Where does the BC NDP go when its former leader quits?
“April is the cruelest month . . .” said T.S. Eliot many years ago, and although he wasn’t talking about the BC NDP, he might as well have been after former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt tore up his membership card in what can only be considered an act of political courage and abject desperation.
And never in the history of this province has a political party so richly deserved such a cruel and devastating blow.
By committing such an act of political desperation is Harcourt hoping against hope to encourage a charismatic socialist to emerge from the woodwork eager to lead a wounded and bloodied party? I don’t know, but the May 1 deadline to enter the race makes his timing suspicious. Or has Harcourt truly given up on the NDP? If so, it could be the final nail in the party’s coffin.
Let’s face it, the only two candidates in the NDP race so far are retreads that ran before and were soundly defeated by the truly hapless Adrian Dix. How hapless was Dix? In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, former NDP éminence grise Bob Williams described the Dix-led NDP’s performance in last year’s election “the greatest (election) bungle in modern history.” The NDP was “royally kicked in the ass,” said Williams, adding: “We have to show some depth. The tragedy is thinking that a slogan or two will get you through, but it can’t.” How true! And there’s no one in the NDP better qualified to say it than Williams, who was the power behind the throne in the era of former NDP Premier Dave Barrett.
But the blame for the election debacle goes beyond Dix and has to be shared by the entire party. Prior to Dix making his infamous flip/flop on the Kinder Morgan gas line did no one in the NDP back rooms try to talk him out of it? If not, they must all be blamed as well as being responsible for the devastating TV ad the Liberals fashioned out of Dix’s blunder showing a weather vane flipping back and forth with Dix’s face on it. Former NDP cabinet minister Harry Lalli said that ad alone cost the NDP 20 seats mainly in the Interior. Harcourt said the flip/flop on Kinder Morgan laid bare the cleavage between the NDP latte-drinkers in Vancouver and Victoria and the party’s former blue collar supporters in the resource communities of the Interior whose sweat and hard work made it possible for the effete cappuccino-suckers of Robson Street and the Inner Harbour to indulge their habit.
Then there was the NDP’s Stone Age opposition to the carbon tax, one of the few truly progressive things Gordon Campbell did when he led the Liberals and the NDP crapped all over it in a futile bid to cater to the SUV vote. Harcourt called this an “astonishingly stupid decision” and he was right.
Finally, he mentioned the still rancorous split in the party over the internal coup by the “bakers’ dozen” that unseated Carole James as NDP leader. He’s right on this one too and I think it’s the main reason why the provincial NDP has been unable to entice any federal NDP MPs to jump into the B.C. leadership race. Who would want to lead a party that’s been unable to resolve its internal issues for almost five years? And who would dare to lead a party that blew a 20 per cent lead in a 30-day campaign that even their opponents thought they would lose? Never underestimate the power of the BC NDP to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
But in the 2012 election campaign the BC NDP even outdid themselves! Where do they go now? Short of finding a Pied Piper or someone as appealing to the camera as Justin Trudeau, I don’t know. But Jack Layton wasn’t particularly friendly to the camera, yet his ideas and vision inspired millions of Canadians.
Ideas and vision? It’s worth a try and never was a party more in need of them.
– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and Cranbrook City Councillor. His opinions are his own.