After sixteen years in power, British Columbia’s Liberal government is teetering on the brink of collapse. On May 31, 2017, the BC NDP inked a deal with the BC Greens and set in motion a process that will all but certainly end with the toppling of Christy Clark’s premiership.
We asked sixteen researchers and organizers to reflect on the campaign that got us here, and what might come next.
Success and Failure for the Left
by Matt Hern
Any post-mortem of the BC election has to start with the Greens and the shocking position they now find themselves in. As a fledgling amalgam of traditional environmental, grassroots soft-left and green capitalist sensibilities, I’m curious how the Greens might wield their newfound power as part of a tenuous minority government. Electoral reform and campaign finance reform are the two pieces of their platform that are the most hopeful in instigating long-term systemic change. If something substantive can be achieved on those fronts, then the 2017 election will be an important watershed.
In many ways, though, this election has to be read as both a success and a failure of the left. Overthrowing the Liberal regime is a breath of fresh air to be sure, and opens up a new landscape of possibilities. On the other hand, the NDP was unable to win the popular vote or seat count over a widely disdained government that has ruled for 16 years. Clark’s hyper-partisan permanent campaign-mode, ongoing scandals around big money, and her tone-deaf style on issues such as Kinder Morgan, LNG and Site C left her vulnerable to real critiques. Despite the Liberals claims to a so-called ‘balanced budget success’, the economy has been built on a massive social and ecological deficit.
Disappointingly, and predictably though, the NDP and Greens alike failed to articulate any substantive policy daylight that gained traction with the general public, and the real policy differences between the three parties remained narrow. Each party offered only slight variations on key issues, maybe most gallingly around land politics. There was every opportunity for the NDP or Greens to articulate a substantively affirmative vision for systemic change around land allocation, but housing affordability, renter’s rights, speculation, homelessness, child poverty and other profoundly important issues barely registered in the election.
This was most glaring in the unwillingness of both the Greens and the NDP to speak with substantive vision about Indigenous issues. In a time of global warming, profound ecological questions, energy uncertainty, and the ongoing brutality of colonial policies – the most pressing political question in front of the province has to be addressing the theft of Indigenous land. To date, no party has expressed any interest in talking about decolonization, land rematriations, and the ongoing and kaleidoscopic repercussions of theft, exploitation and profiteering from land. Until that happens, BC politics will remain mired in untenable contradictions.
Matt Hern has a new book (with Am Johal and Joe Sacco) called Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: In Search of an Ecological Future. It will be published by MIT Press in early 2018.
‘Green Green, It’s Green They Say, on the Far Side of the Hill’
In the eyes of most Canadians, BC politics have always been ‘on the far side of the hill.’ This election was no exception. The fate of the NDP in the presence of a 16% Green share of the vote is disappointing – and mildly disturbing. In 1991 I wrote a chapter “The British Columbia Greens: The Ecology of an Improbable Politics” for a book called To See Ourselves, to Save Ourselves: Ecology and Culture in Canada. My point was that the Green Party is a collection of folk all over — or missing from — the ideological map, hoping the environment has enough glue to hold them together. Little has changed. The Green Party, out of power, can do a postmodern dance, issue by issue, all over the ideological map. But the fact remains: we are drowning in the culture, logic and carnage of global capitalism, something even David Suzuki seems reluctant to articulate. Recognizing that capitalism is not “a force of nature” is only a start.
The rise of the BC Greens has been attributed to a public tired of acrimony and traditional political debate. The challenges facing the NDP are pressing and difficult: how to address the employment of working people, many of whom labour in resource extraction industries impacted by technological change and that, given climate change and other environmental realities, are ‘sunset industries’? Challenges facing the NDP don’t stop there. The techy service sector is a source of employment for many young people inclined to vote Green. This is an often ideology-less, postmodern generation, split over ‘issues’ that play with the nature, content and delivery of rhetoric, bypassing the structural mud identified with the Liberals and NDP. The mud — taking seriously the deficits this generation faces in addressing the cost of living relative to wages (especially the costs of accommodation) — is ultimately something they can’t avoid. Issues of equity and equality require an analysis of capitalism and its machinations, and a critical response. These can’t be disappeared in a Green fog. In fairness, Green policies dealing with things like income security seem headed off in some right directions. When they encounter the structural impediments to actually ‘getting there,’ the ideological sensibilities they’ll confront and that they and their supporters have studiously avoided may leave them looking a lot like the NDP. That being the case, it was a good time to shake hands. Hopefully they’ll soon be covered in mud that needs to be taken seriously.
