The NDP's only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY

The NDP’s only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY

The NDP's only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY
BCNDP Leader John Horgan has a tough row to hoe to win the next election (BCNDP/Flickr)

The following is Damien Gillis’ rebuttal to colleague Rafe Mair’s recent piece, “By Backing LNG, the Horgan NDP lost election before it began”

I agree with my colleague Rafe Mair on most things – including his commentary that John Horgan and the NDP’s choice to back LNG has been a political disaster. The only real difference between Rafe’s and my views on the subject is that I still think they have a shot, a slim one albeit, to win next year’s provincial election. But only if they own up to their mistakes and quickly embrace a new, winning narrative.

Magic formula

That narrative is simple. It’s the only one they can win with and it’s so simple and powerful that if they pick it up, short of a Monica Lewinsky-level scandal, it will return them to government. This is it:

[quote]New Democrats, New Economy


Why is this the perfect slogan? It does everything the NDP needs it to. It promises an economic vision and jobs – the things people most want to hear. It contrasts them with the Liberals’ dowdy Old Economy – a shortsighted, failing vision based on fifty-year old ideas like big hydro dams and oil and gas.

It promises the single most popular and alluring of election outcomes – the very thing that brought Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and many other usurpers to power: Change. Finally, it sets the stage for protecting the environment and the economy at the same time – the Holy Grail of Canadian politics today. I’m telling you, roll with this slogan, backed by a solid campaign, and you win.

It’s the economy, stupid

In the aftermath of the NDP’s catastrophic loss under Adrian Dix last time around, I penned a post-mortem titled, “It’s the economy, Stupid NDP” (based on American political guru James Carville’s famous slogan to that effect). I stand by every word to this day. The main points I made therein are:

  • The NDP didn’t deal with the ballot box issue of the campaign (and more often than not the key issue of all campaigns): the Economy.
  • The NDP failed to tell a compelling story, while the Liberals spun a powerful “jobs” meta-narrative. Sure, it was all bullshit, as we now see, but it worked at the time. They were going to deliver untold “prosperity” to British Columbians by building a brand new LNG industry. The NDP, by contrast, had no vision, no story to offer.

Nice guys lose elections

The latter was easy pickens. You can be a strong, respectable, principled leader and still attack your opponent wherever justified. Christy Clark and her Liberals are unpopular and vulnerable, but you have to be willing to get your knuckles a little bloody in politics. You have to be willing to draw attention to the fact that Christy Clark failed three times to get a university eduction; worse yet, that she got stripped of her student presidency and fined for cheating in a campus election at SFU – hardly irrelevant when gauging her political character today.

Christy Clark commemorating new Port Mann Bridge - as it rang in at 550% of the government's original cost estimate of $600 million (Province of BC/Flickr)
Christy Clark commemorating the new Port Mann Bridge – as it rang in at 550% of the government’s original cost estimate of $600 million (Province of BC/Flickr)

You also have to be willing to remind voters that this government has increased our real debt from $34 Billion to well over $170 Billion since it came to power – much of that owning to a whole, new category of taxpayer obligations it invented to sweep sweetheart private power contracts and PPP construction deals under the rug (that’s not even counting the likely $20 Billion tab coming if Site C gets built).

You have to be willing to say that this government couldn’t manage its way out of a wet paper bag – pointing to a pattern of more than doubling initial estimates for major capital projects like bridges, highways, transmission lines and convention centres.

You have to be willing to tick off a long list of scandals, from triple-deleted emails and healthcare firings all the way back to illegally broken teacher contracts and BC Rail (hey, if your opponents are happy to go back to the fast ferries well, two decades later, over what now seems a paltry cost overrun by comparison to today’s boondoggles, well, then, BC Rail and legislature raids are more than fair game).

All of these things are fair game – not only that, they need to be brought up, in fairness to the electorate. But I digress. Back to that winning formula: The New Economy.

A golden opportunity missed

Asian LNG prices set to tumble further
LNG is a sinking ship (Jens Schott Knudsen/Flickr)

Nearly three years ago, I began doing townhall presentations around BC on the myths of the Liberal LNG vision. Armed with the latest data from Bloomberg and respected global and local energy analysts, I predicted that the bottom would fall out of the Asian LNG market long before we got to it (I said $8/unit, where the break-even point is around $12 – today it’s fallen even below that, with predictions of $4-5 over the next year, meaning it’s impossible to make a buck at LNG).

