This past weekend John Horgan and the British Columbia NDP scored a massive majority victory in the provincial election. While final results depend on higher than usual mail-in voting, the NDP will likely win around 55 seats and about 45 percent of the vote. And because polling has indicated that NDP voters were more likely than Liberals to vote in advance, these numbers may improve.
What matters, though, is that now Horgan and the BC NDP can govern alone, and don’t need to rely on a narrow minority supply and confidence agreement with the BC Greens in a legislature where the NDP wasn’t even the biggest party. But no longer can Horgan and company blame their narrow margin of power for their inability to enact progressive legislation. Now is the time to be bold, and to usher in a program that not only improves the lives of people on Canada’s left coast, but offers a blueprint for the rest of the Confederation to follow. If Horgan seizes this opportunity, he could be a Tommy Douglas for the 21st century, a harbinger for a more just and humane Canada.
Good things were achieved under the recent BC NDP-Green minority government, but one of the arguments made by the NDP was that the Greens holding the balance made it impossible for them to pass certain bills—like card check certification to make unionizing easier—as well as move more quickly toward the $15 minimum wage. While there is some truth in these statements, those impediments no longer exist, and so Horgan with his new mandate should move quickly to improve labour standards across the province, both for union and non-union workers.
In other parts of Canada, non-NDP regimes are using the pandemic as an opportunity to roll back labour standards, so the BC NDP must be a bulwark against this trend. Horgan has been a leader at pushing for national solutions on problems like sick leave, but with his increased mandate, his voice should grow exponentially louder. It should be bolder, too. As noted above, the Greens were blamed for the slower move to $15 an hour, but there is no sense that such a move will be expedited with a majority. Nor are Horgan and company promising to look at expanding the minimum wage beyond $15 except via matched increases to inflation.
While such automatic increases are a good policy, many would suggest that $15 is too low a minimum wage, especially in some of BC’s most populated urban areas. The BC NDP should raise the minimum wage a few dollars more before beginning the indexing process. $15 was a reasonable baseline a decade ago; it isn’t any longer. It should also be said that the words “card check” do not appeal in the party’s official platform, perhaps indicating that they have backed off that promise from 2017, all without the Greens being able to block it as they did before.
Further and frankly, the BC NDP platform is far too limited on pushing for the dream of a truly comprehensive system of universal healthcare. While it does commit to fighting for a federal pharmacare plan, and it does pledge to make contraceptives free, there is no push to actually implement pharmacare in the province, without the federal government if necessary. The issue is important enough—and the BC NDP mandate strong enough—that they should move toward universal pharmacare at the provincial level during this mandate.
Likewise, the words “dental” or “teeth” do not appear in the BC NDP platform, and that’s a real shame, especially because Horgan himself mused about implementing it in December of 2018; he even spoke of how his experience with dental issues made the issue more poignant in his mind:
I got my two front teeth knocked out playing basketball when I was a kid and it meant that I was always tentative about smiling. Dental care, dental health is critically important to physical well-being as well as mental well-being.
Again, the BC NDP should move swiftly to ensure that dentalcare, like all essential medications, are provided to all British Columbians regardless of income. This is vital at any time given the increasing decoupling of jobs and benefits, but as this COVID pandemic has shown, having vital health access provided as a condition of employment is a recipe for disaster when people are losing their jobs en masse.
Additionally, the BC NDP’s commitment to truly universal education access is lacking. Certainly, the platform does include elements to expand access to education and improve its affordability, but ‘affordability’ should never be the goal for a social democratic government, unless affordable means free at the point of access for all.
Of course, none of this is to say that there is nothing of value in the current platform, or that it was not the best on offer by a party with the ability to form government in Canada’s third largest province. But if Horgan wants to truly be a progressive example for the rest of Canada, much more needs to be done. As I noted above, Horgan really does have the opportunity and means to be a transformative leader, but the existing roadmap doesn’t lead to that outcome.
Certainly, it may not be possible to achieve all the above, in addition to other important objectives around climate and reconciliation in four short years. Many will tell you that it took nearly a generation for Tommy Douglas to achieve much of what he did in Saskatchewan with the CCF. But I must say that that blueprint from the BC party doesn’t exude the same horizon-oriented vision about what should be done immediately, and into the future.
Three crises that imperil humanity right now are the climate emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, and capitalism. All three will require transformative responses, not mere tinkering, even if that tinkering is well-intentioned and does improve lives meaningfully. We could look back on this election 50 years from now and marvel at what it led to nation-wide, but not without more ambition from those with their hands on the wheel.
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube.