May 31, 2013
BC Election results: the struggle in British Columbia will continue
The May 14 B.C. provincial election saw the right‑wing Liberals win a fourth consecutive majority, thanks largely to the corporate sector which financed a massive anti‑NDP attack ad blitz. But it must be also noted that Adrian Dix's NDP failed to campaign on a platform to defend the interests of the working class against big business.
Coming after years of popular anger against the Liberals, including the historic defeat of the HST, the election result defied polling numbers which had given the NDP a wide lead.
The Liberal share of the popular vote dropped slightly, from 45% in 2009 to 44% in this campaign, and Premier Christy Clark was defeated in her own riding. But the BC Conservatives took less than five percent of the popular vote, so the anticipated split of the right‑wing forces did not materialize. Decisive sections of big capital united to preserve B.C.'s traditional "free enterprise" coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives. In particular, the energy and resource industries made enormous efforts to save the Liberal government, which is expected to repay them with support for projects to expand hydrocarbon exports.
The coming months will expose the true, anti‑working class character of the B.C. Liberals. Despite their gamble on big revenues from resource exports, the Liberals cannot save British Columbia from the effects of the global capitalist economic crisis. Hydro charges will skyrocket, the union‑bashing seen during Campbell's years as premier will return, the rights of First Nations will be trampled, and poverty will deepen for large sections of the population. On May 15, six more schools were closed by the underfunded Cowichan Valley school district, an ominous sign of things to come. The Premier's "balanced budget" will be seen as a cynical lie, and next year's budget will launch a new round of social spending cuts.
This situation is a powerful rebuke to those who argued that the working class and popular forces should try to ride out the storm until the NDP's return to power.
The defeat of the NDP proves yet again that change cannot be won simply through electoral tactics. This is not to dismiss the aspirations of labour and progressive activists who worked so hard to elect a new government. Their courageous efforts over the past twelve years, and during this election, deserved a far better result.
But this struggle was not matched by the NDP leadership, which repeatedly dampened any hopes of reversing the damage inflicted by the Liberals, instead calling for "small, realistic" changes. In fact, the NDP (like social democratic parties in other countries) largely accepts the basic premise that the capitalist system can only be adjusted, not challenged. This allowed the Liberals to set the tone for the campaign, falsely pitting "economic growth" against "the environment", when in fact the Liberal record on both issues has been dismal.
Adrian Dix did pledge to reverse a small part of Campbell's $2 billion annual tax breaks for the corporate sector and upper‑income brackets ‑ but so did Christy Clark, to distance herself from Campbell's legacy. Dix had planned to use some of these revenues to support badly‑underfunded public schools and post‑secondary education. On the other hand, the NDP's promise to raise starvation‑level social assistance rates by a miserly $20 a month ‑ and only after two years ‑ was seen by many poor people and anti‑poverty advocates as a slap in the face. The NDP also failed to present any serious plan to build more low‑income housing, or to make strong commitments to progressive changes to labour legislation.
This strategic failure, not so‑called vote splitting by the Greens, is the real reason for the NDP's defeat. The NDP share of the vote declined from 42% in 2000 to 39.5% in this campaign. The drop in turnout of eligible voters to below 50% indicates that many potential NDP supporters were not inspired by the party's weak platform.
Adrian Dix will lead 33 MLAs back to Victoria, and some of these members will be powerful critics of the Clark government. The Green MLA Andrew Weaver will also be a welcome voice for the environment rather than corporate interests.
But the key struggles over the coming four years will be in workplaces, communities, and wilderness areas across British Columbia. The Liberal attack must be met with a powerful, militant, united response, by working people, First Nations, youth, seniors, women. We cannot allow our movements to be distracted and divided by narrow electoral ambitions, nor by counter‑productive tactics of isolated individuals. Only broad, united movements can set the stage for fundamental change in British Columbia.
The BC Federation of Labour, and other organized labour groups in the province can play a crucial and positive role in such a struggle. When the organized labour movement gets involved politically for social change in the interests of the working class, they can make a difference. Political action by labour must move beyond simply providing foot soldiers, resources and mobilization as a part of the NDP electoral strategy, although this may be a part of it. Independent political action together with its allies in community and social activist groups, raising the issues year‑round from a working class perspective, is needed. This kind of political action must break out of narrow sectarian strategies and be inclusive as a rallying point for progressive opponents to the Liberal pro‑corporate agenda.
This is why it remains critical to build a much larger and more influential Communist Party in British Columbia. The Communist candidates presented a comprehensive platform to put people and the environment ahead of corporate greed. As expected, the low vote for Communist candidates reflected the difficult choices faced by working people desperate to defeat the Liberals. But much larger numbers of young people supported the Communist Party in the Student Vote BC project. This shows that our policies for fundamental change do have wider support. The time is coming when Communist MLAs will be on the floor of the Legislature to fight for the rights and interests of the working class.
To all our friends who campaigned and voted for change on May 14th, only to face bitter disappointment, we say: the struggle to block the corporate agenda will continue in British Columbia. Our party will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder with others for poverty reduction, social housing, improved labour legislation, a higher minimum wage, full equality, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and other vital demands. We welcome you to join our Party, to help us build a powerful People's Alternative to the neoliberal agenda, and to work for a socialist Canada, where exploitation, oppression and environmental destruction are replaced by economic justice, social equality, and a sustainable future!
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