The response I heard from NDP MLAs at the time was, “We can’t say ‘No’ to everything.”

No, you can’t. But you can say “No” to stupid ideas and “Yes” to good ones. Had the NDP picked up on this intel 3 years ago, they may have taken a political hit in the short term, but by now, a year out from the election, they’d be looking like geniuses who could shamelessly crow, “We told you so!”

Say “Yes” to good ideas

Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)
Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)

So, the flip-side of that coin is what you say “Yes” to. You say “Yes” to renewable energy. I don’t mean rip-off private power projects and old-school, destructive dams – rather our abundant geothermal potential, wind and solar.

You embrace a group like Iron & Earth – oil sands workers lining up to retool their skills for clean tech.

It’s no big leap for an unemployed gas pipeline welder from Fort St. John to weld wind turbine components instead, or for an oil sands electrician to wire up roof-top solar. We have the workforce – we just need to shift it from an old, shrinking economy, to a new, burgeoning one.

All around the world, except Canada, the leading industrial nations are getting it – investing tens of billions in renewable energy and reaping millions of new, green jobs. As our contributor Will Dubitsky recently noted, “according to the International Energy Agency, in 2015, an astounding 90% of all global electrical power capacity added was attributable to renewables.”  Translation: nine tenths of the market for new electricity in the world today is clean tech, not fossil fuels. Pipelines, oil sands and fracking are on the way out. Why stake your future on a losing, outmoded idea?

Get creative

You also say “Yes” to the creative economy. Vancouver now has the biggest digital effects industry in the world and a booming tech sector – driven by the great lifestyle the region has to offer and a growing cluster of skilled people and hubs of activity and resources. Mayor Gregor Robertson is embracing and nurturing this trend, while Christy Clark has shown half-hearted acknowledgement at best. In the last election, her government also ran against the film industry – which is now thriving again in today’s low-dollar environment.

Super, Natural BC

You say “Yes” to preserving and growing our $13-14 Billion Super, Natural BC tourism economy, which employs over 135,000 people vs. 10,000 at the absolute peak of our oil and gas industry – roughly 3,000 direct jobs for British Columbians in oil and gas extraction and maybe double that in additional support services. But you don’t do that by destroying our salmon runs with LNG plants, marring our coastal viewscapes with bad clearcut logging practices, oil tankers and LNG plants. You don’t attract people to “the greatest place on earth” if it no longer is “the greatest place on earth”.

Adding value

Gas industry contributes 0.01 per cent of BC revenues, few jobs
Two of the province’s surprisingly few gas workers – in BC’s Horn River Basin in 2011 (Photo: Damien Gillis)

You also say “Yes” to local, value-added manufacturing. You don’t ship raw logs to China and Japan – you turn them into high-grade wood products here first, employing thousands in the process.

We seem to have it set in our minds that we’re bound to be nothing more than hewers of wood and drawers of water – a “resource” economy – forevermore. That’s our lot in life and there’s nothing we can do about it. Balderdash. It’s that sort of self-determining crap we’ve been feeding ourselves for decades and which keeps us from moving forward.

The bottom line is this: Oil and gas contributes a scarce few jobs to this province, compared with other sectors – same goes for mining. Don’t take my word for it – check out this handy chart, put together with Stats BC figures, for this publication by Norm Farrell.


Oil and gas also contributes just 0.1% of our provincial revenues – partly because since 2008 we’ve been subsidizing the industry to the tune of a billion dollars a year in taxpayer-funded infrastructure and massive royalty credit-backs. Imagine, for a second, if we invested that kind of dough in building a renewable energy sector!

We all gotta eat

Site C review panel changes mind, asks for ALC's input on farmland
The Peace River Valley is home to some of BC’s best farmland (Damien Gillis)

Finally, you say “Yes” to feeding ourselves. That means you don’t flood or disrupt 30,000 acres of the best farmland we have left to build a $20 Billion dam we don’t need. Agriculture is not only essential to our survival – it’s also important economically.

