Martyn Brown: On whose side, John Horgan?

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      “1,800 BC ironworkers endorse Premier Christy Clark and BC Liberals” crowed the headline in that party’s news release.

      OK, so that’s a lie. Classic Clarkian hyperbole.

      Still, at least a handful of that union’s members are now backing the party and premier that most of their Local 97 brothers and sisters probably still hope to defeat.

      Says who?

      Says Ironworkers Union Local 97 business manager Doug Parton and the union’s international third general vice president, Darrell LaBoucan, that’s who.

      There they were on March 1, backed by a handful of members, all trotted out for the cameras, to pledge their fealty to the B.C. Liberals and to sing the praises of their new accomplice-in-chime, our ever-beaming Premier Photo-op.

      Good grief. What’s next?

      Maybe an Ironworkers’ campaign photo op with the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C.? You know, to help elect the government that would do away with unions altogether if it could.

      My, how the worms have turned in the Ironworkers since its halcyon days of Glen Clark, from his days as an organizer through his long and colourful term in public office.

      He was the last NDP leader to win a provincial election. The original Clark, as it were.

      I well remember how he pulled off that other near-miracle victory over Gordon Campbell’s Liberals, back in 1996.

      He won it with the campaign battle cry, “On Your Side.” Main Street, not Howe Street.

      Though the NDP did not win the popular vote, Clark won that election by targeting the critical mass of seats and voters that allowed him to once again form the government.

      He won it with a populist appeal to working families. One that pitted their standard of living against the leader and party who supposedly only cared about increasing corporate profits, cutting corporate payroll costs, and cutting crucial public services that were so material to British Columbians’ quality of life.

      Gotta say, the guy had class. And he wasn’t afraid to wear it on his sleeve.

      He had the brains, confidence, and communications skills to lead and win—as he has proved so well in his post-political life, as president of the Jim Pattison Group.

      Casinogate aside, Glen Clark was the last NDP leader who really understood where that party’s “bread was buttered”—and more importantly, what it took to win, not least of which is passion.

      John Horgan’s still trying to figure it out, though the Ironworkers’ spectacle should give him and all New Democrats new pause for reflection.

      In a word, they have to decide whose side they’re on. And then they have to shout it from the rooftops, in a memorable phrase that resonates with their winning plurality of target voters in the seats they really need to win to form the government.

      Former premier Glen Clark pulled off a surprising victory in 1996 by claiming to be on the side of voters and painting his main opponent as being on the side of big business.
      Stephen Hui

      Who and what, exactly, are the New Democrats for?

      We know what they are against—Kinder Morgan, Pacific Northwest LNG, Site C, the Massey bridge, etc. But whose side are they on?

      That’s hard to even ascertain from the NDP’s website.

      It offers links to Events and to News and it urges visitors to Volunteer, Donate, and Join.

      “I’m with you, John!” it prominently declares, in inviting people to give the NDP their emails and postal codes. OK, but why?

      Even the NDP’s support for bold policies like $10/day daycare and eliminating MSP premiums are nearly invisible on the site.

      “Christy Clark is failing our kids.” “Take action on the fentanyl crisis.” “Stop Kinder Morgan.” Those are three main appeals for action, none of which offers any substantive information, or policy. They are all only aimed at soliciting people’s names, emails, phone numbers, and postal codes.

      I know. Wait for the campaign. There will be a comprehensive platform that will blow our socks off.

      But in the interim, the New Democrats’ own lack of easily accessible information on why anyone should vote for them, or what they really stand for, or whose side they are on leaves them especially vulnerable to being defined by their opponents.

      Whether they admit it or not, Horgan’s New Democrats have already been largely defined as being against jobs, period.

      Unfair and untrue as that is, it is largely the product of their own making, both by their silence on what they would do to create jobs, and equally, by their lack of readily accessible information to support the sensible positions they have taken in opposition to the projects cited above.

      The B.C. NDP website doesn't offer specifics on what the party will do to enhance the economy.

      B.C. NDP is the party for job security

      Here’s the thing: the NDP was always the “working people’s party”, but never because it was perceived by most voters as the best party to create jobs.

