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BASS: NDP needs to look to the past to secure its future
Live long enough and you can see history repeated again — and again and again.
So it is with the B.C. NDP, which has gone public with the most-recent fracture, this one manifesting itself as Forward BC NDP.
I’m old enough to remember Mel Watkins and Jim and Robert Laxer, the triumvirate that created the Waffle — a splinter group of the federal NDP that drew its name, if you believe urban legend, from a statement by then-MP Ed Broadbent, who spoke about people in his party “waffling to the left and right.”
The goal was to push the party, then under the leadership of David Lewis, further to the left and away from its over-dependence on the labour movement for support, money — and policies.
The NDP itself was created through party splinters, a history that began with the Territorial Grain Growers Association in Saskatchewan and went through many permutations to eventually become the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and, under Tommy Douglas, the NDP.
While dissatisfaction and ad-hoc groups within political parties isn’t unique to the left side of the spectrum, this latest incarnation in B.C. will be fascinating to watch.
Already, if he followed his plans, Adrian Dix has told his caucus whether he wants to remain as leader.
The rest of us are supposed to learn this sometime next week.
I’m betting Dix has already seen a document that has been making the rounds, a one-pager with the blunt title “How to Fix the B.C. NDP in Three Easy Steps.”
A copy of it landed on my desk earlier this week and, while it identifies Dix as one of the problems to be addressed — a fact anyone who supports the party likely already realizes given how Dix lost the election that should have been a cakewalk for his party — it points the finger at two others.
Fundamentally, the document notes, the party is controlled by the leader, the party president (Moe Sihota) and its provincial secretary (Jan O’Brien), yet another triumvirate that oversees hiring, firing, policy development and all those details that create the foundation upon which decisions are made.
The secretary is hired by the provincial executive, which is controlled by the president.
The president is elected at conventions — the next one for the NDP is in November, so the timing of the Forward group’s introduction is likely due to someone with a close eye on the calendar.
This new splinter group has the obvious goals: Overthrow the executive, modernize the party’s technology, invest in staffing and come up with a platform that appeals to voters, all while not forcing out the veterans who have always been there, true believers who are used to defeat.
All good intentions, but I think the biggest mistake this group is making comes in its assertion nostalgia no longer plays a role.
If anything, it should be the driving force if the party is to redesign itself — the secret to success is not to ignore the past, but to completely embrace it.
Go back to the goal of Watkins and the Laxers.
Be the truly identifiable left-wing — dare I say socialist? — party and forget about trying to create some sort of haphazard coalition to get elected.
Quit worrying about pollsters and positioning and talk about things that matter to real people.
Stop shaping the message and reworking it into perfect sound bites and quotes.
Draw your inspiration from the past, from Douglas, who dared to stand up and say Canadians deserve universal health care and who stared Pierre Trudeau in the eye and voted against the War Measures Act.
Find people who can do this and then let them do it. Take the controls off them and let them speak in a way I suspect Dix wanted to during the past campaign, but was told doing so would not get him elected.
Stand out from the others and give voters a true choice.
Or, keep losing.