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September 22, 2013

NDP Renewal

The background to the 2011 NDP and Liberal leadership races was nothing like the political environment for the upcoming 2013 NDP contest.

In 2010 both Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP Opposition Leader Carole James were unexpectedly forced to resign, Campbell on November 3rd and James on Dec 6, forced out by a revolt within her caucus. Leadership elections unfolded in the shadow of the HST petition campaign which took place between February 4 and August 23, 2010.

On February 26, 2011 Christy Clark won the BC Liberal leadership on the third ballot, raising $675,720 and spending $437,938 (spending doesnít include money transferred back to the central party or fundraising expenses and campaign deposit). Second place finisher, Kevin Falcon raised $897,628 and spent $605,591.

On April 17, 2011 Adrian Dix won the BC NDP leadership, also on the third ballot. He raised $210,063 and spent $101,076. Second place finisher, Mike Farnworth raised $117,727 and spent $54,972. Half of contributions to NDP leadership candidates were paid to the central party to finance the central party's cost for the election.

While the NDP leadership was a low budget affair compared to the Liberals, the need for a candidate to raise over $100,000 for a serious campaign can prove to be a major deterrent to entering the race. On January 13, 2011, just a month after James resigned, the NDP released rules for the campaign. This time the party is expected to announce the rules sometime in October, a few weeks before its November convention. If convention makes any changes that affect the rules, they can be amended. For example, convention delegates could say that there has to be new voting procedures.

While it is hard to imagine internal division as bad as what led to Jamesí resignation, the four month delay between the surprise NDP election defeat and the September 18th resignation of Dix might indicate some disagreements. The following day, campaign manager Brian Topp's 40 page memo analyzing the defeat was leaked to the media. It is now available for all to see on the Internet. Many say that it doesn't take 40 pages to understand the NDPís loss. In a column titled "Dix's fatal flaw was he couldnít go negative given his own past", Province columnist Michael Smyth discussed Topp's take on the NDP's softball campaign. Pundit Norman Spector has put it in blunter terms, describing Dix as a fatally flawed leader. On CBC Victoria's weekly political panel, Spector concluded the show by observing that while pundits and reporters had discounted Dix's 1999 memo as old news, many voters heard about it for the first time during the 2013 election campaign. It is essential for the NDP to choose a new leader who cannot become a victim of attack ads from the Liberals or their friends.

On numerous occasions Global TVís Keith Baldrey has said the NDP's challenge goes beyond leadership to the issue of jobs vs. the environment. Does that dichotomy mean the Liberals always put the environment second to jobs? Both parties balance economic issues with environmental protection. The differences are found in where that balance is found and how the environment can be protected while developing resources. It is in the specifics of that debate where the NDP must establish credibility, not in sweeping generalizations. Never again can the NDP or its leader flip-flop on an issue like Kinder Morgan in the middle of a campaign.

Some NDP activists believe renewal for the NDP begins with the November convention. A group calling itself "ForwardBCNDP" is organizing for the convention and has several resolutions it is promoting. The Globe & Mail's Gary Mason quoted its spokesperson, Sage Aaron, saying: "What we're looking at is building a stronger, more united party through renewal and modernization. We want to identify and engage the next tier of voters."

Also organizing for convention is five-term North Vancouver city councillor Craig Keating who ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in North Vancouver-Lonsdale. Both times Keating ran he won a higher percentage of the vote than I did when I won that seat, but Keating ran against only one strong opponent while I had two strong opponents. In forty years of activism in the party, I've never seen someone campaign to be elected president of the party, particularly in an open style with a campaign team that is contacting delegates. That is what Keating is doing with over 30 volunteers and a website that provides regular updates.

Perhaps generational change really is on its way for the NDP!