By all accounts, John Horgan's first convention as leader of the B.C. NDP was a universal success. It helps when you're able to deliver the kind of rousing, campaign-style speech that lets people forget about the party's dismal electoral record and instead dream about another shot at power.
Mr. Horgan is a natural orator. He can give a stirring call to arms without much effort, or at least he makes it seem that way. Mr. Horgan's predecessor, Adrian Dix, had the intellectual firepower but not the speaking chops and it cost him, particularly on the election trail. Come the next general vote in two years' time, Premier Christy Clark, whose upbeat, inspiring stump speeches have made her such a daunting campaigner, will be squaring off against a much more formidable opponent.
It also helped that the provincial NDP entered its weekend convention on a bit of a run of late. Mr. Horgan and his team of 32 MLAs have spent the last few weeks hammering the government on everything from child welfare to a culture of secrecy that recently drew the wrath of the province's privacy commissioner. While the NDP should certainly be applauded for holding the government to account on these issues, I would caution the party about getting too excited about any long-term implications.
As odious as the government's admission is that senior members of Ms. Clark's staff have been methodically circumventing the province's information access laws, there is no predicting what impact it will have on voters 24 months from now. My guess is it will be very little. Just a couple of weeks before the last election, Ms. Clark was embroiled in a scandal of a similar nature. It concerned the revelation that senior political aides in her office had orchestrated a loathsome campaign to win over ethnic voters using government resources.
Many called for the Premier to step down. She refused, leading her party to a massive majority instead.
Rare is the scandal big enough on its own to bring down a government. It has certainly happened. But the provincial NDP would be making a mistake to craft an election strategy around the singular notion that the public is following every peccadillo intently and will make its judgment accordingly.
At best, the so-called triple-delete imbroglio – the privacy commissioner discovered that political aides in the Clark government were triple-deleting e-mails so they could not be retrieved for Access to Information requests – is another chink in the government's armour. But it is unlikely to be fatal on its own.
What could hurt the B.C. government come the next campaign, however, is what triple-delete and other controversies of this nature represent: a government that has grown cynical and arrogant, one that has lost its moral gauge. It could reasonably be argued the last election win, as unexpected as it was, imbued the Liberals with a sense of superiority, almost invincibility. It's the same type of conceit and self-importance that eventually enveloped the federal Conservative Party under Stephen Harper. And we just witnessed what can happen when the majority of the public comes to resent, even hate, a government it feels has stopped listening and has become imperialistic instead.
That is when a message of hope and change truly resonates.
Mr. Horgan's biggest challenge, and one not addressed at the party's convention last weekend, is defining what the NDP stands for these days. The party knows already the Liberals are going to try to paint it as anti-development – it worked in 2013, why not try it again? So far, Mr. Horgan has had a weak response to that charge.
In its bid to pluck enough votes from the middle of the political spectrum – something the NDP has to do to gain power in B.C. – the party has to be careful it doesn't abandon its values and principles. There are people in the NDP still furious at Tom Mulcair for getting outfoxed by the Liberals on the question of balancing the budget. (The NDP said it would balance its budgets immediately, while the Liberals said they would run a string of deficits before balancing.) In the party's bid to demonstrate it was ready to handle the economy, Mr. Mulcair arguably got it wrong during the federal election.
Mr. Horgan would certainly have taken note of that.
Over all, however, John Horgan has to feel good about where his party is at the moment. His caucus is showing a confidence it didn't have a year ago. The government benches are no longer mocking Mr. Horgan's troops as routinely as they once did. And at his party's convention at least, Mr. Horgan sounded like the leader for which the B.C. NDP has long been waiting.