It's the Economy, Stupid NDP

It’s the Economy, Stupid NDP

It's the Economy, Stupid NDP
BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix on the night of his party’s surprise election loss (photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)

The annals of contemporary political history make one thing clear: Elections are invariably won and lost on a single issue – and that issue is most often the economy. To borrow a slogan coined by Bill Clinton’s enigmatic campaign strategist, James Carville, “It’s the economy, stupid.” You can win issues two through ten, but if you screw up the first one, you’re toast.

The NDP lost this election for three reasons – all of which relate back to that one central point: 1. Despite compelling evidence in their favour, the NDP failed to destroy the Liberals’ economic credibility; 2. Mr. Dix failed to understand the difference between being fair and being nice;3. Unlike their opponents, the NDP have no sense of storytelling, no simple narrative arc to which they can attach their myriad policy points.

Plainly put, the NDP and leader Adrian Dix lost this election by running a terrible campaign. The out-to-lunch polls and the mainstream media that allowed Clark a free pass on the Liberals’ true economic record didn’t help matters, but this was Dix’s to lose, and lose he did.

There is one invaluable lesson I gleaned years ago from Karl Rove, the mastermind strategist behind George W. Bush’s victories. His candidate bears some striking resemblances to Christy Clark, in fact – both highly unpopular at times, neither one the most cerebral of leaders, yet eminently personable, and both able to win elections they probably shouldn’t have.

Rove’s most important insight was this: You don’t attack your opponent’s weakness; you attack their greatest strength, because if you take that leg out from under them, they have nothing left to stand on.

For Bush in 2004, that wasn’t the economy but rather national security. As his campaign quickly understood, you can’t win on national security as a draft dodger running against a decorated war hero. Enter the “Swift Boat Veterans”.

Rove also understood – as does Team Obama – the importance of crafting a simple, clear, overarching narrative, to which every press release, photo-op, position paper, soundbite, and campaign ad links back. Christy Clark’s campaign did this very well – everything came back to how voters could trust her to run the economy while they couldn’t trust “Risky Dix” and the NDP.

This is where Dix fell down. Not only did he choose the wrong issues on which to attack his opponents – he didn’t attack, period. The HST, BC Rail, rip-off private power contracts, boondoggle projects like the convention centre, stadium roof and “world’s tallest wood building”, and, most significantly, the Liberals’ abysmal fiscal record. Any and all of these issues – which encompass other things like corruption and incompetence – can be linked back to a master narrative that demonstrates the NDP are really the best choice to lead BC’s economy into the future.

But Dix seized on none of these opportunities, preferring instead to run a nice, safe, “no mistakes” campaign. If Ms. Clark and the mainstream media that fawned over her proved anything, it’s that it’s better to look nice and act tough than look tough and act nice. Why Mr. Dix – not known as a “nice guy” politically prior to this campaign – mistakenly equated being tough on the Liberals’ truly appalling record with being a jackass is a mystery to me. Christy Clark, like Danny Williams, Bill Clinton, Pierre Trudeau and many other successful, charismatic leaders before her, demonstrated you can wield a sledge hammer with a smile on your face.

I joined others in pressuring the NDP to take a stronger stand against Kinder Morgan. There are those within the party who will blame this decision for their loss, cursing what they see as succumbing to the unreliable environmental vote. Bollocks. A Justason poll revealed that Dix’s Earth Day announcement was positively received by voters. But even if you want to discard that finding based on the wholesale discrediting of the polling profession last night, the decision itself is not the problem. The problem is, again, failing to frame it properly.

Kinder Morgan would bring a few dozen permanent jobs to its updated tanker terminal in Burnaby, and truly paltry revenues to the province. Compare that with our “Super, Natural BC” brand and the $13.4 Billion a year tourism economy and 127,000 jobs it supports – all of which would be put at grave risk by an oil tanker spill. With a proposed 400 tankers a year through Vancouver Harbour, compared with just 20 before Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan bought the existing Trans Mountain line in 2005, we’re talking an exponential increase in risk. A simple cost-benefit analysis shows this is a terrible proposition for BC.

Other leaders like Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan get this and are able to articulate the Kinder Morgan issue effectively in an economic context. Not so with the provincial NDP.

Dix’s failure to attack the Liberals’ claims of overall economic superiority is even more puzzling. As we’ve stated in these pages, time and time again – based on information from the Auditor General and the research of independent economist Erik Andersen – the Liberals have raised our real provincial debt from $34 Billion to $171 Billion since they came to power. The NDP, by contrast, raised it by $17 Billion over a similar period.