      You're kidding yourself if you believe otherwise. That mantle has always been the “free enterprise” parties’ primary strategic core advantage.

      Truth be known, the NDP was never the “jobs party", as such. But it was hands-down, the job security party: the party that fought to protect working people’s jobs from the right-wing “evils” of outsourcing, downsizing, privatization, and union-busting.

      It was the party that fought for better working conditions, especially for people who already had jobs and who didn’t want to lose them.

      In the old days, the debate was not whether new mines, mills, or other businesses would open, but rather, how those workers would be treated by their employers, how much they would be paid, how safe they would be, and what benefits they might be entitled to, etc.

      The NDP was always the party that most valued working people and that fought to ensure they were not undervalued, easily discounted, or chronically overworked.

      I suppose it’s easy enough for the Ironworkers to overlook that fact in this day and age when the dominant debate is not how to make working conditions safer or better, or how to improve collective agreements to enhance working families’ quality of life.

      In an era where the only thing that anyone, including the unions, is talking about is whether there will be jobs, the stock and trade of organized labour has lost its former lustre. And the unions’ declining memberships bear that out.

      “We’re not a political animal. But we support those who support us,” Parton said at Clark’s news conference. “How do I go to my members and say: ‘I need you to support the NDP’ when they’re against everything the ironworkers stand for?”

      Oh, really? They’re “against everything the ironworkers stand for”?


      I guess Parton doesn’t think his own members care about striving for better working conditions; delivering accessible, affordable daycare; eliminating MSP premiums; increasing government investments in health and education; strengthening child protection; improving rapid transit; increasing the supply of more affordable homes and rental housing; miminizing ICBC and B.C. Hydro rate hikes; embracing new initiatives to counter drug addictions, to provide real help to people with mental illnesses, and to create safer streets and schools—to cite only a handful of examples that distinguish the NDP from the B.C. Liberals, who have failed British Columbians on all of those priorities.

      Those aren’t things that Parton’s Ironworkers stand for, if we can take him at his word. But I’ll bet that even today, the vast majority of his members still plan to vote for John Horgan’s NDP.

      Ironworkers Local 97 business manager Doug Parton supports Premier Christy Clark, but that doesn't mean a majority of his members will vote for the B.C. Liberals.

      Premier's policies threaten the economy

      Of course, the bigger narrative at play, as Charlie Smith recently argued, is the “jobs vs. the environment” paradigm shift that has blurred the ideological lines between “left” and “right”.

      And on that point, believe me, Horgan’s got a winning issue that could easily help his party find more than enough voters and seats to form the next government.

      Especially if he targets that issue in tandem with the other populist “pocketbook” issues that he has too quietly and too passively embraced. They all transcend traditional ideological lines and speak to British Columbians’ larger quality of life and standard of living.

      Horgan shouldn’t lose any sleep over Parton’s Liberal pandering. Nor should he be pushed off his principled message and his too timid appeal for sustainable development.

      Nor should he be too worried about the “shots across the bow” that others among his union brethren have taken in their efforts to shore up Clark’s climate-be-damned Big Oil agenda. [See this and this.]

      The United Steelworkers of Western Canada, the past president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, and the executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council have all helped Clark to define Horgan as the “anti-jobs” guy who is hopelessly captive of his “environmental caucus”.

      The political damage they did will be tough to offset with their bargain-basement You Tube effort to redefine Premier Hardhat in their preferred image.

      In terms of reach and political effect, the B.C. Federation of Labour’s campaign isn’t remotely in the same ballpark as the “dark-monied” attack ads that are now innundating every medium, courtesy of the B.C. Liberals’ third party surrogates.

      First it was that faceless, memberless “organization” that calls itself "Future Prosperity B.C". You can’t turn on the TV without seeing its ads, interspersed with 10 times as many government political ads.

      Now it’s that shady shell entity that calls itself Concerned Citizens for British Columbia. It’s running full-page attack ads, disguised as an “open letter to John Horgan”, that implores him to reverse his “support for the NDP’s Leap Manifesto”.

      The latter lie-based campaign is straight from the Donald Trump playbook.

