Martyn Brown: A pro tip for Anjali Appadurai from Bernie Sanders—target the filthy rich

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      NDP leadership candidate Anjali Appadurai is making waves with her campaign focus on urgent climate action and greater environmental protection, and with her solidarity in support of the BCGEU’s fight for inflation-protected wage hikes.

      She’s also advocated for more aggressively protecting Indigenous rights and title, and has paid some lip service to addressing issues like the housing crisis, the “poisoned drug crisis”, and the need to redistribute corporate wealth in fostering greater social equity.

      But those occasional billows she’s sent cascading on social media with the help of environmental organizations haven’t yet proved either coherent or powerful enough to seriously rock David Eby’s boat.

      On the surface of things, he still looks invincible as Premier John Horgan’s inevitable successor, whatever constructive ripple effects Appadurai’s campaign is creating within the NDP.

      She has certainly done a good job of highlighting the growing undercurrent of disaffection that has alienated so many climate-conscious voters from the NDP government.

      After all, Horgan has out-Christyed Clark’s climate-noxious B.C. Liberal government in doubling down on fossil-fuelled growth, powered by increased natural gas development, grossly subsidized LNG exports, and the now $16-billion Site C hydroelectric dam project.

      No matter how Appadurai fares in the leadership contest, she has already succeeded in forcing the NDP to face how far it has drifted from its ostensible progressive purpose on that file, in tacking to the centre-right.

      And yet, with Labour Day weekend upon us and only a few days left until the September 4 cut-off date for new NDP members to be eligible to vote from November 13 to December 3, there’s so much more she could do to motivate so many more people to support her campaign.

      A mission that will become even more critical for her in the weeks to come, in trying to convince existing party members to support her cause.

      A key target group will be New Democrats whose membership lapses between September 4 and December 2. They would all be eligible to vote in the leadership election, if they make a minimum $10 donation to the party to renew their membership.

      Yet, as an avowed fan of American political sensation and perennial would-be Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Appadurai, of all people, should know that she’s leaving a lot of progressive votes on the table.

      Sanders is here to remind her and progressives everywhere of his key pro tip for winning over legions of fans and followers: target the filthy rich.

      As opposed to merely pure-hearted multimillionaires like himself.

      And also, Sanders might advise Appadurai, actively embrace the inherent value of unions.

      Read this article in the Guardian, or watch his speech at this recent rally in Boston (starting at the 1:02 mark.)

      It speaks volumes about the main focus of his appeal and his class-infused idealism, which never fails to hone-in on equity issues as his baseline for a new American Dream, propelled by a Green New Deal.

      Video: At the 1:02 mark, Sen. Bernie Sanders is introduced to speak at a recent rally in Boston.

      Then watch how Appadurai gently touches upon some of the same themes in this recent interview (starting at about the 9-minute mark.)

      Watch Anjali Appadurai's interview with Kirk LaPointe of Business in Vancouver.

      The difference is profound, in clarity, tone, passion and policy prescriptions.

      Sanders has never minced words in attacking the “richest one percent” as the root of all evil.

      Unlike her, he follows the ageless “on your side” class-based political approach that former B.C. NDP premier Glen Clark so effectively exploited in his 1996 upset election victory.

      Sanders’s support for unions and unionization isn’t the slightest bit equivocal: it’s old-school, ardent, and squarely aimed at increasing union membership and power.

      His pitch on both of those fronts isn’t at all politically cautious, or evolutionary; it’s emphatic, intentionally provocative, and revolutionary to the bone.

      At the base of all Sanders’s compelling rants is a singular radical argument: the need to transfer economic power from those who now control it to those who don’t at all.

      It’s about class relationships, in a nutshell, not climate change, important as that is to his vision, as it also is to Appadurai’s overriding political mission.

      Unlike her, however, Sanders targets class conflicts and the inequitable distribution of wealth as the chief socioeconomic ills that underpins all others—including the climate crisis—in painting his convincing picture of all that has reduced his American Dream to rubble.