Frank Tester is an Adjunct Professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba and a restorative justice advocate.
Campaign Offered Little on Homelessness Crisis
“Housing” is a word of deep significance to us all, but an illusory promise for many. As the numbers of homeless people increase year over year across British Columbia, politicians of all stripes have promised little to stem the tide, let alone end homelessness. The Liberal track record on housing for people living in poverty has been abysmal, exacerbated by their deeply disrespectful view that people who are homeless are whiners and malcontents. Meanwhile the NDP have made overtures to renters and families, and have promised to create a poverty reduction plan to address homelessness. Where, however, was that discussion during the election? Where were politicians when people needed them the most? In the run up to this election, two former Liberal MLAs in Maple Ridge facilitated the rejection of two proposals to house homeless people in their community, while ensuring the closure of the temporary emergency shelter that has been home to 40 people for almost two years. Instead, these MLAs allowed a non-transparent, biased and unaccountable group of citizens, many known to be openly discriminatory towards those struggling with homelessness, determine that there should not be accessible shelter and housing in their community. Because of them, people will be forced back onto the streets where we know their average life expectancy is about half that of a housed British Columbian. Those two MLAs lost their seats, but there is no clear sign the NDP is ready to do better — to save the lives of people who are being pushed farthest to the margins. In BC, no political party has stepped forward to acknowledge that housing is a human right and one of the key indicators to improve a person’s health and wellbeing. It is a right we all deserve.
DJ Larkin is a lawyer and campaigner with Pivot Legal Society.
NDP/Green Coalition Offers More Robust Challenge to the Impulses of Globalisation
Canada’s only real political debate about globalisation occurred during the 1988 ‘Free Trade Election’ won by Brian Mulroney, though anti-Free Trade Agreement parties actually secured more votes. Since then globalisation has rarely been problematized, and has been accepted as an inevitable part of economic life in the twenty-first Century. Nowhere has this been truer than in British Columbia under the provincial Liberal Party. Globalisation has been welcomed, facilitated, and promoted through constant international trade missions, accommodating immigration regimes, and minimal barriers to capital flows. The provincial Liberals have acted consistently to sustain and benefit from a growth coalition with the property development industry, whose own practices have globalised substantially in the past 20 years.
There are several weaknesses with this economic model. A major one is its failure to hold global forces and their local promoters accountable for the negative consequences of the unfettered hand they have been given. Monitoring and regulatory agencies were weakened by the Liberals, the extent of offshore real estate investment was denied as data that would have suggested otherwise was suppressed, and the principal justification for the absence of housing policy was that house prices were rising, so all must be well! The province gave up management of land and property resources to voracious investors and entrepreneurs, to use a Biblical metaphor abandoning citizens’ birthright of a home for a ‘mess of pottage’. Many people have been left to endure housing insecurity, crippling debt loads, and an intensifying lack of affordability so deep that correction will be exceedingly difficult.
In the past five years, opinion polls by Angus Reid and others have found that the housing question has become dominant in Greater Vancouver, with widespread opposition to the neglect of property stewardship by the provincial Liberals. A panicked response by the party was to introduce the 15% foreign buyers’ tax in summer 2016 but it has proven to be too little and much too late. In the recent provincial election, the swing against the Liberals in Greater Vancouver was decisive for the outcome of the election, with several Liberal ministers losing their seats.
The NDP/Green coalition offers a more critical response to the impulses of globalisation. There is an expectation that economic liberalism will have to co-exist with other policy criteria, notably social redistribution, environmental protection, and transparent democracy that does not privilege special interests. This more ambitious policy perspective will raise more challenges, as sometimes competing goals will have to be resolved. But it is a morally and politically more mature response than the self-serving and one-dimensional model it replaces.
