B.C. New Democratic Party profile
Last Updated: Monday, April 6, 2009 | 1:45 PM PT
By Mike Laanela CBC News
The British Columbia branch of the New Democratic Party heads into the May 12 provincial election led by Carole James, a former Victoria school board chairwoman and social worker who rebuilt the left-wing party after its collapse in the 2001 election.
Since being selected as leader in 2003, James has worked to unite the social democratic party and reduce the direct influence of organized labour by changing the membership process.
In the last B.C. election in 2005, the party exceeded even James's modest expectations and surged from three seats to 33, with over 41 per cent of the popular vote — about four per cent less than the victorious Liberals.
And while polls have shown James's popularity rivals Premier Gordon Campbell's, heading into the 2009 vote the NDP's biggest challenge just might be elements of their own political history.
While the party has been a mainstay of B.C. politics for 76 years, it has won a mandate to govern only three times, while forming the official Opposition 16 times, more than any other party in B.C. history.
Roots in the CCF
The party's roots reach back to the early 1930s and the founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation across Western Canada during the Great Depression.
In 1933, a coalition of socialists in B.C. united to form the provincial branch of the CCF and won seven seats that year, displacing the Conservatives as the official Opposition.
The party remained in opposition for most of the 1930s.
By 1941, the CCF was strong enough to potentially win its first mandate to govern in B.C. But before that could happen, the provincial Liberals and the Conservatives formed a coalition to win the election that year.
The Liberal-Conservative alliance held together for over a decade, keeping the CCF in opposition, until the coalition collapsed and was unseated by W.A.C. Bennett's conservative Social Credit party in 1952.
The CCF came a close second in that election, with 18 seats to the Social Credit's 19, but remained in opposition for two decades as Bennett went on to become the most successful leader in B.C. history — winning an unprecedented seven straight mandates.
In 1960 the CCF changed its name to the New Party, and then the next year to the New Democratic Party. But its opposition status in B.C. remained unchanged until 1972.
That year under leader Dave Barrett, the NDP finally defeated the Socreds after nearly 50 straight years in opposition, winning 38 seats, while the Social Credit took 10, the Liberals five and the Conservatives two.
In its short time in office, Barrett's NDP government brought in a wide range of legislation, including the establishment of the Insurance Corp. of B.C. and the Agricultural Land Reserve.
But the government made some mistakes and enemies. When Barrett called a snap election in 1975, just three years into the term, Social Credit was swept back in under the leadership of W.A.C. Bennett's son, Bill, with 38 seats.
Barrett and Bill Bennett squared off again in 1979 and 1983, with Bennett and his Social Credit party winning both elections, and the NDP retaining its familiar status as the official Opposition.
In 1984, Barrett was replaced by Bob Skelly, who lost the 1986 election to Social Credit's Bill Vander Zalm.
After Skelly's poor showing on the campaign trail, he was replaced in 1987 by former Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt, a former lawyer and experienced politician who moved the party toward the political centre.
By 1991, the Socreds were embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal that forced Vander Zalm to resign, and Harcourt easily swept the September election, taking 51 seats, the largest majority at that time in B.C. history.
Meanwhile, the Socreds under new leader Rita Johnson were decimated and a resurgent Liberal party moved back into the legislature to form the official Opposition.
Harcourt's term was dominated by a rising environmental movement in B.C. It culminated in the so-call War in the Woods and the mass arrest of hundreds of protesters determined to protect the rainforest of Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island's West Coast from clear-cut logging.
But it was another challenge that eventually brought Harcourt down. Even though he wasn't implicated, Harcourt resigned in 1996 over the so-called Bingo-gate scandal, which involved NDP officials taking money that was to have gone to charity and using it for the party.
The third mandate
Harcourt's replacement was his former finance minister, Glen Clark, who led the party to a come-from-behind victory over the Liberals in the 1996 election.
However, in 1999 Clark was forced to resign after it was learned he was under police investigation over a constituent's application for a casino licence. He was later acquitted of all criminal charges.
Clark was succeeded by deputy premier Dan Miller, who held the job for six months until the party elected Ujjal Dosanjh as leader in February 2000.
With the party plunging in the polls, Dosanjh, Canada's first Indo-Canadian premier, led the party into the May 2001 election.
But a week before the vote, Dosanjh admitted he could not win the election, and the NDP was thrown out by the voters, winning just two seats in the 79-seat legislature, its worst showing since 1933.
Dosanjh resigned and was replaced by interim leader Joy MacPhail until the election of Carole James at a party convention in 2003, leading to the major comeback in 2005.With files from Duncan Speight