About $100 Billion of that new Liberal debt is hidden in another category called “contractual taxpayer obligations”. This is where they hide the estimated (because they’re secret, even though you pay for them) $55 Billion in sweetheart, rip-off private power contracts that are causing your power bills to soar; this is where they stash the real costs of public-private partnership contracts for multi-billion dollar bridges, highways and Olympic infrastructure.

This story contains everything the NDP needed to beat the Liberals: corruption, deception, secrecy, gross fiscal mismanagement, controversial IPPs, boondoggle bridges that don’t work properly and pile on costs to drivers through tolls…In short, everything they needed to take that one leg out from under their Liberal rivals.

By contrast, they could have offered a bold vision of a stronger, greener economic future for BC – one built on innovation, clean technology, public transit, rebuilding local, value-added manufacturing, supporting our vital film industry and creative sectors, harnessing the true potential of “Super, Natural BC”…Alas, they did some of these things, but in piecemeal fashion – detatched from any central narrative. And they failed todistinguish clearly their own record and vision from those of their opponents.

It’s a frustrating feeling sitting on the sidelines, uncomfortable with the NDP but viewing them as the only viable alternative – in our broken, first-past-the-post, parliamentary system – to the worst government in BC history. It’s awful feeling so powerless, watching the NDP fuck it up yet again. This isn’t their loss alone. This is a travesty for the people and environment of BC. Their incompetence impacts us all.

We need electoral reform. We also need better than the second worst voter turnout in the country – even more pathetic by the standards of most of our fellow western nations. It is a great societal failing that we can’t manage to get out more than half our eligible citizenry for half an hour to vote, once every four years. Something needs to change on this front.

While we’re at it, we could use an honest mainstream media that digs up the facts and looks out for the public interest – though we can expect to wait about as long for that as the characters in Samuel Beckett’s famous play. That’s why people like Rafe Mair and I are trying so hard to build an alternate media.

For now, I’d settle for someone taking a fire hose to the backrooms of the NDP and flushing them clean. There are many quality people within the NDP – Adrian Dix included (though not as a candidate for Premier). They’ve staked out some strong positions that are in line, I would still argue, with the public will on many key environmental and social issues. There are some exceptions, granted – salmon farms, Site C Dam, and a need for more clarity on their position regarding fracking and LNG. My complaints here are less about their policies than about the way they sell them.

There are also some small but heartening positives which progressives can draw from last night. For the NDP, George Heyman and David Eby’s victories in Vancouver come to mind – two of the NDP’s brightest new prospects, both very strong on environmental and social issues, both worked their asses off running good, tough campaigns and were rewarded for their efforts.

I was also happy to see Independent Vicki Huntington win re-election in Delta South, though sorry to see sitting Independent MLA Bob Simpson from Cariboo North narrowly miss out on another term. Both did a great service to British Columbians as hard-working, competent Independents in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, the Green Party ran a solid campaign and it’s encouraging to see them break through with their first provincial MLA in Andrew Weaver. Any NDP’er who dares blame the Green Party for their loss needs to examine both the facts and their own head. The Greens did a smart and noble thing choosing to target their efforts on a few select ridings, rather than feeling the need to run a full slate.

At the end of the day, if the NDP can’t look inward and recognize the deep flaws in its brand, its personnel, and the way it campaigns; if there isn’t some serious bloodletting following this inexcusable failure, then maybe British Columbians are ready for a new progressive party.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

8 thoughts on “It’s the Economy, Stupid NDP

  1. Saturday, 25 May 2013 12:48 posted by Kreditanstalt

    The NDP failed to advocate anything more than spending plans…

    For all its ridiculousness, the Liberals addressed the revenue side of the equation. They had a plan for future revenue generation – one which centred around not only (pie-in-the-sky) gas and resource revenue estmates but also on the essential role of the private sector.

    The NDP? Social spending. More social spending. As if the future is the past, only MORE.

    Many voters are more far-sighted than is commonly thought.

    Friday, 24 May 2013 15:02 posted by Damien Gillis

    Pusillanimity, yes…on the economy, Scotty.

    Thursday, 23 May 2013 12:53 posted by scotty on denman

    Nope. It ain’t the economy, silly; if it was, Christy woulda lost.

    True, if Dix hadda bent Christy over a stump and said the word “economy” every time he paddled her worthless ass, he woulda won; but he coulda said the words “BC Rail” or “BC Hydro” or “HST” or even something obscure like “CLBC” and still won so long’s he kept whacking Christy’s ass with each utterance.