BC Election Holds Promise for Temporary Foreign Workers
The BC Election presented an opportunity to highlight issues affecting temporary foreign workers (TFWs), particularly in regard to their recruitment for jobs in BC. The temporary foreign worker program (TFWP) is not only a matter of federal jurisdiction. The provinces play an important role in regulating and enforcing minimum labour standards for all workers. One of these standards is that workers should not have to buy jobs. Yet, temporary foreign workers are routinely charged thousands of dollars in fees for low-wage, precarious jobs in BC. Too often, these jobs are vastly different than promised, or do not exist at all.
In 2015, over half of the 18,783 approved TFW positions in BC were for low-wage jobs in the agriculture, caregiving, hospitality, food services, and manufacturing industries. These workers are brought to Canada mainly from countries in the Global South and arrive with hopes for a brighter future. Yet, the reality is that TFWs are uniquely vulnerable to exploitation. Not only are they dependent on employers for work visas, the lack of monitoring and enforcement of their rights by the province means that extreme power imbalances inherent in their employment relationships go unchecked.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan have led the way in terms of legislating protections for TFWs in their recruitment and employment. BC brings in the 2nd highest number of TFWs, but the approach under the BC Liberal government has been to deny that TFWs need protection. Our experience tells us otherwise. Founded in 1986, the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association is the only non-profit organization in Canada dedicated to providing legal aid to caregivers and other temporary foreign workers. We have been fighting illegal recruitment fees in the courts on behalf of our clients for years, and in December 2016, launched the Rising Up Against Unjust Recruitment campaign (risingup.ca), which calls for legislation based on the Manitoba and Saskatchewan models, proactive enforcement, and access to information and services for TFWs.
In the lead up to the election, we worked with the BC Employment Standards Coalition to provide submissions to the BC Liberal government and the opposition parties on the need for improved protections for TFWs.
The BC NDP was the only party to include in its campaign platform a commitment to end the collection of illegal recruitment fees by introducing legislation that will require TFW recruiters and employers to be registered, as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Post-election, the prospect of a BC NDP minority government supported by the BC Greens holds promise for change by putting people first. Regardless of whether they are citizens or temporary foreign workers.
Natalie Drolet is Executive Director and Staff Lawyer for the West Coast Domestic Worker’s Association.
‘Progressive Majority’ or Left-er than the Libs?
As the days passed in the lead-up to the election, like many others I felt increasingly confident there would be a meaningful shift in the make-up of the legislature, although I was unsure what it would look like. Despite the fact that the NDP seems to lack leadership, it appeared the Liberals’ arrogance, ill-will and deceit were turning voters to other parties, even if it was not exactly clear what those other parties were offering other than simply not being Clark and the Liberals. To me, the results look a lot like the outcome one might expect in that situation, and less like the “progressive majority” I have heard of in post-election discussions with friends on the Left.
That’s not to say I think the outcome merely represents a fickle reaction, or that there is not in fact real support for the NDP (and, to a much smaller degree, for the Greens) among constituents. It is to say, though, that I don’t think most folks in BC—both those who might have voted Liberal in the past and the largely urban self-identified “Lefties” among NDP supporters—were under any illusions that we could depend on the NDP to deliver a full suite of effective Left policies over the next four years. I think all we could reliably expect is that the NDP would be Left-er than the Liberals. It is not hard to be Left-er than the Liberals. Brian Mulroney was Left of BC’s Liberals.
Which means that we might very well have gotten the best possible result of those available — assuming Clark’s refusal to step down now is not the first part of a dirty trick. While I don’t believe a change of provincial government can produce a radical shift in political-economic direction, I do think that a situation in which the Greens (who were better on housing and on climate) and the NDP (who were better on virtually everything else) have to work together — and so hopefully feeling like they have to walk the talk — could be about as good as we could expect. I would have preferred a couple of more seats for cushion, I suppose, but maybe this means people will have to be in the legislature every day, doing the “progressive” job they said they would do.
