Party. It’s time we break a little solidarity and wallow in our own thoughts no matter how irrelevant they are to people who make half the money I make.
Here’s what I believe. The BCNDP isn’t the movement. It is the electoral ally of a series of movements that have at their heart ordinary people trying to live whole and fulfilling lives against all odds. As well it is the electoral arm of a series of movements that have at their heart our planet and the way those ordinary people wish to steward that planet for all.
The BC NDP’s job is not to be everything to everybody. Its job is not to be “the movement”. That is so presumptuous and self-important.
The BC NDP’s job is to get a group of people who share the above values elected in enough quantities to form a government and to do something.
In other words the BC NDP’s job is not about politicians and their ability to talk. It’s about ordinary people and their needs and their priorities and our ability to win elections and deliver policies and programs that make their lives better.
Who cares what the New Democrat politicians say if that can’t get elected and change the things that need changing? We are useless if we can’t do that. We don’t deserve people’s votes. We don’t deserve their donations. We don’t deserve their time and effort if we aren’t doing our job to win elections that deliver a decent government in line with their values and aspirations.
And if the BC NDP ceases to do that and descends even further down the rabbit hole Corky Evans describes, a new modern party representing ordinary people will emerge to do that so very necessary job.