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BC Election – Why Isn’t the NDP Winning by a Landslide?

The class division in BC
By: 
Eric Lescarbeau

May 5, 2017

With only a few days to go until the provincial election the latest Angus Reid poll has found that two-in-three British Columbians prefer the NDP’s budget strategy of increasing taxes to pay for social programs. In addition 72 percent agree with the statement “Too many people in BC are being left behind” and 71 percent agree that “rising inequality is a huge problem in BC today.” This suggests that there should be overwhelming support for the NDP’s platform among working class voters. So why are they in a neck and neck race with an elitist Liberal party that has been directly responsible for this inequality and not miles ahead in the polls?
 
The Liberals have claimed that the NDP’s plan is not affordable or realistic, but the problem with the NDP platform is not that it promises too much. 114,000 affordable housing units, $10/day daycare, elimination of user fees like MSP premiums and road tolls, 30,000 jobs in the forest industry, 96,000 jobs in building schools and hospitals. Without doubt these are all reforms that would make significant progress in addressing inequality and dramatically improve the lives of workers and their families.  It’s a program that every working class person should support. So why isn’t this reflected in the polls?
 
"Fiscal responsibility" dead end
In a sad rerun of the NDP’s failed federal election campaign John Horgan and the NDP have committed themselves to delivering all these promises while adhering to the neo-liberal dogma of “fiscal responsibility.” In the Federal election Trudeau was able to outflank the NDP to the left and win the election by committing to deficit spending to build infrastructure. Sadly the NDP’s campaign strategists appear to have learned nothing from an election that reduced them to their lowest federal seat count in decades.
 
Committing the NDP to balanced budgets and even budget surpluses means prioritizing certainty for banks and investors over the needs of ordinary working class people. Many parts of the platform, especially jobs, rely heavily on continued economic growth to generate additional revenues. In this scenario if growth doesn’t meet projections or the economy falls into recession an NDP government would be forced to abandon its promises. This has not been lost on working class voters or on the Liberal Party which has taken aim at this contradiction to undermine people’s confidence in the NDP’s ability to deliver on its promises. 
 
After 16 years of deep Liberal tax cuts to corporate and income taxes on the 1% the NDP platform only commits to a very modest 1% increase to the corporate tax rate and reinstatement of surtax on the top 2% of earners. Combined with a speculation tax on empty housing and other measures this would raise revenues of about $1.4 Billion by the third year of an NDP government. This falls billions short of funding all of the promises in their plan and places a giant question mark over the whole platform.  Christy Clark has consistently hammered away at what she claims is a “$6 Billion hole in the NDP’s platform” implying that they would have to raise income taxes or impose a new round of user fees on working class families or worse, abandon their promises altogether. 
 
Healthcare
The biggest controversy has been around healthcare funding and MSP premiums. The NDP’s promise to eliminate profoundly unfair premiums is a significant improvement over the Liberals’ promise to cut premiums by half, but it would cost the healthcare system $1.7 billion in revenue. Finance Minister Mike De Jong stated in the February budget release that the Liberals would pay for their more modest $1 Billion plan out of projected budget surpluses claiming that the reductions were made possible by years of sound economic management. But, as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the BC Health Coalition have rightly pointed out, this would only serve to lock in years of cuts to healthcare which were part of the Liberals’ supposed fiscal “responsibility”.  Any cut to MSP premiums would need to be matched by tax increases elsewhere in order to maintain healthcare funding.  But John Horgan has refused to openly commit to doing this.
 
In recent weeks NDP candidates Carol James and Gary Holman have stated that under the NDP the premiums would be rolled into the income tax system in a progressive manner making the rich pay more. James stated of the NDP plan: “The key principle is that it looks at a progressive approach,” she said. “Right now with MSP, whether you make $1 million or $35,000, your families pay the same amount of MSP. That’s the principle that will be gone.”
 
As the polling indicates this would be enormously popular, but John Horgan has instead insisted that an NDP government would hire an independent panel to look at ways to eliminate MSP premiums, and repeatedly dodged questions by claiming he doesn’t want to “prejudge” the work of the panel. This has made NDP’s promises appear less realistic and undermined the credibility of the party’s platform while simultaneously failing to stand up to the Liberals’ attacks on the healthcare system.
 
Housing
On housing, much of the plan is contingent on “partnering”, meaning that it would only be delivered if federal and municipal governments agreed to fund their share. It also means collaboration with the very developers that have profited off of massive speculation. This effectively allows developers and other levels of government to either veto or whittle down the program through negotiation. 
 