Geoff Mann is the author of In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy, and Revolution (Verso 2017) and Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism (AK Press 2013).
Why was the Overdose Epidemic not an Election Issue?
During the 2017 campaign, the top provincial public health crisis was shockingly absent from the concerns of party platforms. Overdose deaths were part of the news-cycle, but not the election cycle.
In January, the BC Coroner announced that 922 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. During the announcement, Health Minister Terry Lake implored the federal government to declare a public health emergency. Despite stunning overdose-fatality figures no federal intervention was made or offered. The Provincial Minister of Health and various other agencies declared a public health crisis, and health authorities across the province pitched in to address the crisis with overdose-prevention measures (e.g. helping to distribute Naloxone and supporting overdose prevention sites). But all of these measures were just stop-gap band-aid solutions. Recent figures tell us that the deaths (488 overdose deaths for the period January to April) have not stopped but have increased in 2017. But throughout the election none of the parties addressed this overdose issue as a systemic public health issue or an election issue.
It should have been a key issue, but it was not. If 922 people died of a flu epidemic and the epidemic continued to rise after it was declared an emergency, then that would have been a key election issue eclipsing all others. Why was the overdose epidemic not an election issue? That’s easy to answer: substance users were disenfranchised as an underclass unworthy of representation. Substance use and addiction are understood by the general public as a “choice” and there is stigma attached to those who “choose” to be substance users or addicts. Addiction, and by extension, overdose deaths are understood as private self-inflicted individual problems, and not a matter for the public. Politicians don’t get any mileage out of fixing problems for addicts. There is little in the way of voter representation or advocates in the electoral system for these disenfranchised in society.
According to Dr. Gabor Maté, it is unresolved pain that drives much of – if not all — addiction. And it was clear that the story of personal pain was not part of this election. And perhaps elections are actually not about “people” at all, or their pain, nor are they about the need for society to take up the challenge of alleviating that pain or resolving problematic societal situations that give rise to pain and suffering. Rather, election cycles are about what “goodies” parties can promise (e.g. more affordable housing, daycare, hydro rates, and better hospitals, schools, and jobs). Despite the mounting deaths, addiction and harm reduction, were never tackled during the election. Shameful.
Michael Ma is an activist scholar who researches issues pertaining to social justice, ethno-racial politics, community activism, and immigrant resettlement. He teaches criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Tinder Politics and the One Living Room Campaign
We are in a curious suspended time in BC politics, with such a close race (Liberal with 43 seats, NDP with 41, the Greens with 3) that the actual results may well be determined after absentee votes and recounts have taken place.
One of the closest ridings is that of my hometown, Courtenay-Comox, where the NDP candidate, Ronna-Rae Leonard, took 10,058 votes, and the Liberal, Jim Benninger, took 10,049 (the Green candidate, Ernie Sellentin, took 4,907). Yes, a nine vote difference. And in the last provincial election, according to a story in the Victoria Times-Colonist, 3,505 absentee ballots were counted for the riding – due, no doubt, to the high number of military members (the riding is home to the Comox air force base) who may be away on training missions and the like. Now, given that Benninger is a former base commander it is tempting to see that this particular recount will be a referendum on the politics of Canadian military members: as a CBC radio commentator put it the day after the election, will they vote for their ex-boss or not? But I think the really apocalyptic outcome is that fewer and fewer voters (low voter turnout continues to plague BC politics, for all its circus-like atmosphere of unlimited corporate donations, Green party spoilers, etc.) mean that, sooner or later, we will see, I don’t know, maybe one voter per riding?
You can imagine the scenario, where parties essentially campaign in the one living room of that one voter, with slightly different demographics depending on the riding (single mom in Vancouver Mount Pleasant, Syrian refugee in Surrey Fleetwood, gas patch worker in Peace River North, hedge fund motherfucker in Vancouver Quilchena). Perhaps the last standing voter will change from election to election, or eventually only one person will vote for the entire province. Or, why not, an Uber-like “disruption,” and instead of a politician representing you who is paid a salary to debate policy, you just find someone nearby on your phone’s app. Tinder politics.