      “And what that means is that as we look out over at our country today, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, what we see is that half of our people are living as my family did, paycheque to paycheque,” Sanders said in that speech.

      “We are looking at 500,000 Americans who are homeless. And here’s something that we should never forget: that in the last 50 years, despite a huge increase in worker productivity…real inflation-accounted-for wages are lower today than they were 50 years ago.

      “And meanwhile, as the working-class struggles, and in many cases fall further and further behind, you got three people on top—the three bozos…— who now own more wealth than the bottom half of American society,” Sanders continued.

      “We have the moral responsibility to be outraged when three people own more wealth than half of American society; when the top one percent are earning 45 percent of all income; when corporate CEOs are making 350 times what their workers are making. That is not the America we accept. We’re gonna change it, big time.

      “When you are in a union, you earn better wages. You earn better benefits. You have better working conditions. And you actually understand what a pension is.

      “Maybe even more important than all of that, what a union does is make you not a cog in a machine. You’ll have some power; some say over your work life. You’ve got a piece of paper called a contract and your boss cannot do anything he or she wants.”

      “We are seeing something extraordinary … we are seeing a rebirth of the American trade union movement from coast to coast ... So, growing the union movement gives us economic power, gives us dignity, gives us respect on the job ...”

      You get his drift. And it’s emotionally powerful.

      Of course, the StatsCan figures on income and wealth in Canada and B.C. don’t quite support his American narrative for the top one percent, or Canada’s comparable performance on his claims about America’s falling inflation-adjusted incomes.

      Moreover, unionization rates have also long been declining, with little evidence of any material change as yet.

      Although, they could soon be strongly on the rise again in B.C., what with the NDP’s Labour Relations Code changes that make certifications so much easier. To say nothing of pressures from COVID, staff shortages, deteriorating working conditions, inflation, and so many cost-of-living issues.

      Whatever, Sanders doesn’t let facts get in the way of his fundamental narrative—another pro tip that Appadurai might take to heart.

      In the current context, she would be wise to hit those core economic issues with his passion and precision, and never forgetting that the NDP has traditionally been above all a labour party.

      BCGEU ads like these are driving home the risks of not providing wage increases.

      Yet, watching her in that interview video above, it seems pretty clear that she doesn’t quite “feel the Bern”, as it were, at least on that account.

      In fact, nowhere in any forum have I seen that same fire in her belly on any issue other than climate action. Which she is always quick to stress is what brought her into the NDP leadership dance as the environmental movement’s obliging, if reluctant, flagbearer.

      “My purpose is that I’m the tip of the spear for a much broader movement of people that have put me up to this task,” Appadurai said. “The decision [to run for the NDP leadership] didn’t come from me alone. It was me being sort of pushed into this position by a broad swath of folks from across the province.

      “Certainly, knowing the significant delays on climate and the utterly inadequate record on climate and the environment, especially among other things, was part of the reason for stepping up.”

      For her, it all comes back to the climate emergency, as she reminds us time and time again over the course of that interview, to the point of coming across as a one-trick pony.

      Yes, she believes that the NDP government needs to change, “because the goal posts are different, in the context of the climate emergency. It’s not about maintaining power as a party. It’s not about parties at all. It’s about what is an adequate response to the moment that we find ourselves in,” she said.

      Interesting. That’s not a comment one would expect from a would-be premier.

      I would bet that many people watching that video would feel she is largely missing the most politically salient top-of-mind voter issue in B.C. today.

      Namely, their cost-of-living concerns and affordability challenges, which speak to fundamental problems of socioeconomic inequity.

      Sure, she touches upon those concerns, with qualified comments and distinctly un-Bernie-esque language.

      A case in point: she seemed quite cautious, conventional, and even a tad defensive in trying to answer the Business in Vancouver interviewer’s predictable concerns that her qualified support for somewhat higher corporate taxes would drive away B.C. investment.

