The New Democratic Party of British Columbia (NDP) is a political party in British Columbia, Canada that has democratic socialist roots. It is the provincial arm of the New Democratic Party of Canada. The policies it advances today resemble those of social democrats.
Unlike other parties in Canada, where provincial and federal politics are strictly separated and members of one are not necessarily members of the other, NDP members are members of both the federal party and the provincial party. However, a significant number of left-leaning federal Liberals are members of the provincial NDP.
Harold Winch succeeded Connell as CCF leader and guided the party until the 1950s.
The two-party system in Canada was challenged with the rise of the CCF and Social Credit in western Canada during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The CCF first took power in Saskatchewan under Premier Tommy Douglas, and made major inroads in British Columbia.
In order to block the rise of the CCF in BC, the Liberal and Conservative parties formed a coalition government after the 1941 provincial election when neither party had enough seats to form a majority government on its own. For the ten years that the coalition held together, the CCF was the Official Opposition in the legislature.
In the election on June 12, 1952, the Liberals and Conservatives were decimated. Social Credit was the main beneficiary of the new voting system as many non-CCF voters chose Social Credit as either their first or second choices. Social Credit emerged as the largest party, with one more seat than Winch's CCF. Social Credit then chose a new leader, W.A.C. Bennett.
When Social Credit lost a motion of no confidence in the legislature in March 1953, Winch argued that the CCF should be allowed to try to form a government instead of the house being dissolved for an early election. The Liberals, however, refused to support the CCF's bid to form a government and new elections were called.
In the 1953 election, Bennett won a majority government, and both the Liberal and the Conservative parties were reduced to fringe parties. Throughout the 1950s, Bennett's new electoral movement was able to keep the CCF at bay. As this was during the height of the Cold War, Bennett was able to effectively use the scare tactic of the "Red Menace" against the CCF, even referring to them as the "socialist hordes".
In 1975 Social Credit, under W.A.C's son Bill Bennett, won a snap election called by Barrett. The Barrett government had initiated a number of reforms in the areas of labour relations, the public service and social programs, most of which endured through to the restraint budget of 1983.
The NDP peaked in popular support in the 1979 election with 46% of the vote. And after a minor decline in the party's vote share in 1983, Barrett retired as leader.
Riding high in the polls, it appeared that the party was poised to win the 1986 election against the unpopular Social Credit government of the day but due to a minor verbal gaffe by its new leader Bob Skelly during the campaign and the surprising charisma and telegenic performance of the Socreds' new leader William Vander Zalm, the party failed to score its anticipated breakthrough.
Elected to succeed Skelly, Mike Harcourt took it upon himself to modernize the party and bring its messaging and policies closer to the political centre. Gone was Barrett's advocacy of "socialism"; in its place, the party spoke about an end to confrontational politics in the province and an economic climate its leader called "business as usual". At a crucial speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade on March 10, 1989, Harcourt stated that the NDP had renounced "the redistribution of wealth" and now stood for "the creation of wealth".
Although it entered the 1991 election with a substantial lead in the polls after three back-to-back byelection victories, Harcourt's message actually won the support of a smaller portion of voters than Skelly's or Barrett's had in 1986 and 1983. However, other factors intervened to hand Harcourt a comfortable majority in the legislature.
Whereas Harcourt's first two years in government were characterized by a notably Social Democratic policy agenda, the government took a dramatic turn to the right in 1993 with Harcourt's famous province-wide televised address in which he lashed out against "welfare cheats, deadbeats and varmints". This speech inaugurated a set of draconian welfare reforms enacted between 1993 and 1995 similar to those adopted by new Progressive Conservative governments elected in Alberta and Ontario in the same time period. These cutbacks were, in part, a reaction to a dramatic reduction in federal transfer payments by the federal Liberal government of Jean Chrétien and concommitant repeal of the Canada Assistance Plan bill of rights which included a right to food and a right to shelter. Unlike the reforms of the Harris and Klein governments, the BC Benefits package of cutbacks and restrictions in social assistance eligibility was bundled with a childcare bonus paid to low- and medium-income families, similar to that recently enacted by the Harper government. While unpopular with the province's anti-poverty movement and the then-marginal Green Party, Harcourt's reforms were well-received by the vast majority of British Columbians.
Three months before BC Benefits was introduced by the Harcourt government, a protracted conflict began with the elements of the province's environmental movement. Harcourt's Peace in the Woods pact which brought together traditionally warring environmental groups and forest workers' unions began to collapse when Harcourt's cabinet exempted an environmentally-sensitive area of Vancouver Island, Clayoquot Sound, from its province-wide mediation process for land-use conflicts, CORE (the Commission on Resources and the Environment). This touched off logging road blockades in which over 800 people were arrested and alienated of some key environmental leaders such as David Suzuki and Colleen McCrory who shifted their support to the Green Party in the 1996 provincial election.
Although low in the polls for much of his term in office, Harcourt and his newly-appointed Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh succeeded in regaining substantial public support by taking a hard line against a fringe aboriginal group's occupation of a farmer's field in the Cariboo region of the province. The Gustafsen Lake siege, led by Dosanjh became the largest-scale police operation in BC history, in which armoured vehicles and anti-vehicle mines were deployed and thousands of rounds of ammunition were shot at protesters.