But no, I’m not saying electoral democracy is broken. Not at all.
Clint Burnham teaches in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. He is author of Smoke Show (Arsenal Pulp 2005), Pound at Guantánamo (Talonbooks 2016), and Frederic Jameson and the Wolf of Wall Street (Bloomsbury 2016).
NDP Needs to Bite the Bullet on Difficult Systemic Issues
At the time of writing, the parties’ final decision about forming a new government has not been made. As things stand, it appears likely that the Greens and the NDP will form one. While being dependent upon the Greens may compel the NDP to make some of the pro-environmental decisions it has been avoiding for years, given the BC NDP’s track record and the conservative politics of the BC Greens’ leader, Andrew Weaver, prospects for progressive change are not good.
Decades ago, while working as a staffer at one of BC’s major unions, I was very active in the NDP. Toward the end of my activism as an NDPer, I participated in the BC party’s Green Caucus, which actively supported efforts to save the first growth forest in the Carmanah from being logged. Instead of responding to that confrontation with a strong, pro-environmental stand, the party establishment sided with the I.W.A.’s company unionism in opposition to environmental activism within the party. It was after witnessing this and other, similar, intra-party debacles up close that I parted company from the NDP.
Fast forward to the election of 2017, in which environmental issues like the building of the Site C dam drew great deal of attention. BC NDP Leader John Horgan, concerned about alienating the building trades unions on the one hand and environmentalists on the other, declined to support or oppose the dam. Instead he said that an NDP government would send the project to the BC Utilities Commission for a review on whether it should proceed.
In short, both the NDP and organized labour continue to avoid taking on the difficult issues, hoping against hope that they can get by in the face of the vast increase in corporate power resulting from the advent of neoliberalism and corporate-driven globalization. Not only has this approach not worked; it has meant their acquiescence to the social and environmental devastation that have been the hallmark of neoliberal capitalism. Under these circumstances, the best we can hope for in BC is that Andrew Weaver might use his influence to make the NDP bite the bullet on some of these tough environmental issues.
What’s sorely needed in Canada right now if we are to escape from the politics-as-usual that dominate in Canada at every level is something comparable to the campaigns that Bernie Sanders ran on Stateside and that Jeremy Corbyn ran on in Britain, addressing vitally important systemic issues of concern to the entire population.
Sid Shniad is a longtime social activist, currently involved in Palestine solidarity work via Independent Jewish Voices Canada.
Headbanging on a Friendlier Wall
by Tamara Herman
In the run-up to this year’s election, I found myself doing two things I don’t normally do. One was organizing a demonstration featuring children’s performers and bubble machines. The other was volunteering at a provincial NDP candidate’s office.
My toddler had just left an East Vancouver unlicensed daycare when another child was found dead in January. To say finding daycare is difficult is an understatement: We’d tried for months to find an arrangement that we could afford and were comfortable with before this happened. Needless to say, the incident left me with a sense of urgency in terms of fighting for safe, affordable, and quality daycare. The parents of the toddler who died pledged their support for the $10 a Day Childcare Plan, which the NDP had included in their party platform. And so I found myself organizing “Stroller Brigades” for public daycare and – after many years of organizing outside the party system – volunteering at an MLA candidate’s office.
I did so with reservations: The NDP’s platform falls short on critical social issues, such as raising social assistance rates, ending the overdose crisis, building enough social housing, and reforming the Residential Tenancy Act. But after 16 years of austerity, I was ready to bang my head against a friendlier wall. I felt that even small reforms could mean concrete changes for some.
It looks like 60% of BC felt the same way. If the campaign itself was unremarkable, the outcome was astounding. It also reflected deep divides in BC, especially between urban and rural areas. The NDP have a challenge ahead of turning the job discourse on its underbelly and focusing on the real issues: a legacy of colonialism, deep inequalities and rising poverty.
My hope is that we will push fears of breaking this fragile new government aside and fearlessly push it to meet higher expectations in however long it has.
Tamara Herman is a community organizer working on poverty and social issues in Vancouver.
