Skip to content

Will upbeat mood last for NDP?

The confidence and unity that has been building in the NDP was on full public display at the party's convention this past weekend, and the gathering served as a coming-out party of sorts for leader Adrian Dix.

The confidence and unity that has been building in the NDP was on full public display at the party's convention this past weekend, and the gathering served as a coming-out party of sorts for leader Adrian Dix. All eyes were on Dix as he gave his most important speech since becoming leader last spring. Although it was arguably too long, the speech was a deft mixture of self-deprecating humor and key message points.

The part of the speech that grabbed most of the attention was his insistence that an NDP government would have a "modest" agenda in its first four years. He pointed out the NDP government in the early 1990s introduced more than 200 pieces of legislation in four years - much too much, according to Dix.

But some contradictions were quick to emerge. No sooner had Dix lowered expectations than he proceeded to talk for another half-hour about addressing all kinds of policy areas, from the environment to income inequality to education to health care.

He seemed to be suggesting putting more resources into tackling problems in those areas, which doesn't exactly sound modest (he also seemed to suggest he's backing the B.C. Teachers' Federation in contract talks, a position that has huge financial implications for government).

And for all his attempts to portray his party as a moderate and modern political force, the party members themselves once again displayed their preference for social engineering over democratic process. In an effort to increase the number of women and disadvantaged people holding legislative office, the party will bar white males from receiving MLA nominations except in certain circumstances.

It's the kind of policy that shows the NDP is still rooted in the politically correct, we-know best mentality that raises questions of how far the party would take this philosophical approach in areas of government.

Nevertheless, the convention marked the 50th anniversary of the NDP, and the mood was suitably jubilant and positive. There were no signs of the civil war that had torn the party apart almost exactly a year earlier.

But there was also a sobering reminder that things can go wrong for a party sailing ahead in the polls. Ironically, the reminder came from a NDP strategist who helped steer the Manitoba NDP to victory in the last three elections. Michael Balagus pointed out that a year before the last Manitoba election, his party was in almost exactly the same apparently hopeless situation currently facing the B.C. Liberals.

At that time, the Manitoba NDP found itself trailing the Conservatives by a whopping 12 points.

The B.C. Liberals almost find themselves staring at a similar gap. As well, the Manitoba NDP had been in power for three terms and had just changed leaders. Sound familiar?

Balagus said his party initially tried to make its main message that the party had "changed" because the leadership had changed, and therefore should be judged as a new political brand.

That strategy was a flop. So Balagus said his party did a 180. Instead of insisting that change was a good thing, it spent a year hammering home the idea that change, in fact, was a bad thing.

His party also launched a relentless, negative ad campaign against the Conservatives and their leader, Hugh McFadyen.

The Conservatives were accused of having a secret agenda to privatize Manitoba Hydro and parts of the health-care system.

The question that now arises is whether the B.C. Liberals will adopt a similar strategy and whether it will be effective. It certainly appears the B.C. Liberals are experiencing the same problem the Manitoba NDP had when it came to arguing that having a new leader represents the kind of change voters are looking for. The B.C. Liberals have been trying to rebrand their party as the "Christy Clark Party," and there is no evidence it's paying off.

So will the party move off that strategy and do what the Manitoba NDP did, and launch an aggressively negative ad campaign attacking the NDP and more specifically Dix himself?

I'm betting that's exactly what lies ahead, and that may mean Dix and his followers will have a tougher time staying as upbeat and positive as they were this past weekend.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.