      “Well, that’s a really hard one to get past,” she answered. “Somewhere across the world, across North America, across Canada, something’s gotta give with that assumption, right? And to start reprioritizing away from incentivizing and inviting industry towards laying out our values and laying out our red lines and inviting industry to conform to those.

      “I think there are a lot of other factors at play. B.C. is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live. It’s an amazing place to attract employees. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And so, there are a lot of other things that create the conditions for business to thrive here.

      “And so, I think shifting the focus away from taxation structures towards a holistic set of values that make this a good place to do business is the way to go.”

      Well, okay. But I’m not feeling the Bern.

      “Business exists on a spectrum,” she explained. “We’re talking about a windfall tax. So, we’re not talking about taxing businesses out of existence. We’re simply talking about adjusting windfall margins, so that they are closer to the rate of wage increase and closer to the rate of inflation. So that the burden of cost increases, the burden of inflation is not falling squarely on the consumer. And I think that’s a very fair and very reasonable small measure to take.

      “So, there’s a certain bogeyman mentality around taxation. But a lot of taxation that would redistribute wealth to a significant extent through the economy is very reasonable. I mean, just a 1.5 percent corporate—sorry, a point-one percent tax increase—could fund half of a just transition for workers that puts workers first towards a renewable energy industry.

      “So, there’s a lot of space within that to work with that prioritizes businesses in the long term. Because, you know, some of the youth say it really well. They just say, ‘no jobs on a dead planet.’ And in a lot of ways, it comes down to that.

      “Also, as I was saying, businesses existing on a spectrum, small businesses are the backbone of the economy. So, we’re not talking small, medium or even large-size businesses—we’re talking mega-corporations. A lot of wealth there to go around.”

      Got that? Good.

      Glen Clark won the 1996 B.C. election for the NDP with a class-based message telling voters that he was on their side—unlike his opponents in the B.C. Liberals.
      Stephen Hui

      When it comes to taxing the rich, she’s no radical like Sanders. She has no apparent design on dramatically raising taxes for wealthy individuals or not-so-large corporations at all.

      And she believes that a corporate tax hike of only a tenth-of-one-percent on just the wealthiest mega-corporations’ “windfall profits” would be sufficient to finance half of a “just transition” for B.C.’s unionized workers in sunsetted, nonrenewable industries.

      I’d like to see the math on that, as well as her specific plans.

      But be that as it may, I doubt that pitch will do much to convince thousands of new, current or lapsed NDP members to vote for her.

      Not if jobs, wages, working conditions, income inequity, inflation, affordability issues, and workplace rights are at the top of their agenda for political reform.

      Today (September 1), Appadurai’s cause in recruiting union members was dealt another setback as CUPE B.C. officially endorsed Eby’s leadership bid.

      With perhaps only 11,000 NDP members going into the race, which she maintains represents “a cut in the party membership over the past few years”, she is undaunted.

      Given those numbers, it wouldn’t take too many new members to pull off what would surely be the most amazing upset since Christy Clark’s 2013 startling defeat of Adrian Dix’s NDP.

      Although, Norm Farrell astutely challenges that NDP membership number estimate as improbable, considering its source is an environmental activist group that is actively campaigning for Appadurai, and based on the party’s financial figures.

      He notes that “In calendar year 2016, individual contributions to the provincial NDP totalled $3.8 million. In 2021, contributions from 14,195 supporters amounted to $3.6 million. With contributions down only six percent, the notion that membership declined by 45 percent is hard to accept.”

      Whatever the size of the NDP membership, I dare say, most of its members are either also union members, or people equally motivated by social equity concerns rooted in the unfair distribution of individual and corporate wealth.

      Many of them would welcome a Sanders-like focus from Appadurai that would target those concerns with his rhetorical zeal and fury.