An End to Vote Splitting?
The announcement of the NDP/Green cooperation agreement may finally end the issue of vote splitting and usher in a new era of proportional representation. However, during this past election accusations of vote splitting were rampant. “If you vote Green you are voting Liberal” was a common theme. This never really resonated with me. At first glance the results suggest a vote split: Liberals 43, NDP 41, and Green 3. However, the numbers do not support this idea, especially when compared to the 2013 election.
This election the Liberals garnered 40.36% of the popular vote; in 2013 it was 44.13%, a decline of almost 4%. The NDP was at 40.28% compared to 39.72% in 2013 - they gained a bit but clearly not the 4% the Liberals lost. The Greens doubled their vote: 16.84% in 2017 from 8.15% in 2013. These numbers show they did not steal that gain from the NDP; it probably came from the Liberals or new voters (likely both). This is borne out by the numbers - Voter turnout in 2013 was 55.32% and 2017 was 57.1% so there was an increase in voters. An interesting example of how a Green vote does not equal an NDP vote is the Burnaby North constituency. The 2013 results saw Liberal Richard T Lee win with 46.82% of the vote, Janet Routledge NDP with 43.86%, Carrie McLaren GP with 7.00% and 2.32% for an independent. This was a key example used to prove vote splitting in the 2013 election. A common thing to do when discussing vote splitting is to simply add the losing candidates total to the next lowest losing candidate to see if together they add up to more than the winning candidates, this is then used as evidence to ‘prove’ vote splitting has occurred. This is the evidence to prove that vote splitting has occurred. Interestingly, this most recent election presented a rematch between Lee and Routledge, this time with the NDP winning. Janet Routledge NDP won with 48.57%; Richard T. Lee at 39.42%, and Green Peter Hallschmid 12.01%. Clearly, this NDP victory did not come at the cost of the Greens. The Greens and the NDP each increased their vote. If the vote splitting theory from 2013 were true, a 5% increase in the Green vote should have spelled a worse loss for the NDP, not a win. Hopefully, BC will have proportional representation in the near future and accusations of vote splitting will be a thing of the past.
John-Henry Harter teaches history and labour studies at Simon Fraser University and is the author of ‘New Social Movements, Class, and the Environment: A Case Study of Greenpeace Canada’ (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2011).
NDP’s Minimum Wage Commitments Were Inadequate
Many of us welcomed the BC NDP’s decision to support the Fight for $15 movement. In their 100-page platform, the party rightly challenged a few of the myths resisting efforts to raise wages for, largely, precarious workers. They noted that businesses in Seattle, where the $15 minimum is law, are thriving. Significantly raising the minimum wage won’t threaten employment, the party made clear. It will simply raise wages and make it easier to live in an expensive province. But the party’s plan is to bring workers to $15 an hour by 2021 (albeit with increases every year). In light of the recent announcement that Ontario workers will be there by January 2019 (and at $14 an hour by January 2018, up from $11.49), the BC NDP’s promise felt inadequate. Now, the post-election coalition between the BC NDP and the Green Party is forming a Fair Wages Commission which will look into making recommendations for implementing a $15 an hour minimum wage. Whether this Commission will bring about the increase any sooner is an open question now. But what we do know is that significantly raising the minimum wage requires no legal changes. It’s a political decision — and it’s one that was achieved in Ontario because there was widespread public support. Ontario isn’t so different from BC. If the Fight for $15 campaign in BC wasn’t a prominent aspect of the election, it was certainly on the minds of many, and workers in this province need to see their wages go up sooner rather than later.
Daniel Tseghay is a writer and organizer living in Vancouver-Unceded Coast Salish Territories. He writes for RankandFile.ca and other publications.
Pipelines and Provincial Politics
As someone who grew up on the west coast but has since relocated to Alberta, I watched the most recent BC election with great interest. Though I am not, and never have been, a member of the NDP (provincially or federally), I hoped that the BC NDP could eke out a win against Christy Clark and the BC Liberals.