    The “economy” didn’t fail the NDP; pusillanimity did.

    Friday, 17 May 2013 21:22 posted by Reinier Kanis

    No matter how many time you kick the NDP in the teeth you won’t change the fact they and the Greens are for the most part both fighting for the same thing.

    Yes the NDP failed miserably, but their biggest failure was allowing their party to split the vote with the Greens, and likewise the Greens were nuts not to negotiate PR in exchange for not splitting the vote.

    Like Damien I too think anyone who does not blame the Greens for the 12 seats that could have been a win for our environment, need to have their head examined.

    The environment will now pay for the inflated egos.

    Friday, 17 May 2013 20:52 posted by Jesse Kaellis

    Who cares? Fuck the NDP. 100 million bucks for bursaries and grants to train people for jobs that don’t exist. Great idea. I’ll just take the money please. I can’t work anyway.
    Fuck Judy Darcy. I didn’t even vote. She is locked into this riding until hell freezes over.
    If the NDP can’t run an election campaign then how are they going to run the Province? They are lame, lame, lame. Who was that other guy? Layton! He looked like Charlie Chaplin.
    I just hate the choice. I voted Green in the last Presidential election. I THREW MY VOTE AWAY. And I didn’t even vote in this election.
    How am I supposed to be anything but cynical? I’m 57 years old and I have lived half and half, half my life here and half in the States. As an opposition party the NDP are pathetic. “Oh, wait Mr Dix, I feel sorry for you, I will vote for you. Yeah, you’re a nice guy.”

    Friday, 17 May 2013 14:44 posted by GoJackGoinBC

    BC Liberals advocating “better to look nice and act tough than look tough and act nice” is one fabulous recipe for duplicity. Kudos to a successful two-faced agenda.

    du·plic·i·ty [doo-plis-i-tee, dyoo-] Show IPA
    noun, plural du·plic·i·ties for 2, 3.
    deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter; double-dealing. Synonyms: deceit, deception, dissimulation, fraud, guile, hypocrisy, trickery. Antonyms: candidness, directness, honesty, straightforwardness.
    an act or instance of such deceitfulness.

    Adrian Dix is hugely intelligent but sadly boring. Justin Trudeau makes waves instead of riding them! And Christy Clark’s brand of charisma is bar none. People vote for the person, not the party. Small wonder why the Federal Liberals were battered in 2011.

    Friday, 17 May 2013 09:41 posted by Greg Shea

    So, did the “ethnic” vote get out for the Liberals despite the debacle caused by the leaked information?

    As Oscar Wilde said: “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.”

    Anyone who claims that the Greens split any of the votes is a “fuddy duddy” – old, out-of-date, and ready for revision. Now we need proportional representation more than ever!

    And it is high time for mandatory voting. I know this rubs many the wrong way, but the ballot needs a clear way to be “spoiled” – like a “none of the above” choice.

    Finally, Ms Crunch actually received less than Harper
    44.4% of 52% is approx. 23% of the eligible vote. And she claims to have a mandate!? Ridiculous!

    Greg Shea (Lake Cowichan)

    Friday, 17 May 2013 09:23 posted by d kennedy

    The people who wrote the message and ran the campaign for the NDP are the same ones who lit their hair on fire when Mulcair dared talk about the economy and Dutch disease.

    The ndp lost both this election and the one in 2009 because they refused to talk about the economy. Yes, the cons jump all over for them and trot out all their red slogans when the ndp dares to talk about finance.

    But it’s time the ndp got over it – quit being oversensitive and say out loud what they’re planning to do about the economy. Dodging the issue just makes them look, um, dodgy.

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 23:20 posted by Bootshank

    Damien Gillis, of all the recent analyses I’ve read, this is the most thoughtful, and I would say accurate, appraisal of how this tragedy went down.

    Thanks for your insight.

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 18:32 posted by Damien Gillis

    I hear you, Dale, but after 3 victories in approx the last 15 elections, the question must be asked…And there is no one “big grassroots tent” as long as we have two progressive parties who can’t find some way to work together to the public’s benefit. I have said and believe the Greens cannot be blamed for the NDP’s loss here – but they probably cost them at least a few seats in key Vancouver swing ridings. I think they were right to have a more targeted approach this time around, but that could be focused even further to just a handful of key ridings – or maybe some form of cooperation needs to be explored. Alliances between First Nations and the conservation community are strong – we need to build on that foundation if we are to achieve a real “grassroots tent”, as you say. Real electoral reform would deal with all these issues, but that’s a much bigger challenge now that STV has gone down twice…I think we need to spend some time putting the options on the table, doing some soul-searching, and figuring out what works. Most of all, I think progressives as a whole need to do a much better job messaging their issues – as I’ve said here, the NDP need more work in this area than anyone…There are some positive models in progressive politics – Vision Vancouver, for instance. They consistently out-message, out-campaign and out-perform their conservative counterparts. They understand how to weave a strong electoral narrative and they execute on the ground. Either the NDP learn some of these lessons or we do need to consider other alternatives. Fifty years of relative futility begs some tough questions.