      Neither the NDP nor Horgan has ever supported the Leap Manifesto, of course. But the federal NDP’s willingness to debate its content and merits is fodder enough for CC4BC to spread their fake news in a contemptible attempt to mislead B.C. voters.

      To hell with them all, I say.

      If anything, Horgan should double-down on his pro-environment gambit.

      Instead of burying his positions on Kinder Morgan, Pacific Northwest LNG, Site C, and the Massey bridge wherever they exist on his party’s website, he should make them front and centre.

      On the website and in every facet of his campaign. Because they aren’t positions to be apologetic about. They are projects that should in various ways make British Columbians bloody angry, at least, those of us who have an environmental conscience and who care at all about properly managing the public purse.

      Horgan needs to show people why his party is on our side in opposing a pipeline expansion project that could be catastrophic to B.C.’s precious marine ecosystems and to all the jobs that depend on them.

      He needs to scare the bejesus out of those undecided voters who haven’t quite yet wrapped their minds around what a major heavy oil spill might do to British Columbia’s coastal communities, to Vancouver’s tourism brand, or to that pristine Salish Sea upon that supports so much life.

      Ditto for the other projects I mentioned.

      It takes pictures. Ads. Emotion. And plenty of it. Now, not in the eleventh hour of the campaign.

      Horgan needs to make the environment a campaign centerpiece and run on that as if he means it—proudly, loudly, and partly because of its salience to jobs and the economy.

      I think he knows that. But so far, he has not made the most of the tools at his disposal to take that fight right to Clark and to all comers, Parton’s members included.

      John Horgan can make the case that the Kinder Morgan pipeline—and the 400 oil tankers per year that will travel through Vancouver's harbour—poses a serious threat to tourism.
      Travis Lupick

      Horgan's vision for the future must resonate

      He needs to show why the NDP’s on its target voters’ side. To materially improve their standard of living and their quality of life, in part, by making B.C.’s wealthiest citizens pay more.

      Higher taxes for the wealthy, to help pay for better services and opportunities for working people, the unemployed, and those most vulnerable alike? Damn right.

      It’s a message that still resonates with the masses and that motivates people to get out and vote. To show up. Just ask Bernie Sanders.

      Horgan gets that, even if he can’t quite seem to work himself up into a convincing lather in selling that message.

      Indeed, that’s what many of his bolder policies are all about—fighting for a much-needed redistribution of wealth, to advantage the many at the fair expense of the few who can afford to pay more. To make B.C. better for more working families.

      Yes, he needs to say much more about how he plans to stimulate economic growth and job creation. But he will never “own” that turf that Clark has so studiously claimed for the B.C. Liberals.

      And as important as issues of social justice and social equity are, experience shows, they don’t win elections.

      Visions win elections.

      Especially those that paint a vivid, tangible image of how people’s workaday lives might be materially improved. Horgan’s vision needs to more graphically describe the stark stakes between the environmental road to ruin we’re now on, which Clark wants to take, and the world that might be, that we really do want to build.

      Because it’s not all just about jobs.

      It’s also about the places we can afford to live. It’s about the nature of work and the challenges associated with working in the 21st century. It’s about our ability to pay the bills—including the higher costs that the Clark government has imposed—to make ends meet, to have a real life, and to save for our retirement.

      It’s about the quality of air we breathe and the water we drink, the type of communities we want for our kids and for our aging families, and this incredible place we want to forever preserve as Super, Natural British Columbia.

      And it’s about the world we want to leave to our kids and to future generations. A green world that is environmentally and socially responsible, that refuses to be threatened by corporate greed.

      On your side? Not if you don’t care about climate change. Not if you want to stake B.C.’s future on dirty oil, rampant fossil-fuel development, and irresponsible resource development. Not if you believe that smaller government is conducive to the more socially progressive world New Democrats want to build.

      On your side? You, who belong to any number of B.C.’s silenced minorities? You betcha.

      Because there are so many of you, and in total, you are the majority that change our world.

      And because 16 years of any one party in government is just too damn long for British Columbia’s good.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia. He is the author of the ebook Towards a New Government in British ColumbiaContact Brown at