Martyn Brown: Why the NDP’s Angry Birds should fly home

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      Bastards! BETRAYAL! May they rot in hell! They have lost my vote FOREVER!

      The Twitterverse is predictably rife with such tweets from the Angry Birds who are furious with the NDP’s decision on Site C. Some swear they are now emphatically out the NDP flock.

      For now, they have gone south—slinging insults and barbs, more to insult than to fatally injure the Horgan government, for the most part.

      Fair enough. Venting can be a good thing for registering legitimate ire and frustration. If tempered to resist the hateful brickbats above, which are easily dismissible, it can be useful in warning any party in power that its wounded wing of support should not be ignored or presumed helpless by dint of previous association.

      Not that that was the case in the Site C decision, far from it. Clearly, the government agonized over its lose-lose proposition, which was innately bound to offend many of its supporters.

      Yet the government’s reasoning won’t fly with the NDP’s newly aggrieved green boosters.

      Understandably, they strongly feel as if, once again, they have been cast out on a limb to appease the big “brown” birds in organized labour who got what they wanted by ruffling their feathers.

      To his great credit, Premier John Horgan did not choose to make his announcement last Friday, as he might have, or only after he had completed his year-end media interviews. He did not try to minimize the media fallout, as most governments do in “taking out the trash” on unpopular decisions.

      Instead, he announced his decision on a Monday, to invite maximum accountability, and in anticipation of his one-on-one, year-in-review interviews with reporters that are sure to put that issue front and centre.

      Indeed, from start to finish, Horgan wisely invited the public and the media into his Site C review and decision-making process, with a degree of transparency that allowed all British Columbians to better understand his government’s dilemma, choices, and rationale.

      All angry NDP supporters need to step back, take a breath, and cut their government some slack.

      And while they are at it, they should reflect on what they accomplished for the greater good it did and for all that they might yet achieve under the NDP.

      Tough as that is, they should resolve to stay above the fray that the Liberals and Greens alike hope will send the NDP plummeting in the opinion polls and lift themselves higher.

      The NDP’s Angry Birds should feel free to tweet as they will, to be heard and seen as the force they are. But come February, at the latest, they should fly home in droves.

      That is, unless they have lost their marbles, or are really intent on reducing their own castle of hope to rubble.

      The NDP's decision to complete the $10.7-billion Site C dam has generated tons of criticism over Twitter.

      Real enemies are blue with red stripes

      In the NDP’s 2018 version of Angry Birds Evolution, the ones who should be back in the activists' righteous sights are the ones they blew away last May: the B.C. Liberals.

      Those right-wing blue meanies with red stripes sure aren’t green; and they are not little pigs, like the cartoon targets in the Rovio Entertainment video games. But the orange and green birds of a feather would do well to stick together in their eternal fight to blow up their true enemies’ coalition.

      It is only by defeating the Liberals that the NDP and Greens alike will protect their figurative eggs, or score the real wins that they both seek for the environment and for progressive change.

      To the New Democrats’ newly disaffected patrons, I say this: don’t lose sight of the larger political picture, at 10,000 feet, or of your real mortal enemies.

      You must know that all the Liberals really want for Christmas is for the GreeNDP alliance to crash and burn. Don’t shoot yourselves in the foot.

      Friendly fire is, after all, a fine line.

      In my experience, governments can too easily take their most ardent supporters for granted. I witnessed it firsthand, with the Liberals and the Socreds. Too often they gambled that the traditional allies they offended would come back to the fold when their support was really needed, on election day, at the ballot box.

      Having said that, when the pushback from a government’s traditional allies on an issue is deemed to be unreasonable, or impossible to assuage or reconcile, it can have the opposite effect to what was intended.

      Instead of smartly nudging the premier and cabinet to “listen”, it can lead them to discount those critics’ voices and go “all in” on a policy direction that makes them even more angry, irritated, and frustrated.

      I can tell you, in former premier Campbell’s latter years in office, the business community’s constant “whining” about his aggressive leadership on climate action and his resolve to forge a new relationship with First Nations—to cite just two examples—increasingly fell on deaf ears.