I was rooting for the NDP, not so much because I think they will radically alter BC’s political culture overnight, but because I think their position against pipeline development could put the Alberta NDP into an interesting (and possibly more progressive) position regarding climate issues, which they are currently sidestepping for political capital. The prevailing logic in Alberta, and within much of the Alberta NDP, is that an anti-pipeline stance is electorally untenable: you can’t get elected unless you support the “rip it and ship it” oil and gas economy. Whether this is true or not, it is the party line and the Alberta NDP continues to push for new pipeline projects.
The election of Donald Trump in the United States has buoyed the spirits of some Albertans. Trump has greenlit projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL, which will take tar sands oil south to be shipped to international markets. But access to west coast shipping to Asian markets – something greatly desired by oil companies – remains in doubt. Over the past few years, the BC Liberals have advanced pro-pipeline positions and, had they won a majority government, likely would have pushed through pipeline projects (with Justin Trudeau’s support), despite increasing opposition from activists and Indigenous land defenders.
Thus, the outcome of the BC election – with the Greens supporting the NDP to bring down Clark’s Liberals and form government – is an interesting one on both sides of the Rockies. At the time of writing, it is still unclear how the politicking will play out. Is there truly a meaningful basis for convergence, or will the Greens bristle and try to block the NDP’s social-democratic budgeting and spending to grow their political capital? There are many possibilities. Regardless of what happens, the Alberta NDP will be watching closely to determine its policy directions and pipeline prospects. There can be little doubt that a long overdue leftward (ish) shift in BC provincial politics, supported by social movements, could pump the brakes on pipeline development to the coast, which – in addition to being better for the planet – could also pressure the Alberta NDP to develop a more progressive position on economic diversification and environmental sustainability.
Sean Carleton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of General Education in Calgary, Alberta, Treaty 7, and a member of Canadian Dimension’s Coordinating Committee.
Public Policy Failure on Working Poverty
Affordability was the buzzword of the 2017 BC provincial election. Like most of Canada, wages in BC have been stagnating while basic costs have been increasing. Between 2007 and 2014 child care costs in Metro Vancouver increased by 35% while the median income only increased by 10%. Since the Liberal government was elected in 2001 there has also been a decrease in investment in public programs. Fees for services, like the Medical Services Premium (MSP) which is a monthly fee for basic health care provision, have increased. This downloading of costs onto the individual together with the approximately 34% of two parent families in Metro Vancouver not earning the living wage meant that families who had previously not felt the pinch of government cuts were willing to engage in a conversation on affordability.
The vision for addressing affordability became one of the main issues which the election was fought over. The three parties put forward two competing visions of the role of government. In evaluating the impact of low wages, the Living Wage for Families Campaign looks at both the earned income that would allow a family to meet their costs in a community as well as the policy solutions that could reduce the need for high wages. Metro Vancouver has the highest living wage in Canada with two parents each needing to earn $20.62/hr to meet their costs in contrast to a provincial minimum wage of $10.85/hr. The high living wage is partially a result of public policy failures on the issue of working poverty.
The Liberals put forward a jobs plan and insisted that there was no need to address social assistance and disability rates. This reinforces a neoliberal narrative of personal accountability for poverty and makes invisible the structural inequality, like discriminatory practices in hiring and access to housing that Indigenous people, people with disabilities, single moms, people of colour, trans folks and immigrants and refugees face. This jobs plan included major investments in oil and gas and BC Hydro’s investment in the controversial Site C dam. It did not address low wage work or a process to increase stagnating wages.
The Green and NDP, although having distinct solutions to affordability, emphasized the role of government in providing universal services. The NDP made a $15 minimum wage, eliminating Medical Services Plan payments and universal affordable child care core planks of their campaign. These campaign promises came directly from the advocacy of community organizations, activists and labour. The Green part advocated for a basic income pilot, increasing the minimum wage, and an expansive universal child care system.
Sixty percent of voters supported the call for a broader range of public services. This is a rejection of the narrative of neoliberalism. However, moving forward it will be up to us as community organizations, activists and labour to continue to push for full implementation of the policies promised while organizing to win a poverty free BC.
Deanna Ogle is an organizer with the Living Wage for Families Campaign.
