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BC NDP: fight the Liberals, don’t compromise with the Greens

Bradley Hughes and Jesse McLaren

May 12, 2017

After 16 years of austerity and environmental destruction, the BC Liberals have finally stumbled in the polls, potentially losing their majority government. The Liberals are badly weakened by these results and are vulnerable to pressure if we organize. While many are looking to the parliamentary tactics of the Green Party, the NDP should be continuing to raise the demands of the movements for real change.

Currently the Liberals have 43 seats, the NDP has 41 and the Green party have 3. Many of the riding votes in the May 9 election were so close that the final tally of seats won’t be confirmed until the final count, which starts on May 22. Any small change in seats from the 176,000 absentee ballots could change the composition of the Legislature—from the Liberals gaining a majority to preserving a minority, or even the NDP overtaking the Liberals. While the seat count is still up in the air, the overall election results are clear: people are sick of the Liberals.

No mandate for Liberal agenda

The Liberals have had a majority government since 2001 and have trashed the province: attacking workers while slashing corporate taxes, cutting healthcare while allowing tuition to skyrocketed, and pushing climate destroying industries while ignoring climate jobs.

They came to power in 2001 with 57 per cent of the vote, which fell to 45 per cent in 2005. The vote has been stable since then but has now fallen again to 41 per cent. Since 2005 more people have voted against the Liberals than for them, and this has jumped to 57 per cent of the vote in 2017—with more than a million votes against the Liberals compared to 730,000 for

So a majority people voted against the Liberal agenda of austerity and climate chaos, including a majority voting for parties that oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline. “It’s absolutely a blow for the pipeline,” lamented federal Tory leader Rona Ambrose. As well as rebuking Liberal leader Christy Clark’s record, voters also took out a number of Liberal cabinet minister including Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, and Peter Fassbender—who  as education minister presided over the government’s attack on teachers and education, and as minister for Translink has represented the government’s indifference to public transit.

In fact, the Liberals are lucky to have done so well.  Like the last provincial and federal election, the NDP began in the lead with a platform that articulated the demands of the movements: $15/hr minimum wage, $10/day childcare, affordable housing, raising corporate taxes and creating jobs to rebuild schools and hospitals. They lost not because they were too radical but because they were still too timid. To rebuild healthcare and eliminate premiums the NDP needs to completely reverse a decade and a half of corporate tax cuts. Instead John Hogan’s commitment to a “balanced budget” based on only mild tax increases meant he couldn’t adequately restore healthcare—and instead propped up the neoliberal notion of “fiscal responsibility.” This also undermines the NDP’s climate justice plan. The intertwined climate and jobs crises requires a bold plan to stop environmentally destructive industries while providing good green jobs for all. Instead the NDP is still recovering from their flip flop on Kinder Morgan last election, and this election Horgan refused to take a stance firmly against the Site C dam or project a bold plan for climate jobs. The lack of jobs alternatives allowed the Liberals to hold onto their seats throughout the interior, while the ambivalence on the climate has allowed the Green party to emerge.

Green capitalism

The biggest winner was the Green Party, who increased their votes in every area of the province; their vote doubled and they added two seats. Many of these voters are progressives who are disillusioned with traditional parties and concerned about the environment.

But the Green Party base is small business owners, who attack the Liberals and NDP as equal foes, representing “big money in politics.” Equating union and corporate donations is ridiculous: one comes from democratic institutions of workers while the other comes from exploitative corporations; one is used to defend jobs and services for the 99% while the other is used to defend the power of the 1%. The NDP support restrictions on donations as a tactic because corporate donations are much larger than union donations, but the Green Party principle that unions and corporations are two sides of the same coin is reactionary.

The “neither left nor right” focus of the Green Party reflects a base who have no material interest in addressing austerity and can’t solve the climate crisis. As a result the Green party refuses to support the $15 minimum wage, and their climate platform is based on individual behavioral change, a regressive carbon flat tax, and a green capitalist focus on fuel efficiency and fiscal responsibility.