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 18:07 posted by dale Roscovich

    Another party? There is no room outside of the corporate
    camp. Agony on the helpless sidelines?
    Get inside the big grassroots tent! Hell, take it over!

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 15:04 posted by Kevin Logan

    Don’t be ridiculous Steve.

    People had little if any choice in this election.

    The stupidist self defeating choice was the NDPs decision to hand the campaign reigns over to Hill, Knowlton, Kool, Topp and Guy.

    Its never wise to let people whose business partners and clientelle have a vested interested in your losing.

    HEY NDP! Write that down somewhere.

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 14:15 posted by Damien Gillis

    Essential voting day analysis by Ipsos-Reid:

    “Economy voters chose the Liberals by a 24-point margin over the NDP”

    “Government spending voters chose the Liberals by a 20-point margin over the NDP”

    “Trust voters chose the NDP by only a 5-point margin over the BC Liberals”

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:38 posted by Damien Gillis

    Probably $100-200 Billion, Steven, You too.

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:00 posted by steven threndyle

    Just curious, Damien and poster friends, here. How much did y’all lose by picking Dix? Be honest, now!

    Thursday, 16 May 2013 11:39 posted by walt mcginnis

    One can not leave out of the equation the power of the corporate propaganda machine. The power to not discuss, the BC Rail Scandal, how do you shut up a candidate on that?
    Smart Meters? Nada, 50 billion in future contracts to GE and Westinghouse and a few others? nothin. Fracked natural gas environmental disaster, nope. The majority of BCers did not vote for the first time in history.There was a swing of 25% from the NDP to the Liberals in 3 weeks, according to the official pools. First time in history. Did they just get it wrong, or did they hit the nail on the head on how to steal an election? Oh I forgot we can not ask that question,anywhere, ever. Walt McGinnis

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 22:17 posted by Evil Eye

    @ E. Olson

    You are dead right about Gentner, he was forced out by the NDP hierarchy because he didn’t tow the party line. He was asking too many questions about the Evergreen Line that Farnsworth (another good old NDP boy) had a temper tantrum and threatened to hold his breathe until Gentner was reprimanded.

    Sylvia Bishop is a clueless NDP insider who, because of the NDP’s silly gender rules got the nod to run in Delta North with disastrous results.

    Gentner was also crossing swords with another NDP insider, Harcourt favourite and Vision(less) Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs over the $4.5 billion Broadway subway. There seems to be a secret agreement between the CoV and Dix for the subway, if the NDP won the election. Gentner had to go, hell he should have run as an independent like Huntington!

    Bob Simpson was dead right about the Tsawwassen FN land deal, as it seems it was another shady deal done by Campbell to get ALR land converted to residential and industrial lands through the TFN. The NDP, pompous as ever, did not look 3 seconds into the future.

    Dix must resign now and a new leader, from outside the Vancouver bubble must be picked – now.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 20:56 posted by Kevin Logan

    Oil and gas has a trillion dollar agenda they are crafting a narrative for. This displaced any potential of the NDP crafting one of their own that would get any traction.

    It is traditional to let the leader take the rap, and Dix probably will, but the problem we face is not related to any one party or politician, but rather an immensely powerful force that uses media, parties and high profile players to craft a winning narrative for their agenda.

    Christy knows this and she embraced them, Dix knows this and he also embraced but not as whole heartedly as Christy.

    Oil and gas needs a salesperson in BC and Dix just doesn’t cut it. Christy however, now there is a woman who could sell ice to Eskimos.

    This campaign proves that sites like Common Sense Canadian are the future as MSM has wholly abandoned journalism in favour of implementing corporate communications plans.

    It took a lot of effort to win this one for the Liberals, and a lot of players contributed to that win, even from places you would last expect it.

    The only leader to win his seat is the biggest loser as a result.