However, less than 72 hours before a planned election call, with the NDP riding high in the polls for its hard line against welfare recipients and aboriginal and environmental radicals, the party's provincial office was raided by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers as part of an ongoing investigation of illegal use of charity bingo money, coined "Bingogate" by the media, by former provincial cabinet minister and member of parliament Dave Stupich. Although Harcourt was not implicated in either the raid or the probe and was later fully exonerated, he resigned nevertheless and the party was led into the 1996 provincial general election by Glen Clark who became the province's youngest premier.
Clark, who entered the 1996 election far back in the polls, proved an excellent campaigner who succeeded, at least for the duration of the election, in re-unifying the party's traditional coalition with the slogan "On Your Side". He effectively portrayed the BC Liberals' new leader, former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell, as a pawn of big business and a dangerous right-wing extremist. Clark was aided in delivering this message by Jack Weisgerber, leader of the BC Reform Party (the name under which the majority of the Social Credit caucus had rebranded itself), and Wilson, now leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) after being deposed by Campbell as leader of the BC Liberals. Although the NDP won only 39% of the vote to Campbell's 42%, it managed to secure 39 seats to Campbell's 33.
Although largely continuing Harcourt's policy agenda, Clark's government appeared rudderless with the campaign behind it and the premier's scrappy style began to further alienate parts of the NDP coalition outside of the core group of labour activists who had masterminded Clark's campaign. It was also discovered, shortly after the election, that the balanced budgets for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 fiscal years on which Clark had campaigned were not, in fact, balanced but actually small deficits of approximately $100 million. This was termed the "fudge-it" budget fiasco. Further, large debt was shifted onto Crown Corporations so as to create a perception of "surpluses".
During these years, the NDP began to bleed support and activists to the Greens who reached 5% in the polls in the fall of 1997 and 11% by the fall of 1998; however, by far the majority of the NDP's former voters deserted the party for the BC Liberals. New scandals also surfaced, this time appearing to implicate Clark in using his influence to win a casino licence for a neighbour who had helped him with some home renovations. Another blunder was the botched construction of the PacifiCat BC Ferries, which would later become part of the FastCat Fiasco; the project, designed to speed transportation between Vancouver and Nanaimo, was plagued by cost over-runs and poor technical decisions. By mid-1999, an obvious rift had appeared in the administration as Attorney-General Dosanjh and Finance Minister Joy MacPhail challenged Clark's legitimacy. The party and province endured a few chaotic months of government with frequent cabinet shuffles, following a police raid on Clark's home before the premier stepped aside.
Dan Miller, the longest-serving member of the legislature stepped-in as interim premier and party leader during an acrimonious leadership race between Dosanjh, maverick West Kootenay MLA Corky Evans and Wilson, who had been persuaded to fold his stalled PDA in 1998 and join Clark's cabinet. Despite clear favouritism from Clark, Wilson finished last with Dosanjh winning a majority of votes at the convention, despite Evans winning the support of over two thirds of the party's constituency associations.
Now below 20% in the polls, the Dosanjh government attempted to capitalize on the new premier's high personal approval rating with their remaining year in power. The government made a number of concessions to the party's anti-poverty and environmental wings in an attempt to reforge the coalition but the party would not budge in the polls. Halfway through his mandate, Dosanjh seemed to lose interest in governing and left for a lengthy tour of his native Punjab.
Calling the election at the last possible moment, in May 2001, Dosanjh put on a lacklustre and incoherent campaign, a full 50 points behind Cambell's Liberals in the polls, bottoming out at 15% at the mid-point in the campaign. Midway through the campaign, after Dosanjh conceded defeat in a pre-recorded message, de facto leadership passed to MacPhail who managed to reinvigorate the campaign and recapture enough support to prevent the party's total annihilation. She and neighbouring Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan were the only two New Democrats re-elected. All 77 other seats were captured by the BC Liberals who won 58% to the NDP's 22%.
Shortly after the election, Dosanjh resigned as MacPhail was appointed interim leader.
Given the high level of support within the party for her leadership, MacPhail surprised many by choosing not to seek the party leadership in 2003. The low-key leadership campaign was contested by establishment favourite and former Victoria School Board chair Carole James, Oak Bay City Councillor Nils Jensen, and former MLAs Leonard Krog and Steve Orcherton and a few minor candidates. First ballot results had James first followed by Jensen, Krog and the Orcherton. A second ballot was held with James winning.
In late 2004, the party won an upset election victory in the constituency of Surrey-Panorama Ridge. The region had not voted NDP in 1996 but had in 1991. Jagrup Brar became the third member of the party's caucus. Brar beat a locally popular BC Liberal candidate and Adriane Carr, the BC Green Party's leader, winning an absolute majority of the vote.
In 2005, James came closer to forming a government than even the NDP had predicted, winning 33 seats to Campbell's 45 and receiving a vote share 5% higher in suburban Vancouver than any pollster had predicted. The NDP also exceeded 40% of the vote for the first time since 1991.
James appears to enjoy the confidence of a caucus comprising all factions that had battled for control of the party in the 1990s. Evans and Clark's right-hand man Adrian Dix are prominent members of a caucus led by a perceived supporter of the Harcourt-Dosanjh camp. While public opinion polls in the years after the 2005 election have generally indicated party support to be behind that of the BC Liberals, recent data suggest that their levels of support are comparable.
For further information, see British Columbia New Democratic Party Leadership Conventions.
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