February 19, 2016 1:07 pm

Unity in BC? Not very likely

John Horgan, leader of the British Columbia New Democratic Party is photographed during a year-end interview at his office at the Legislature building in Victoria, B.C., Monday, December 7, 2015.


As the NDP struggles to find its voice when it comes to supporting resource development, it’s worth noting party leader John Horgan’s response to the B.C. Liberal government’s Throne Speech.

Horgan decided to focus on what he considers to be Premier Christy Clark’s “divisiveness” approach to governing. He is trying to position himself and his party as the ones calling for “unity over division.”

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The so-called free enterprise coalition party (currently the B.C. Liberals, and formerly the Social Credit party) has had a high rate of electoral success by polarizing the electorate and making every election an “us versus them” contest, so Clark’s approach is hardly surprising.

How high a rate of electoral success? How about eight of the last 10 elections being won by the party that thrives on polarization, which suggests they will do whatever it takes to ensure the electorate retains that characteristic.

But it’s unclear whether Horgan can reposition the NDP as a “unified” option, given that it is far from clear whether the party is unified itself on a number of issues, not the least of which are ones where development needs run smack into environmental protection concerns.

For example, a number of party supporters were said to be aghast when three northern MLAs signed an accord officially opposing a proposed LNG facility on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.  One veteran NDP activist tells me some private sector union donations haven’t materialized as they adopt a “watch and wait” approach to see how far the party’s economic platform goes towards supporting resource development.

In his speech, Horgan insisted the NDP has four conditions that must be present for the party to support LNG projects (British Columbians get first crack at jobs, First Nations participation, “clear benefits” to B.C., and protection of the environment). But given those conditions may yet surface in the Prince Rupert facility, the party’s rejection of it strikes some as a harbinger of things to come on this file.

Horgan condemned Clark’s characterization of those who oppose things like LNG plants and other resource developments as the “forces of no” and a “ragtag group.”

“The premier’s view of the world is that if you are not cheering her on, regardless of what’s coming out of her mouth, you therefore must be some ragtag group of people,” Horgan told the legislature during his speech.

There’s no question that Clark’s use of that kind of language was a deliberate choice. She knows she’s a polarizing figure and obviously feels entrenching that polarization works to her political advantage.

In fact, get used to hearing “the forces of No’ chanted by B.C. Liberals as if they are talking about some kind of organization headed by a Bond villain. The theme of the next election campaign may well turn into “the forces of no” versus “how to say yes.”

Interestingly, Horgan also acknowledged that B.C. is a “partisan province” and insisted that MLAs  had recently taken steps to reduce “some of the partisan hectoring that has gone on too long.” This last statement may strike any regular watcher of Question Period as baffling to say the least, given the barbs hurled by both sides with unceasing regularity.

This speaks to the fact that for all the divisiveness that Clark is displaying, her opponents are doing exactly the same thing back at her. As Horgan noted, this is a partisan province and I would put the word “intensely” in front of partisan.

Social media forums, for example, are frequently poisoned wells of vicious commentary (not analysis) aimed at both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP, and their respective leaders in particular.

The anonymity that social media can provide, and the speed at which information moves, has elevated the nastiness and the divisiveness to record levels. Some news outlets are starting to abolish the comments sections on their web sites, which seems like a sad inevitability.

No, B.C. is very much a divided province.  Business, industry, environmentalists, First Nations and other parties all have disparate and fundamentally opposite interests on too many issues.

Despite Horgan’s pitch, his party seems destined to, once again, fight an election that is based on divisions within our ranks and not on an elusive fairy-tale of unity and we’re-all-in-this-together kind of battle.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. This is reprinted from his weekly column with Glacier Media.

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