For more than 50 years now, there has been a quaint ritual performed after most provincial elections in B.C. – the brain trust of the New Democratic Party gathers to hold a debilitating session of second guessing, inevitably leading to harsh denunciations and bitter recriminations, and often ending in political bloodshed.
In fact, there have been only three occasions over that period that the party hasn’t partaken of this most cherished of traditions.
What is truly remarkable about the NDP is that it continues to exist, given what a spectacular failure it has been at comprehending and rectifying its electoral problems. Any political institution this daft and politically tone-deaf doesn’t deserve power.
Nonetheless, here the party finds itself again, gathering on the weekend to figure out how it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It is certain to be appropriately depressing, perhaps even more than usual, given how sure those running the party were that a historic triumph was at hand. There will be tails dragging all over the place.
If I might offer the NDP some advice it would be not to waste a lot of time and energy combing the wreckage of the recent election looking for clues as to what happened. You lost, for a number of reasons, many of which have been laid out in public view for weeks now. Your leader, Adrian Dix, knows why you lost. He got out-campaigned by a wide, wide margin and he made a lot of costly tactical mistakes along the way: Hello Kinder Morgan.
The issues with which the NDP needs to grapple are more fundamental. What kind of party does it want to be in the years ahead? Does it want to continue to be the social movement that many inside the party believe it should be, even at the expense of power? Or does it want to redefine itself and become a modern, business-and-developer friendly centre-left body in the mould of the civic Vision Vancouver party?
In this latest soul-searching session, perhaps someone who really has the interests of the centre-left in mind will propose a rebrand of the NDP, including a name change.
That carries some risk with it, no question. It could lead to a split in the centre-left vote, which would ensure the Liberals (or whatever they are calling themselves in the future) win re-election easily for years to come.
But handled properly, a new entity might draw voters to it that the old NDP never could before, easily compensating for any it loses.
The New Democrats have a fundamental vulnerability that will remain a fundamental vulnerability until something is done to address it: fiscal management and the economy. That is what the NDP should be spending its time trying to figure out. It must reconcile its green agenda with the jobs agenda that most of the province wants from its government. It’s wonderful to be all righteous and high-minded about environmental issues as long as you don’t mind being all righteous and high-minded from the Opposition benches.
It’s fine to say you’ll balance the budget within some poorly defined fiscal cycle and run on an election platform of successive deficits as long as you accept that plan will make many people nervous, particularly given the party’s questionable handling of the province’s finances in the past. And that it will open your party up to some potentially lethal political shots from opponents in the course of an election campaign.
Now the NDP must deal with a Liberal party that is renewed and stronger than it’s been in a long time. And under the control of a highly charismatic leader who will not have to deal with the often onerous internal distractions that occupied her thoughts during her first two years in office. There is every likelihood that Christy Clark won an eight-year term on May 14, not a four-year one.
The NDP has never put much stock in charisma as a political asset. This is the party that elected Bob Skelly to be leader. And even Adrian Dix would admit that magnetism is not an attribute he brings to the job. Is it time the NDP made it a priority in its next leader? Or will the party continue to insist that placing importance on that type of quality is beneath it?
The NDP has lots of questions facing it and yet, as the party’s power brokers gather this weekend, it’s likely few of the most important ones will get answered.