      True, it’s unlikely she will ever win much support from union workers in the resource industries that she rightly identifies as anathema to the long-term survival of life on Earth as we know it.

      If David Eby was too green for many of them, her vision for a “just transition” to soothe their actively planned displacement won’t see many of them rushing to join her fold.

      But she could make serious inroads with so many other workers by hitting the class nail squarely on the head and speaking as Sanders does to the basic value of unions.

      There is no shortage of frustration, fear, and anger in her larger potential voter universe.

      Most of those folks are living hand-to-mouth and are struggling to make ends meet. They see their standard of living, quality of life, and dreams of home ownership, retirement plans, and financial security going down the drain.

      They are being ravaged by inflation, COVID fallout, housing shortages, and other economic concerns that they feel powerless to do anything about.

      Instead of just standing in solidarity with the BCGEU’s collective bargaining demands, Appadurai might do well to start speaking about the broader value of unions, especially in the public sector that are fundamentally aligned with her brand of progressivism.

      In terms of the BCGEU, specifically, she should be speaking a lot more about whom those folks are, what they do and how they are all doing so much to deliver the critical public services we all rely upon. And how unions empower them all in serving us all better.

      This BCGEU ad suggests services suffer when wages don't keep up with rising costs.

      Those BCGEU members include home support workers who have cared for B.C.’s elderly all through COVID, and who aren’t paid nearly enough for their efforts and ongoing health risks.

      They include firefighters, corrections officers, justice officials, environmental protection workers, forest managers, social workers, budget administrators, and child and mental-health clinicians—to cite only a handful of examples.

      All of them highlight the value of public services we so often take for granted, which have too often been shortchanged even by the Horgan/Eby government.

      She might point out that only a couple years ago, when COVID first hit, those Liquor Distribution Branch employees who were the initial focus of the BCGEU’s targeted job action were deemed by the Horgan government to be “essential” workers.

      Yet they were denied the government’s essential pay for essential work. How was that fair?

      As the BCGEU returns to the bargaining table and seems to now be making progress on its efforts to secure a fair wage deal for its members, nonunionized workers across our economy might take note, Appadurai could suggest.

      Especially in the hospitality industry, whose mostly nonunionized workers might want to think about joining a union to get a fairer shake themselves.

      After all, their employers got a $71 million annual windfall from the NDP’s wholesale liquor pricing reforms in 2020/21 that so dramatically reduced alcohol-purchase costs for their businesses.

      Yet little, if any, of that money went towards giving those workers inflation-protected wage hikes or better working conditions. As it might have, if they had been members of UNITE Here Local 40, the United Steelworkers, or some other union.

      Appadurai could be appealing to those workers and others in pushing for Labour Relations Code changes to improve certification and successorship rights, and to mandate new statutory timelines for securing first contracts.

      All of those appeals would give her new avenues for winning more political support in her campaign to lead the NDP and B.C. as premier.

      That’s not to say those messages and policies would all necessarily help to re-elect the NDP government. They might not.

      But first things first. Job One for her is to win the election at hand in the party she hopes to lead.

      And Sanders shows that an all-out effort aimed at directly addressing class-based equity issues and the inherent value of unions and unionization might do much to earn Appadurai a bunch more supporters.

      Then again, in the latter part of the above interview, she also seems to suggest that her real interest is to use her knowledge and experience to affect meaningful climate action at the federal level as a member of Parliament.

      If so, she might not be too concerned with driving those other labour-related issues that Sanders so passionately articulates. Which in Canada, overwhelming fall under provincial jurisdiction.

      If her NDP leadership campaign is mostly aimed at highlighting the need to more urgently address the climate emergency, and perhaps, to also increase her odds of winning a federal seat in Vancouver Granville, she might not want to risk antagonizing the broader voter universe.

      In which case, mission accomplished, I’d say.

      And good on her for all she’s doing to put the climate emergency front and centre in this leadership race that Eby appears destined to win with his own well-oiled campaign.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at