Gerard Janssen: Will a new leader save the B.C. NDP?
By Gerard Janssen
It is not often I agree with Harold Steves, but the party’s election defeat is a reflection of our deficencies that we have buried for far too long.
Rather than have an open and meaningful discussion on where the party has been and where it is going, we have chosen to ignore a basic rule of democracy for far too long.
My advancing years and time in the NDP both as both a member (in various roles), as being elected (Alberni), and as caucus whip (10y years) has not only given me some insight but a history of defeats (too many) and victories (too few).
About a century ago, we had a huge lead in the polls and Bob Skelly was to lead us to our second victory. But we blew that lead and lost.
Then along came Mike Harcourt: quiet, unassuming and, as was said at the time, not scary for a New Democrat. But after displaying some of the best administrative skills this province has ever seen, we forced him out. And along came Glen Clark, dynamic, forceful and full of hope.
Even though Gordon Campbell had an enormous lead in all the polls (is this starting to sound familar?) he blew that lead and lost. But then the issues started to develop and out went yet another leader, then Dan Miller came in on an interim bases, and then Ujjal Dosanjh—more Liberal than most Liberals—and yet another defeat. Or was that one a slaughter?
Joy McPhail and Jenny Kwan were the survivors and we all held our heads in shame. Questions abounded about changing the party name, merging with the Greens, et cetera, et cetera. But along came Carole James and amazingly, despite yet another tremendous lead in the polls, the B.C. Liberals almost blew the election.
The NDP had survived, been resuscitated even. But after yet another loss four years later in a sqeaker of an election—the results were almost identical to the previous election—the trouble started.
And even though the majority of the party executive, the provincial council, and the majority of the caucus supported the leader they had chosen, yet another head of the NDP bit the dust.
So another leader emerged, Adrian Dix—quiet, unassuming, and not scary for a New Democrat—and he held the caucus together and gave us hope. But despite all the predictions and polls, the NDP blew yet another huge lead and actually lost votes and seats. So now the easiest thing to do for the party is to axe the leader, blame him
for the loss, cleanse our souls and conscience, and get a new hero.
Steves is right, for once. The party needs to do more than a review of the election defeat, we need to look deep inside and ask some difficult questions.
Is it always the leader that’s at fault or is that just too convienient? Should there have been a reckoning after Carole was forced out of her job as leader by a minority that,
despite being elected to office, could not follow one of the most basic of democratic principles, that of the will of the majority.
Or is it just too easy to just keep quiet, sweep it under the rug, and move on with a “new great hope/leader”.
The party must just not do a review of the last election and find the faults and come along with a set of “recommendations”. We must do what we failed to do after the
slaughter of 2001: redemocratize our party with the values that a new electorate can identify with and hopefully vote for.
New leaders come and go all too often. It is easy to find another one that can invigorate (or demoralize) us for a time.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the 1996 B.C. Liberal defeat. Despite having a commanding lead in the polls, Gordon Campbell lost.
But the B.C. Liberals kept him on as leader and he went on to win three consecutive elections.