Getting that land into production would create jobs at the same time as it saves consumers money from the rapidly escalating cost of importing half our food from drought-stricken places like California.

The NDP created the Agricultural Land Reserve – arguably its single greatest legacy. It should stand loud and proud for it now.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

John Horgan’s a smart guy. He’s a hell of a lot tougher than Adrian Dix too and I doubt he’ll make the same mistake of running a “nice guy” campaign. I’m also liking what I started hearing from him late last year, in terms of taking a tough stance against Site C Dam and rolling out a green economy platform called PowerBC. He needs to go much further on both of these points, but, hey, it’s a start.

Chances are…

That said, Rafe is correct that Horgan and the NDP have dug themselves a huge hole by failing to counter the Liberals’ disastrous LNG fib. So BC faces three possible outcomes next May:

  1. Despite all their mistakes, fibs and failings, the Liberals get back into power…again
  2. The NDP, under John Horgan, finally gets it together, embraces the “New Economy” and wins an election for the first time since cargo pants and Tevas were in fashion
  3. There is a very narrow possibility that the BC Greens, under the leadership of Elizabeth May – on the wild chance she heeds Rafe’s advice and takes over the BC party – come from nowhere and steal this election.

Based on our current trajectory, we’re headed for option 1 – which would be an unmitigated disaster for our economy and environment. But if there’s any chance of it being option 2, things have to start changing right now. The NDP can’t win by default – just because their opponents are so bad. The last election proved that in stunning fashion. Moreover, they don’t deserve to come to power, nor will they help the province unless they have the right vision and commitment to follow through on it.

They also must get their shop in order, as I noted in my post-mortem 3 years ago. The party’s back rooms need fresh blood and the various factions within the NDP must commit to working together and winning for once. This campaign cannot be the sloppy mess the last one was – they require a well-oiled machine to beat a slick political operation like that of their rivals. And all that starts at the top, with the party’s leader.

All of which means the ball is in John Horgan’s court. And nothing short of the future of the province hangs on his next move.


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.

25 thoughts on “The NDP’s only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY

  1. Nonconfidencevote, you bet their butt they could take on those retrofits. There is an entire generation that is looking for solid pay,benefits and stability that union job search at ship yards can bring. Imagine if instead of oil and LNG, but rebuilding the ship building industry on the west coast to the extent that it could win contracts frome all of north America. That is a right awesome idea. I really hope that Horgan can pull their tails out of the fire. Then again I laughed out loud when I heard trump was even in the running for president so…..

  2. I can’t figure out Why the NDP change their official color slightly. The color they have now strongly links them to the past!

  3. These comments, while sound in themselves –no argument there– all miss the rock-bottom fundamental boondoggle of totally privatised debt funding which screws up every budget in the country, big-time. Far wiser leaders existed back in 1934, who realised that only by establishing and borrowing from its own Bank of Canada WITHOUT INTEREST could the nation do what it needed to do, and escape control by the private banking system. They did this for forty years, and rescued Canada from the sharks. Then in 1975 the bankers got their toes in the door again so now we are back to Square One –un-payable but still-growing debts, continuous deficit budgets, and declining services. “If a nation can issue a bond, it can issue a dollar bill –but the dollar bill will build the economy, while the bond only fattens the userer.”

  4. After 4 years of lies deceit and sell outs to crooked corporations we need change in BC. John Horgan only has to lay out all the lies that have been told, our debt levels, the incompetence of the current government and viable alternatives to perhaps win the next election. To not attack the government on its record is insanity. Start doing it now and perhaps they will earn my vote.

  5. We need a MSM that will put out the facts, and not just support the BC Liberals. It would help if they were unbiased.

  6. The NDP needs to attack this balanced budget scam. The Liberals and PC(federally) love to talk about a balanced budget means they are economically responsible. However if you are running balanced budgets and increasing the overall debt at insane levels you are hardly be economically sound. It reminds me of having credit cards and paying the minimum payment and yet continuing to spend. Yes you paid your cards to balance your budget but you have increased your own debt. Why reporters and opposition politicians don’t hammer on this topic is a disgrace to our country. Harper increased our National debt by at least 150 billion. Clark is not far behind in BC.

