Analysis

B.C. NDP struggles to shrug reputation as the 'party of No'

The B.C. NDP has been forced to answer questions about job creation after the federal wing of the party released its ‘Leap Manifesto’. This comes as the provincial party struggles to keep hold of its staunchest supporters.

Leader John Horgan is attempting to convince electorate his party has strategy to create jobs

John Horgan, B.C. NDP leader. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

It has always been a complicated relationship in British Columbia — the New Democratic Party tied together at a federal and provincial level.

To put it in rock n' roll terms, think of the provincial and federal NDPs as Jagger and Richards or Lennon and McCartney.

When they're on the same page, sweet music ensues. But when they're fighting? Man, can it get ugly.

The two sides share volunteers, brand themselves the same way and share stages at major events. But when things are not going so well, the partnership can be hugely detrimental.

The provincial NDP has reached a tipping point because the federal wing of the party is set to spend the next two years debating the controversial 'Leap Manifesto.'

Rejecting Leap Manifesto

The B.C. NDP opposes the policy because the plan largely focuses on ending the development of non-renewable carbon-based resources. Leader John Horgan must convince an important part of his electoral base — unionized workers — that he is not against the jobs those resources create.

It is a fine balancing act considering the NDP fundamentally opposes an increase in carbon emissions.

"Contained within it (the Leap Manifesto) are elements I do support obviously, they are progressive ideas. But in total collectively they do not reflect the values of British Columbians," said Horgan earlier this week. "Our past and our future has been dependent on resource development."

Shoring up the Base

And herein lies the fundamental problem facing the NDP with an election a little more than a year away.

The popular vote is often captured by fighting for the prized 'undecided voters' political strategists are known to target. That makes up the roughly 40 per cent of the electorate in the political middle — with 30 per cent sticking to the NDP on the left - and 30 per cent going for the BC Liberals on the right.

Federally, the NDP is staggering and is using the manifesto to try and recapture left wing votes lost to the Liberals in the last federal election. Provincially, the B.C. NDP can't rely on that base either, with the Green Party offering a substantial challenge to a base that has been safe territory for generations.

Horgan says he's not a fan of the "chess game" of politics in which pundits try to guess how one party can score political advantage against another. Maybe so — but it doesn't take a political genius or chess master to see the provincial NDP is in danger of being squeezed off the board.

The far left views the party as traitors to the cause. And Horgan can't reassure that constituency without offending the working class people whose jobs would be threatened by the Leap manifesto. Clowns to the left of them, jokers to the right, as the song goes. So here the NDP are: stuck in the middle with who

Political parties often try to target undecided voters during elections. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The 'Party of No'

"I think there are enough things that distinguish me from the NDP that will have a few issues on which to run. No to Site C, no to LNG, no to mining, no to TPP. No to just about anything that creates jobs in British Columbia," said B.C. Liberal leader and Premier Christy Clark to reporters this week.  

"I think in that respect the next election will be a lot like the last one. One party will stand for working people and one party will stand for working people that actually have jobs because we actually support work."

Keeping Caucus Happy

George Heyman is the former director of the Sierra Club and is now the party's environment critic. He comes from the branch of the party that has historically been crucial in advocating against reliance on non-renewable energy.

He was also a key advisor within caucus, helping the party establish PowerBC. It's the NDP plan that advocates for a retrofit of public buildings, homes and businesses along with maximizing existing hydroelectric dams.

"I think our role is to speak continually about the policy proposals we have been working on. The jobs plan that we are putting together that is founded on good, strong environmental assessment measures that British Columbians expect," says Heyman.

But how many of those jobs will be created by the B.C NDP is still a mystery. If they can hit the right note of job creation, the election could provide sweet music. If not, they might just be booed off the stage.

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