      It was mostly not received as constructive criticism, but rather as obstructionist, self-serving, unhelpful bitching. It only encouraged the government to go further with measures aimed at more rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at promoting reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples.

      Fact is, behind closed doors, the business community mostly hated the carbon tax and other “uncompetitive, job-killing” measures. It often assailed the government’s “radically irresponsible” approach to building new partnerships with First Nations.

      “You are killing us” with “this socialist stuff”, some of the Liberals’ biggest backers would say. “If you keep it up, you won’t get our money or our support in the next election,” they would sometimes threaten, explicitly or implicitly.

      The response from government?

      F*** 'em if they can’t take a joke, to put it crudely. I know. I said that myself, in piques of contempt.

      Mostly, I was convinced that the new directions we had charted on those two key files were not only morally right, constitutionally and environmentally necessary, and economically sound, but were also politically expedient and prudent.

      The lesson for those Angry Birds should have been obvious: empty threats and counterproductive comments are the surest way to get tuned-out by decision makers who are not easily cowed by critics and who are bent on doing the right thing.

      Yet governments also need to know that all political coalitions are fluid. Coalitions change. They come and go. And only a fool, or a government that is too consumed by the arrogance of power, would take any segment of its best supporters for granted, for too long or too frequently.

      The Site C dam is in northeastern B.C. not far from Fort St. John.

      Site C decision opens door for progressive actions

      Horgan is no fool. His government has absolutely no intention of taking its greenest supporters for granted, as I suspect it will show in spades in the days and weeks ahead.

      It will tack a harder course than it has on environmental imperatives and will redouble its efforts to build new partnerships with Aboriginal communities.

      Site C might be a tough loss for environmentalists, for some First Nations, and for B.C. farming. But mark my words, it will give the government new political licence and motivation to double down on its progressive actions in each of those areas.

      There will be much to celebrate in short order, in regard to the NDP’s renewed efforts to combat climate change, to stop the Kinder Morgan project, to strengthen the Agricultural Land Reserve, and to effectively implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

      Have faith, you orange and green Angry Birds. Your voices are not lost on the ones you are now mad at.

      The February budget is coming, and it is sure to put a smile on most New Democrats’ faces, as will the spring legislative agenda.

      It will be packed to the max with new cause to cheer. On affordable housing, child care, ride hailing, and new initiatives to protect B.C.’s grizzly bears and species at risk. It will also be focused like a laser on health and education investments, human rights, poverty reduction, and rapid transit.

      You name it, that tsunami of policy action will be guaranteed to please most voters.

      The NDP eliminated tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge between Pitt Meadows with Langley.

      Horgan has made life more affordable

      There will be plenty of reasons to rally around the NDP flag for all those who so passionately care about winning the referendum next fall on proportional representation.

      Many of those reasons have to do with your pocketbook. A short review is in order.

      The NDP’s top election promise was to make people’s lives more affordable. It is delivering on that commitment, big time.

      If you are a couple earning over $45,000 a year, or a typical couple with two children, your medical services plan premiums will be cut in half on January 1.

      Your annual bill will drop from $1,800 to $900. As such, you will save $900 in MSP next year. Nine. Hundred. Dollars. After tax.

      Individuals will save $450 a year. That alone will go a long way to making many people’s lives more affordable, and will more than offset the projected $348 increase in food costs you might have read about.

      Moreover, within the next four years, all MSP premiums will be eliminated. That will be another $900 each year in the pockets of couples, seniors, and middle-income families. That cost will be largely offset by higher income taxes for those with high incomes.

      Are you one of the lucky tens of thousands of British Columbians who commute over the Port Mann or Golden Ears bridges every day? If so, you now have more money for other priorities.

      By eliminating the regressive tolls on those crucial public transportation arteries, the NDP saved you, on average, $1,500 a year. Again, that’s after-tax income, which is more like $2,000 before tax.

      Are you living on income assistance, on low income, or perhaps also with a disability?

      Sadly, you are probably still struggling to make ends meet in ways that most of us can’t imagine. But for the first time in 16 years, you at least have a government that is willing to truly acknowledge and address that fact.

      If you are on income or disability assistance, you now have $1,200 a year more than you did under the Clark government. That’s a lot better than nothing, if nowhere near enough.