  7. Mike
    Great synopsis of the travesty the BC Liebrals have visited on us Damien. As you mentioned, the debt, that undoubtedly will never be repaid, is over 170B dollars Do you have any idea what the province is paying in the form of service charges each year? I suspect the amount is substantial and means lost opportunities because of that financial burden.

  8. Mike

    With BC’s accumulated and growing debt of upwards of 170 to 180B dollars, does anyone know how much this debt is costing the province yearly? I suspect the banks and other lenders love BC for its enormous debt as they are raking in substantial profits. I don’t see this mentioned in the Lame Stream Media, but that isn’t surprising.

  9. Horgan and the NDP have to say No Site C. Not now. Not ever. There are other options that have not been seriously investigated, and there are better ways.

  10. A few ideas:

    The Liberals are fixated on growing the GDP, infinitely.

    That’s how they deal with the huge, growing debt. Debt is measured as debt to GDP ratio. This is nuts, although I’m sure bankers and lenders love it.

    We actually don’t want to grow the economy: what we want is a stable, sustainable economy.

    Site C would unnecessarily drive up hydro rates for businesses, costing jobs. Power not needed. Reject.

    Shipping raw logs to Asia, then shipping back to BC manufactured products emits CO2, costs local jobs and wastes energy.

    Let’s manufacture solar panels in BC, with Govt investment if need be, rather than wasting $10 billion or so on Site C. Create jobs and clean renewable power.

    Increasing food production locally in BC can reduce CO2 output and create local jobs at the same time.

    LNG export is a black hole of debt, fracking pollution and massive GHG emissions. Reject.

    Create a network of electric rail throughout BC. Local jobs, GHG reduction, win-win.

    Reject so-called trade deals which impinge on our sovereignty and subject taxpayers to massive ISDS challenges by corporations.

  11. All the NDP and GP have to do to unseat the criminal gang currently shredding the fabric of BC is to expose their devious acts on a continuous, repetitive daily if not hourly basis.

    The federal NDP with glaring exceptions Cullen and Kwan have no real grasp of the dire political quagmire we wallow helplessly in here in BC and give short shrift to the serious and grave concerns BC`rs have for the present and future of our province and should either fish with us or cut bait and give Horgan the financial resources he so desperately needs to combat the faux Liberals in BC.

    The BC bloggers know but the BC media have all had their tongues cut out or as in the case of the three supposed leg `reporters` have all had an orchidectomy.


  12. I think if the NDP were to highlight one of the multitude of negatives around Site C each day of the campaign, relate it to the elitist style and backroom decision making efforts of the Liberals, and present clear and better ways of doing things, and purchase a significant share of the mainstream press, or create enough excitement that people go looking for the stories that won’t be in that junkyard, that would be enough for me. I guess there are a lot of issues with the liberals that have to be addressed, but Site C exemplifies so many of them that the rest could just flow naturally from the same concerns.

  13. I agree that the NDP should be a tad more agressive in their “style” of late.
    And , obviously, I dont know what kind of behind the scenes horse trading it takes to become a) Leader of the Party and then b) Premier of a Province.
    I suspect that the NDP are currently strategizing and running focus groups( as, i’m sure the Liberals are also doing) to see what the voters are interested in and what will get them out to the polls in 13 months.
    As an aside David Eby( with Horgan at his side) seems to have struck a nerve with his media grabbing “Town Hall meetings” regarding the exorbitant and ridiculous real estate market. Then , of course, never one to miss a photo op…. Her Christyness jumped on the bandwagon with promises of new “rules” to stop the real estate “madness”.
    As much as we may not like it on this blog.
    The environment is taking second place to “the economy”.
    While I wont argue that the LNG construction and Dam building jobs are fleeting at best and environmentally short sighted. The oil patch “meltdown” couldnt come at a worse time for environmentalists and the NDP since all those unemployed northern voters are now staging Pro Dam/LNG protests in Ft. St John, etc. for jobs jobs jobs. All this culminating in an election in 13 months
    Guess which way those voters will swing.
    We can only hope that 13 months is an eternity for Christy Clark and her handlers( who Im sure cringe every time she opens her mouth to speak in public) and hope the old saying,
    ” Give the Devil a horse and he’ll ride it straight to Hell” could be attributed to Clark and her incredible ability to stumble and lurch from one political fiasco to another without getting tarred and feathered.
    She cant be lucky forever.

