NDP convention floor at the Bayshore – young faces Spencer Herbert and Michelle Mungall on stage
This weekend I got to spend a couple of hours with the brothers and sisters of the BC NDP who descended upon the Bayshore Hotel for their biennial convention. What I saw was not an entirely happy family, thanks to some emotional comments from party members on the subject of sustainability.
From all the best reporting of the convention – including that of Sean Holman of Public Eye Online, and that of Andrew Macleod of TheTyee.ca – we saw that the real issue dividing the ranks of BC's NDP is whether to follow the principles of their Sustainable BC platform or not. It's not about the party lurching to the far left or to the centre to court small business. It's the decision to take a real stand on the environment, or not. Lucky for them, BC's NDP are not the only political organization struggling internally with this issue.
The views of 24 Hours columnist Bill Tieleman are shared by many within the NDP, and Bill has framed the issue facing his party around whether or not to reject a more moderate, centre-leaning direction. Bill of course is one of the leading anti-carbon tax campaigners in the province, and clearly was able to influence the party to adopt his "axe the tax" idea as part of the party's 2009 campaign platform.
Judging by the number of Vision Vancouver representatives in the crowd on Saturday – including their leader Gregor Robertson who addressed the room on Friday night – there is a clear connection between the two parties. Where perhaps they differ is on the question of sustainability. Vision are overall younger than the NDP rank and file, and preach green living as one of its core tenets.
The BC NDP like both provincial parties is predominantly white, male and over 40. Powerful
BCGEU BC Federation of Labour boss Jim Sinclair still rules the roost, and Big Labour are still dominant within the party. There are factions, however, who want the BC NDP to be the party of action on sustainability. The voices, many female and several of them under-40, are clearly frustrated by the party's weak stance on climate change.
A motion put to the floor to consider a policy that would involve some kind of consumption taxes for energy use was met with disapproval from most delegates, and sent back to the party for "referral". In other words, it's dead for now.
One speaker, a middle-aged male who lives in a rural part of the province, complained that he pays enough taxes. He commented (I'm paraphrasing), "If we pass this the Liberals will beat us over the head with it." So it appeared that the discussion about a carbon consumption tax is simply not going to fly if it is decided by the NDP membership.
One guesses that when Kevin Quinlan – now an aide to Mayor Robertson but Vancouver Kid in a previous life – made jeering remarks about the old guard of the NDP, he was speaking for a lot of folks who want to see that organization move beyond the iron grip of old skool members and union bosses.
Judging by the reaction of the crowd at the Bayshore over the weekend, we shouldn't expect any swift action from the NDP brass on climate change policy. To do so would mean cashing in political capital, and even a little loss of it could put them behind the BC Liberals.
Gordon Campbell, who was held a double-digit lead over the NDP in the spring of 2008, decided he could afford to cash in some of his political capital and create the continent's very first consumption tax on carbon. More amazingly, he ran a positive campaign to sell it. In spite of dire predictions, he was still able to pull out a substantial win over the NDP who campaigned – very negatively – against the tax.
As much as NDPers dislike Gordon Campbell, there are probably many of them who wish they could have been the ones who implemented a carbon tax and won an election in spite of it.