The gathering of the clan after an election loss is always a dreadfully dreary affair for the B.C. NDP. But this weekend's annual convention may set a new standard for the cheerlessness that inevitably exists after yet another drubbing at the polls.The NDP has spent the months in the wake of May's shocking election result mining the entrails of defeat in search of answers. There has been soul-searching and butt-covering. There have been reports that have tried to make sense of the defeat. Some of the observations made have been spot on. Others have missed the mark completely.
Certainly, there is more than one reason that NDP Leader Adrian Dix and his party failed so utterly. But there is one underlying cause that stands out among the rest: the NDP is a party in search of itself; one conflicted about what it stands for. Give me a party struggling with its identity and I'll give you a party struggling to connect with voters.
Others are now making similar observations. And one of the more notable voices articulating this viewpoint is former NDP Premier Dan Miller. In a recent opinion piece offered to a Vancouver newspaper, Mr. Miller, who was interim leader and Premier for six months between 1999 and 2000, says the party he once served is gripped with fear when it comes to taking any position on resource development.
Mr. Dix's costly reversal on the Kinder Morgan pipeline during the campaign reflected that fear, Mr. Miller wrote. There is a powerful element in the party that is quick to criticize any resource development, he says, while at the same time clamouring for more money for health care, education and social programs. Of course, this faction always overlooks one not-so-minor detail: Where is the money to increase budgets going to come from if provincial revenue generated by resource development is not available?
It is a hypocrisy that now seems to be embedded in the party's consciousness. Dealing with this dilemma and re-establishing a firm identity for the NDP will be the first job of any new leader.
There will likely be much discussion at the convention about the pending leadership race; not just who the candidates will be but also when the contest should be held.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the NDP needs to find the best possible leader it can. If moving the proposed date of a leadership contest from next spring to some time, say, in the fall would allow the party time to attract some top-flight contenders, then this idea should be considered. But if it doesn't appear that the party can entice anyone outside the usual list of suspects to give it a go – potential star candidates such as Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond or VanCity's CEO Tamara Vrooman, for instance – then hold the convention in the spring.
Get on with it.
New Democrats are suffering from post-pounding depression right now. You can feel it. The party is under the direction of an outgoing, lame-duck leader and it is always tough under those circumstances to ignite a new passion among a dejected and defeated flock. The NDP is in stall mode until a new leader is chosen.
Besides more hand-wringing about how and why the party lost in May, there will likely also be discussion this weekend about where the NDP goes from here. It is also a conversation that threatens to be a complete waste of time.
The new leader of any party will determine the next destination for the party; that person always does, regardless of the political affiliation. It is the leader that has the greatest power to shape a party's character and image. It is also the leader who has the unique ability to get people fired up about the promise their party holds to change the future; to make it better.
Above all else, the next NDP leader will have to rework the contract between the NDP and its supporters. A new connection must be built between jobs and the working people who the NDP have always tried to represent and those whose sole focus is protecting the environment at the exclusion of resource development.
That next leader must help the NDP find its way again. Right now the party is lost.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated VanCity's CEO was Wendy Vrooman. In fact, Ms. Vrooman's first name is Tamara.