Time to Tighten the Activist Boots
The first time I voted in a BC election was May 9, 2017. Consequently, I experienced many firsts in relation to electoral politics here. I moved to Vancouver in 2013, shortly before the last election and was eager to watch the results but could not find a pub that prioritized the election over a ‘big’ Canucks game. When we found a spot showing the election, my friend gasped when she saw the coverage. All she could see was red (figuratively and literally) and all I saw was the lack of blue on the election map. For the first time in nearly 40 years, I did not see any Conservative blue! The optics were jarring. I resisted the urge to smile, knowing that B.C Liberals were Conservatives in a red disguise.
Another four years of Liberal rule was nothing to smile about; I know provincial conservatives, I came of voting age during Ontario’s ‘Common Sense Revolution.’ Clark’s approach to housing, environment, and welfare rates, felt all too familiar. In 2013, I knew what to do, tighten my bootstraps and get to work. Fast forward, four years. My bootstraps were tied tightly but it was hard to move. I felt a helplessness and rage that was echoed by many activist friends who wanted to stop Clark’s liberals. Panic motivated my next set of electoral ‘firsts.’ I volunteered for a political party, knocked on doors, and scrutineered.
Then, another first. Both of the NDP candidates I volunteered for beat incumbents. Score! Watching this election with a group of friends was, I am certain, more exciting than any Canucks game could ever be. We were on the edge of our seats. This time the lack of blue on the screen did not alarm me but the balance of red and orange did. My excitement soon turned to nervousness. Tight races. Courtney-Comox. Ballots recounted. Final count announced three weeks post-election. A knot in my stomach formed that would not go away. If I believed in purgatory, I am sure this is how it would feel.
Then, my final first. Standing in line for a Greyhound bus in Ontario watching the initial formation of a NDP minority, feeling a mix of relief and caution, I tightened the straps of my activist boots, ready for the work ahead. I finally allowed myself to smile, albeit tentatively.
Lisa Freeman is an activist-academic who teaches at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and lives on Coast Salish Territory.
Watching the BC election has involved negotiating a strange series of dislocations. While I am happy to learn of the NDP-Green alliance, their victory remains distant to me. The North is my home, and I return there each summer. Although the NDP won my home riding, they did not win many others in the Northern and rural areas of the province. The locus of NDP-Green power resides in the urban South. The extent to which the NDP agenda will translate to the North remains an open question.
There is a lot of talk about how an NDP-Green alliance would advance Indigenous issues. However, the left has never effectively implemented a program for Indigenous political and economic self-determination in the North. The tendency of progressives to conflate Indigenous and environmental issues often disregards the need to address conditions of Indigenous marginalization. While Indigenous communities care about environmental issues, they also desire opportunities to participate in economic development. I sincerely hope the NDP-Green victory can yield a greater measure of justice for Indigenous communities on both environmental and economic grounds.
Similarly, the rhetoric of the new green economy is difficult to place in the North. More and more, one must ask where will Northerners find work? Forestry is failing, in the wake of years of overharvesting. The modernization of northern industry, such as the Kitimat smelter, has increased production while decreasing labour requirements. Massive industrial projects were long a northern economic staple, but with the work increasingly done by machines, they no longer provide the same volume of stable, Northern jobs.
The NDP-Green alliance may be right to disavow this old model of industrial production. Certainly, pipelines do not provide meaningful opportunities for long-term employment beyond construction. What pipelines do create is the infrastructure for expanding regimes of unconventional hydrocarbon development, risking the vitality of local watersheds and aquifers as well as endangering the global climate. Blocking this trajectory of development, the NDP-Green shift us away from the worst environmental futures.
However, their vision of a new green economy has not grabbed the political imagination of Northern and rural BC. People here still want jobs, and if progressives want to win seats in rural areas, we need to develop a discourse to address rural concerns. This requires thinking beyond massive industrial projects, reimagining economic and community relations, and issuing a compelling vision to reconsider how we think of work.
Originally from Northern BC, Tyler McCreary is an assistant professor of geography at Florida State University.