Can you rebrand the NDP? Ask Vision...

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Gregor Robertson on his nomination victory night – Vision's gamble paid off (photo: East of Main)

The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason has a very interesting series this week on the future of BC's NDP, in advance of this weekend's convention. Read Gary's story published today. My 24 Hours cohort Bill Tieleman also gave his assessment of what ails the NDP, and it is a very interesting read.

All political parties eventually face some sort of crisis over their future. Recently there has been much hand-wringing over the future of the Republican Party in the USA in the age of Obama. Locally, many are uncertain if the NPA has a future. The following quote from Mason's story jumped out at me today:

“One of the questions everyone legitimately has is, can you revamp and rebrand the NDP?” asked NDP MLA Bob Simpson.

In reply to Bob Simpson I say, Sure! Just look at Vision Vancouver.

Now, I'm not saying that Vision are the same as the BC NDP. The truth is that they've injected more "Green" and "Liberal" into the party's make-up than the old Civic New Democrats of the early 1990s (once led by former Vision mayoralty candidate Jim Green) ever did. But don't lull yourself into thinking that labour unions are not pulling the levers for Vision as they do the provincial NDP – they are.

When it comes to decision-making within Vision Vancouver, Liberals will always be made to feel consulted, as in "do you want fries with that council motion?" They should not expect to have any real influence, however. "Greens" (not the card-carrying kind) like Robertson and Mike Magee have considerable more influence ever since Joel Solomon and Carol Newell brought a boatload of cash to the party.

The reason NDP insiders and many NPAers are obsessed with The Brand is because Vision Vancouver have proven that shedding your old skin for a newer one works in politics. You can recast yourself as a big tent party with a centrist orientation, but it's what is under the hood that matters. In the case of Vision Vancouver, they're labour's baby.

I've been around politics long enough to understand there are factions within most parties. For example, people still talk about the federal Liberal party being divided along Chretien/Martin loyalties, with Bob Rae and Iggy updating that split. Those who know the NPA still refer to people based upon their recent support of Sullivan or Ladner, not whether they're Conservative, Liberal or independent. COPE has their diminishing Tim Louis faction while David Chudnovsky rules the day in that organization today.

The federal Conservatives, dominated by old Reform Party/Alliance members have for the most part buried the hatchet with the PCs in their midst, making them the most lethal political organization in the country today.

Here in British Columbia, the BC Liberals benefited from strong caucus unity under Premier Gordon Campbell. I would argue it was the number one reason they won the 2009 election. Whereas, the BC NDP are still a fractured organization under Carole James.

It is dissatisfaction with the course of BC's NDP under their present leader that has helped, in part, to spawn Vision Vancouver. Gregor's abrupt departure from his Vancouver-Fairview MLA post (without letting James know in advance) and the cheeky ruminations of Kevin "Vancouver Kid" Quinlan about the BCGEU are both evidence of discontent in the NDP's ranks.

If the NDP are serious about forming government again in British Columbia it's possible they'll have to pull a Vision Vancouver move, such as courting a few federal Liberals and Greens into their midst. They would have all the appearances of being a kinder, gentler & greener party of the centre-left ready to woo voters. The beauty of it is that they would still be the same old NDP deep down, beholden to their labour backers, and no one would have to notice just like in Vancouver.

Who would lead this new labour-friendly group of social enterprise & social justice proponents in the 2013 election? Gregor Robertson, natch. Of course he must say he's not interested. Those who intend to make it happen are keeping him way out of that loop – for now.

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Not only is this article full of contradictions, it belies the very real ideological split between COPE and Vision, let alone the fact that COPE still exists. The BC Liberals are the ones who should rebrand themselves. They are the Reform Party, the Socreds, and the Liberals all mixed into one.

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