This contradiction in the Green Party means that its impact was not simply to split the progressive vote, and the so-called “strategic voting” of Anyone But Christy didn’t happen. Instead the green populist surge came from both Liberal and NDP voters, with contradictory results. As Political Sciences professor Kathryn Harrision explained: “There were three cases where the Greens seems to have directly or indirectly hurt the NDP. But in eight other ridings, the increase in the Green vote share came disproportionately from the Liberals share and allowed the NDP to win when they arguably wouldn’t have otherwise.”

No to coalitions

Reflecting the Green Party base, Andrew Weaver announced he will “work with anyone” and that “our number one priority is removing the influence of big money on politics.” Many progressives who voted Green to stop the Liberals could end up seeing their party prop up a minority Liberal government. By winning reforms on their “number one priority” of political donations, the supposedly green party leadership could support the party of Kinder Morgan, LND and Site C. As the Globe and Mail warned, “History is littered with the carcasses of political parties that decided to buttress unpopular governments in minority situations and paid a price for it at the polls the next time…How would supporters view the sight of their leader propping up a government that has already been in power for 16 years? How could Mr. Weaver justify that, especially given that the Greens have far more in common with the New Democrats on the policy front that they do with the Liberals?”

On the other hand, the question on many activists minds is should the NPD and the Greens try to form a government in place of the Liberals? It seems like the answer is a resounding yes after 16 years of Liberal tax cuts for the rich, savage slashing of public services and a no holds barred attack on the environment with widespread fracking, proposed new pipelines and the start of construction on the Site C dam.

But an NDP/Green coalition would not raise resistance to the Liberal agenda but lower it. A Leadnow petition calling for such a coalition narrows it to three items: voting reform, big money out of politics, and opposition to Kinder Morgan. This is essentially the Green Party platform, with none of the NDP calls for a $15 minimum wage, $10/day childcare, affordable housing, raising corporate taxes and creating jobs to rebuild schools and hospitals.

Build the movements

Instead of asking the question how do we get into government, the NDP should be asking the question what can we do to win progressive change? By championing the social justice and climate planks in their platform and letting the Greens decide to support them issue by issue or side with the Liberals, the NDP can help to build a movement for progressive change.

Whether they are in government or not, the NDP should immediately outline a list of the legislation it will put forward and set the order. They should make it clear that they were elected to do these things and that they have no desire to compromise with the Liberals or the Greens. This should be a pared down list of commitments in the expectation that whoever forms government, there will be an election sooner rather than later. Making this eventuality clear puts the Liberals and the Greens on notice that they can support the 99% or the 1%.

They should start with $15/ hour minimum wage with no phase in period. This will force the Greens to chose between supporting what is best for the majority of us, or sticking with their ideological commitment to business owners. Follow that up with legislation to bring in $10 a day daycare, along with a tax increase on the 1% to pay for it. Along with this they should move quickly on their plan for funding transit, home retrofits, and building affordable housing. After that should put forward legislation to stop the Kinder Morgan expansion, to stop site C and for proportional legislation. This could be an inspiration for the progressive movements to organize to push MLA’s from all parties to support these priorities.

The call to pressure the Greens to join an NDP government does nothing to win real change and makes it easier to for NDP to compromise in order to work with the Greens. The longer-term result will be to blur the difference between the NDP which is a party based on activists in the working class and the Greens, who believe that the working class doesn’t matter. This is a recipe for electoral disaster for the NDP and it makes it harder to build the class-conscious movements we need. The fight for $15, the anti-Kinder Morgan and Stop Site C coalitions need to mobilize immediately. It doesn't matter which party or coalition forms government, these things will only become priorities if we fight for them.

Join the Vancouver International Socialists as we discuss, After the Election: Climate Justice and the Working Class. Tuesday May 16, 7PM, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 W. Hastings on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish Nations

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