John Horgan's childcare promise suggests B.C. NDP is more eager to court progressive vote

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      In recent provincial elections, traditional B.C. NDP supporters have sometimes chafed over the party's conservatism.

      In 2001, then leader Ujjal Dosanjh centred his campaign around a balanced budget and sound fiscal management. He was slaughtered.

      In 2005, the opposition party focused again on balancing the books rather than investing in public transit. Then leader Carole James revived the party, but didn't form the government.

      In 2009, the B.C. NDP ran a high-profile campaign against the carbon tax, which had been welcomed by many environmentalists. Another loss.

      Then in 2013, then leader Adrian Dix refused to support a $10-per-day childcare program, upsetting some members of the party's base. Other social activists condemned the party platform for failing to address the affordable-housing crisis. Chalk up another B.C. NDP defeat.

      Well, guess what? It's starting to appear as though Dix's successor, John Horgan, isn't going to be nearly as cautious in next year's provincial election campaign.

      This week, the B.C. NDP leader endorsed a $10-per-day childcare program, which has been advocated by many municipalities, labour organizations, academics, and nonprofit groups across the province.

      “After housing, child care is the second-highest cost facing B.C. families," Horgan said in a B.C. NDP news release. "Parents here are paying some of the highest child care fees in the country. Too many parents can’t find child care and spend years on waitlists."

      The B.C. NDP announcement has been welcomed by former Vancouver school trustee Sharon Gregson, a tireless advocate for better childcare.

      In June, Horgan promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the first term of a B.C. NDP government. And a month before that, he declared that the Kinder Morgan pipeline is not in B.C.'s best interest.

      In addition, Horgan has publicly stated that electricity from the Site C dam isn't needed now. This has prompted some to wonder if he's prepared to kibosh an $8.8-billion megaproject that will flood valuable farmland along the Peace River.

      There are good reasons for Horgan to take bolder policy positions than some of his predecessors.

      First of all, he has to help rebrand the NDP after its dismal showing in the 2015 federal election. The federal Liberals outflanked the federal NDP by promising a better deal for middle-class parents on personal income taxes.

      Secondly, Horgan has seen how U.S. Democratic presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders mobilized young voters with forceful policies on income inequality and the environment.

      Thirdly, Horgan has to retain his party's traditional edge with female voters, who, as a group, tend to be more concerned about childcare and income inequality than male voters.

      By supporting $10-a-day childcare, slamming the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and promising a big hike in the minimum wage, Horgan will mobilize the base and probably spur more individual donations to the B.C. NDP. This will bulk up the warchest in advance of the next election.

      The B.C. NDP won its last election in 1996 with a populist campaign against big business. The premier at the time, Glen Clark, campaigned with the slogan "On your side".

      Given the party's multiple failures since then, don't be surprised if this type of message is revived for the 2017 campaign.

      In light of the recent history of B.C. elections, what does Horgan have to lose?