      Your earnings exemption is today $200 a month higher, or $2,400 a year greater than it was under the B.C. Liberals.

      If you are on disability assistance, you now have a further extra $52 a month, or $624 a year, for an annual bus pass or for other transportation costs.

      If you are among the working poor, the MSP minimum income threshold has been raised by $2,000.

      Assistance for dental benefits and hearing aids has also been expanded.

      Perhaps you are one of the tens of thousands of adults who want to upgrade your education or English language skills? Good on you.

      The Horgan administration has eliminated tuition fees for Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning, opening the way for thousands of citizens to upgrade their education and skills each year.

      That will save those students up to $1,600 per semester of full-time studies, and much more than that in reality, in gross pre-tax income. It will offer many of those citizens a life-changing difference between being stuck in a poverty rut and pursuing their dreams.

      Did I mention that all families’ B.C. Hydro rates have been frozen, at least for this year?

      That, too, has temporarily lowered heating and other electrical costs that would have otherwise been imposed by the Clark government.

      Or maybe you are a renter. Perhaps even one who has saved that combined $2,400 a year in tolls and MSP premiums that the NDP eliminated for people like you.

      What might your annual rent have gone up, if not for the Horgan government’s action? Thousands?

      The government eliminated the loopholes that greedy landlords were exploiting through fixed-term leases, vacate clauses, and the provision in the Residential Tenancy Act that allowed them to circumvent rent controls based on how other renters were being gouged for their units in nearby properties.

      Those measures will save countless renters hundreds of dollars a month and literally thousands of dollars a year.

      Vancouver–West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert (right) announced the end to landlords being permitted to jack up rents to match those charged by others in the same area.
      Charlie Smith

      Expect more goodies in 2018

      Oh, and don’t forget the $400 annual rental subsidy that we will be sure to see in the NDP’s budget next February, no matter how much Andrew Weaver’s Greens oppose it.

      What if you are one of the many families who regularly travel on B.C. Ferries?

      The transportation minister has vowed this:

      “We’re going to be reducing fares by 15 percent on all routes except the ones between Vancouver Island the Lower Mainland, those ones we’re going to freeze. Likewise, we’re going to bring back seniors' fares. We’re looking at this happening next year.”

      Believe it. It will be delivered in the budget.

      And let’s not forget the NDP’s promised $15 minimum wage. That, too, will come—much sooner, I predict, than the Greens or Liberals would like—once the Fair Wage Commission completes its work.

      That will also put thousands of dollars more annually into many people’s pockets, which will go a long way to driving the NDP’s forthcoming poverty-reduction strategy.

      On top of all that, stay tuned: come next February, you will see material progress on the government’s promise to phase-in $10-a-day childcare over the next 10 years.

      Families with young children are warned not to expect miracles or instant gratification across the board. Yet already major new investments have been announced to create 3,800 new licensed childcare spaces across the province.

      Rest assured, many kids and parents alike will benefit from those investments as the childcare plan as it rolls out over the months and years ahead. That $10-a-day childcare vision will save cash-strapped families untold thousands each year.

      Those cost-saving measures are only a handful of initiatives that today's Angry Birds need to bear in mind as they express their rage over Site C.

      I don’t mean to minimize their legitimate concern about that issue, but it should be kept in perspective.

      If you are one of the 3,500 new teachers, for example, who are now working—or a student who will forever benefit from that extra attention and educational instruction—you should count your lucky stars. Your new government saw fit to increase the education budget by $681 million over the next three years.

      If you are now a fully employed teacher because of that, your future looks brighter as your income is also larger and more secure. If you are a student, or the parent of a student who is now benefiting from the NDP’s added investments, you must be happier than not. Because as we all know, education is the key to a well-paying work life and career.

      In short, Site C aside, as the year comes to a close, the NDP’s supporters should have much more reason to raise a glass in support of their government than to rip its hide in public or private.

      Peace on Earth, and goodwill to those women and men in power, I say.

      At this early stage in its mandate, the government that is today the subject of so much anger over Site C is also acting on its key commitments to make life more affordable, provide better services, and create good jobs.

      Fly home, Angry Birds, fly home.