The NDP could make a firm commitment to spend the money on housing no matter what and use the program’s popularity to pressure federal and municipal governments to follow suit.  Instead they have tried to sweeten the pot with a populist $400 renter’s rebate. This would do nothing to address the root cause of sky high rents, end up subsidizing landlords who could just raise rents accordingly, and cost over $200 million that could have gone to direct spending on social housing. In the end it adds up to less $35 per month for individual renters, arguably much less than the impact an equivalent amount of social housing spending would have on reducing rents.
 
Jobs
The NDP’s reluctance to stand up to the corporate elite and raise taxes on the rich to pay for job creation has undermined support for them in working class communities. This has been especially true in rural areas outside the Lower Mainland where tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the last two decades in forestry and fisheries.  More than anything what these communities need is a guarantee of good jobs and long term economic stability but what the NDP has offered instead is uncertainty. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the issue of the Site C Dam.  
 
Site C Dam
John Horgan has refused to take a stance on the Site C dam instead insisting that he would send the project to the BC Utilities Commission for review. Yet as many have pointed out, including former NDP leader Mike Harcourt and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, numerous independent studies have already shown that the Dam would drive Hydro rates through the roof while massively indebting BC Hydro, all for the sake of providing cheap power, heavily subsidized by working class taxpayers, to the LNG and fracked gas industry. 
 
By refusing to take a clear stance on the project Horgan has created massive uncertainty for workers, faced with the possibility of more than 2,000 layoffs and disappearance of thousands more expected jobs, once the BCUC report comes out.  It also leaves the door open for the BCUC to decide that expenditures already made on the project have put it past “the point of no return” as Christy Clark claims it has, creating terrible uncertainty for Treaty 8 First Nations and farmers in the Peace River Valley.  Horgan says an NDP government wouldn’t halt the project until the BCUC’s report was complete, meaning tens of millions of dollars more would be wasted on the project and destruction of Indigenous territory and violation of Treaty 8 First Nations rights would continue for at least several more months.
 
Horgan could cement support from workers, First Nations, farmers and environmentalists by committing to cancelling the project immediately and guaranteeing that every one of those workers would have a replacement job waiting for them.  Instead, his commitment to fiscal responsibility leaves everyone in doubt about what the NDP will do.
 
Forestry
The same is also true in the NDP’s forestry plan.  While the NDP platform commits to restoring the 30,000 jobs lost in the forest industry, it is very vague on how this will be accomplished.  Driven by global competition forest companies have closed mills and manufacturing in BC and moved their operations to exploit cheap labor in Asia.  The logs that used to go to BC mills are now shipped overseas for processing while finished products are then shipped back, a process that is only made profitable by the massive disparity in wages and heavily subsidized cheap and dirty energy. 
 
John Horgan has refused calls to make a clear commitment to banning raw log exports or to public spending to reopen mills, upgrade existing mills and develop a value added manufacturing sector.  To do this would require significantly raising taxes on the corporations and the 1% to pay for it.  Instead the NDP plan relies heavily on incentives to the private sector and working with industry, suggesting that the very companies that have profited from offshoring jobs would now be rewarded with tax breaks, subsidies and curbs on environmental regulations, and ensuring that BC workers would continue to be left to the ravages of global competition, trapped in a race to the bottom to attract investment.
 
Corporations will never support the NDP
At the end of the day no amount of talk about "fiscal responsibility" will convince the corporate elite to support an NDP government. Last week TD Bank, the main financier behind the Kinder Morgan pipeline, issued a report claiming that an NDP government would bring uncertainty to the energy sector, threatening jobs and investment. The example of Rachel Notley’s NDP in Alberta should make clear this will be only the beginning if the NDP manage to win in BC. After the 2015 election a symphony of alarmist declarations from the 1% was unleashed. Without pressure from below coming through mass movements and working class resistance Notley’s government ultimately capitulated to the oil companies. Yet, while the Alberta NDP has bent over backwards to satisfy the demands of the oil and gas corporations, this hasn’t stopped the ceaseless attacks on them from the corporate sponsored right wing media. 
 
Vote NDP and Keep Building the Movement
The many excellent promises in the NDP platform come directly from demands raised in the struggles of working class people in BC to defend health care and education, to demand good jobs and affordable housing, to recognize and respect Indigenous rights and to call for climate justice. For this reason, every worker should vote for the NDP in order to demonstrate support for their own struggles. This means rejecting an Anyone But Christy strategy that puts the corporate friendly Green Party on par with the working class NDP. Getting rid of the Liberals means defeating their corporate agenda, not voting for a greener version of it.
 
However, the commitment of the NDP’s elected leaders and the party establishment to "fiscal responsibility," and their refusal to take on the 1%, makes clear that these struggles will continue even if an NDP government is elected. By voting NDP and arguing with others to do the same we can raise confidence in the possibility of winning all the reforms on offer in the NDP platform and at the same time make it clear that we will have to rely on our own collective power to make them a reality.

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