The B.C. NDP’s governing body gathers in Vancouver on Friday to begin a glum weekend of sifting through the rubble to divine the cause of its failed election campaign. The triumvirate of Adrian Dix, Moe Sihota and Brian Topp, as the architects of the NDP’s election campaign, will face some tough accountability questions.
The party leader, president and campaign manager, respectively, were treated with reverence way back when the NDP seemed to be certain of victory. Mr. Dix looked like a genius for restoring unity within a party that was badly scarred by internal fighting. Mr. Sihota was presiding over record fundraising efforts. And Mr. Topp was so confident of the party’s strong lead in the polls that he didn’t even arrive in B.C. until just a couple of weeks before the campaign officially began.
But those columns have crumbled, and New Democrats are beginning to squabble – some even question if the party is right to contest the by-election that began last week in Westside-Kelowna. There is a Twitter account – hiding behind an alias – devoted to collecting “Dix should quit” comments.
Mr. Dix has promised a review to learn from his party’s May 14 loss. It is the fourth B.C. Liberal victory in a row, but the most painful because the New Democrats headed into the campaign believing they had an insurmountable, 17-point lead.
Even on election day, the senior-most campaign organizers believed their internal polls put them ahead. Their voter ID efforts told them they had significantly grown their base. But there was no riding-by-riding polling to tell them what the Liberals’ campaign chiefs saw – that the NDP failed to deliver a message that would drive voters to the polls in sufficient numbers.
The NDP’s top campaign organizers have already met, for a closed-door, all-day postmortem. It was held on June 7 at a meeting room in Burnaby. Mr. Topp returned to B.C., along with his hand-picked team of Brad Lavigne and Anne McGrath, so that each of the participants could take turns explaining what they think went wrong. For those in the profession of running election campaigns, their B.C. effort was a humiliation that will not easily be lived down.
At that session, the team talked about a variety of factors in the mechanics of the campaign – the failed polling, the collapse of the get-out-the-vote ground war. They talked about the party brand, and how the core messages didn’t span the interests of both blue-collar and green voters. And they talked about how their political antennae failed to heed the signs that were there – relayed by the troops who ran the phone banks and knocked on doors – that something was wrong.
But those explanations won’t satisfy the rank and file, New Democrats who don’t want to hear excuses. The party had all the financial resources it needed, and the conditions for a win – the Liberals’ 12 years in office provided no shortage of reasons for voter discontent.
Former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman expects some fireworks at the provincial council meeting. “It will be a grave attitude – they are disappointed, frustrated, some are angry. There may be some recriminations.”
To manage that disappointment, the council – made up of MLAs, the party executive and delegates from each of the party’s 85 constituency associations – will be asked to approve the terms of reference for a more cathartic exercise, the broader probe Mr. Dix promised on election night.
Mr. Dix could well step down before the party membership meets this winter at a convention that includes an automatic leadership review.
But right now, he wants to stay to find out how his team was so utterly blindsided – how it was convinced as the polls closed that all was well. “At the end of the campaign, at 7:59 p.m., people had thought we had succeeded,” he said in an interview. He carries the burden of losing heavily. “It was a heartbreaking election for us … and it will be heartbreaking for many people who I think in the near future may wish they had voted NDP.”
What he doesn’t say, but will be clear this coming weekend, is that others share the burden of responsibility.