    1. Fort St. John will never vote for the NDP (except up til this year I would have the same about Alberta!), so don’t fret too much about that. The LNG jobs narrative influenced the entire election, province-wide last time around. That’s where the NDP needs to be able to create its own jobs narrative.

      Also don’t be so sure that out of work northern energy workers are all fiercely in favour of the status quo. That’s why I offered up the example of Iron & Earth:

      1. Thanks for the link, Damien. It’s nice to know that the oil and gas workers have a progressive attitude, unlike the BC Liberals. Just wanted to let you know that I forwarded your column to each and every BCNDP MLA, and I’m starting to get some positive feedback.

        1. Thanks Trudy. They need to hear it from folks like you. I truly believe they have it in their power to win if they change their tack. And that would be a good thing for BC.

  14. If John Horgan would, even this late in the game, put his thinking cap on and reflect on how parliament actually works, not how dreamy lefties wished it worked, and went back to my original advice, he would see I quoted Lord Randolph Churchill back in the 1880s. I’m told that John scoffed that this was outworn ancient advice and, after all, Rafe is a Churchill fan. On the latter point i’m a fan of Winston, not his mad father, and the political maxim the Dad coined is every bit as valid today as then, proof being that Horgan, by ignoring it, is in deep doo doo.
    Lord Randolph you will remember said “It’s the duty of the Opposition to oppose”. Even when you agree! It is the only way you can force the government to prove the validity of its claims. If he’d taken old randy Randy’s advice, he and his caucus would have had and have right through the election a field day, especially with Christy and the Gumshoe on all aspects of LNG – the crook that owns Woodfibre LNG, the seediness of Petronas, fracking, methane emissions, the fact that fracked gas is worse than coal, damage to fish and other sea life in Howe Sound, the certainty of disaster from LNG tanker traffic in narrow inlets, the glut of gas on the market and so on. Because of his ignoring of old Churchill, he and his party have been speechless.
    John, say “sorry M’lord I goofed but, having seen the error of my ways, from here on in we’re a real opposition again” and Rafe is wrong and Damien is right, However …….

    1. Well the latest news about the govt awarding of a $140 million dollar refit contract for BC Ferries 2 largest ships delivered just before everyone left for the Easter longweekend….hmmmmmmm….

      Awarded to Poland……thousands of union and non union jobs and millions of taxpayers dollars…..sent….. to…. Poland……to a company that has been previously convicted of bribing govt officials for contracts…
      SNC Lavalin, Petronas, now Remontowa…..anyone notice a pattern?
      If the NDP “opposition” cant see an issue here to lambast the govt with….then they dont deserve my vote……

      1. …..and before anyone tries to say that Seaspan Vancouver is “too busy” with other contracts lets look at the original construction of those two “Spirit Class” ships( the largest ships ever built in BC) shall we?
        The Spirit Hulls were built in the Victoria shipyards( now owned by Seaspan and currently finishing up the 5 year FELIX refit of Canadian navy ships with no major jobs pending.
        The Spirit Bows were built at Allied Shipyards of North Van and they are still currently bidding on any BC Ferries jobs that pop up.
        The Spirit main superstructures were built and assembled at the Vito Shipyards in Richmond. Vito is now gone but the land and the buildings, cranes etc are for sale for $7 million.
        Please dont tell me that a billionaire like Dennis Washington (owner of Seaspan)cant figure out a way to successfully refit those ships here .
        There’s more going on than we know.

        A walk down history lane via MCrae Electric’s website?
        check out the photos of the Spirit assembly.

        It was done here.
        It can still be done here.
        Why isnt it being done here?

        Questions need to be asked….in the Legislature.

    2. Rafe, don’t you think a flip flop on LNG like Dix did on Kinder Morgan last time would be disaster for John Horgan at this point? Wouldn’t the Libs pounce on that?

  15. Thank you Damien for pointing the way. We must encourage the NDP to chart that course immediately. Four more years of a Clark government is unacceptable. Super Natural British Columbia must be saved.

    1. Four more years of Christy Clark………ugh. Just the thought of it makes me cringe.

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