    Actually the people of BC are the biggest losers and the only thing deader than Dix is our democracy.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 20:37 posted by ron wilton

    If the ND’s have any salt left, they should go after Ms. Clark wherever she gets parachuted and make attack ads look like baby food.
    Every dirty trick in the Liebs playbook, every unseemly backroom corporate connection, every insider deal, and every hack politician in their stable should be lionized.

    Star now, use whatever monies you have left or can muster, the copoatists have been villifying Dix non stop for the last three years, give them an overdose of their own snake oil.
    Or….pack your tents like the Arabs, and silently steal away.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 20:08 posted by E. Olson

    The problem as one good NDPer said, the NDP are good at eating their young! Take a look at the seat left by Michael Sather, Guy Gentner and Bob Simpson. There is a story to be told there. All Carol James could do was kick out or threaten dyed in the wool NDPers. Michael Sather could not vote for removal of ALR land for the Tsawwassen First Nations Treaty. Remember who it was who crafted the ALR? NDPer Harold Steves. James couldn’t see what the real for removing land from the ALR–building and expanding DeltaPort. It had nothing to do with being fair to Tsawwassen.

    Then there was Bog Simpson–another good environmentalist from a way back–

    Then there was Guy Gentner in Delta North. The insiders never wanted him to run and did their best to stop him. His riding supported him and he won 2 times. Guess who replaced him? Someone who didn’t understand that the riding was Guy’s because he stood up for what the people wanted. Remember the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Guy opposed it. The insiders sat on their hands and let their ridings be ripped apart by the Road. So much for being for the environment.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 17:30 posted by Richard Hughes

    The last time the BCNDP stood and fought with purpose and a narrative that was embraced was with Glen Clark back in 1996!

    The ‘On your side’ message resonated and against all odds he won! Since then not much.

    The party needs and has needed a major shake from top to bottom since the loss of 2001.

    It did not happen. It must now!

    Is the BC NDP capable of change? That question must be answered sooner rather than later.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:54 posted by david hadaway

    Total agreement. I watched this campaign unfold in disbelief at the amateurish ineptitude of the NDP, although the disaster really started with the dubious selection of Dix, a candidate with a great big target on his back.

    It reminded me of the Labour party campaign in the UK in 1992, so sure of victory until they lost. However that turned out to be a piece of luck as the subsequent economic meltdown when the Tory chickens came home to roost kept the Conservatives out of power for three subsequent terms. The BC Liberals may also find themselves drowning in their own mess, it’s the only consolation I can find at the moment.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:31 posted by TB

    I looked to you DG for some insight here – after waking up to this tragesty (to coin a term). Like you and no doubt hundreds of thousands of other people in BC I’m at a loss to understand why Dix et al didn’t really nail the Liberals on their fiscal failures. Fear of bringing up a topic that would recall the NDP of the 90s? As you say, the Liberals have done much worse.

    But the main problem here is narrative and brand. The Liberal brand is direct and clean, able to be digested quickly. Simple. Easy. “Economic success” in a nutshell. But Dix et al had no such marker, no brand. All blur and fuzz, relying simply on being not-Liberal. Don’t get it. As you say the Obama team knew how to use narrative… to turn that kind of slick marketing to their own advantage (“HOPE”).

    Is it really so hard for the NDP to find someone to help them brand themselves and what they stand for, clearly differentiate them while solidifying their stance around a particular and memorable core? Who these days from a web designer to a grocery store manager to a telecom CEO doesn’t understand the most elemental truths of marketing, and how could an entire party remain blissfully ignorant of them for so long?

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:23 posted by ron wilton

    Things Mr. Dix should have known.

    Never go to a gunfight without a gun.

    Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.

    Experience and treachery will outdo peace and goodwill all of the time.

    Wednesday, 15 May 2013 14:04 posted by Evil Eye

    Yup, Dix has to go and the sooner the better, if not he becomes a latter day Carole James, who stayed too long for what good she did and today, won reelection, yet remains largely irrelevant and is seen by most as a inept loser, with no sense of a “time to depart”.

    The NDP needs to reinvent itself, at the same time distance itself from old time party hacks like Mike Harcourt and Joy MacPhail.

    The NDP had no transportation policy, yet those South of the Fraser are begging for a sustainable transportation vision.

    The failure rests solely with Dix, who was a “party good old boy”, who did others bidding. He must go and go soon, for the sake of BC, for he has let BC down badly by his electoral ineptitude.

    Don’t blame the media, don’t blame anyone else except for Dix and the NDP.

    A smart move would be for Dix to resign as leader and resign his seat and force Premier Photo-op to run in his riding.

    The question is, does Dix have the balls to do what is right?

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