When provincial New Democrats gather in Victoria this weekend for their first in-person convention in four years, they would be forgiven if it wasn’t a raucous affair.
Six years in charge. The bulk of major platform promises over two elections fulfilled. Staring down some of the biggest problems of our generation. This is when the pundits usually start calling a government tired. Out of ideas.
“Time for a change,” voters would say, while party brass would sweat a lack of excitement among rank-and-file members.
Yet that is far from the case. The BC NDP is on stronger footing than ever as members gather for their largest convention since forming government in 2017. It comes on the heels of a quarter in which they out-fundraised the BC United party (a former financial juggernaut) two-to-one. Several young, dynamic people are campaigning for spots on the party’s executive, the BC Young New Democrats are holding their own boisterous convention, and more than 200 resolutions were submitted to build on the government’s work to build a stronger province. This is an energized party faithful not taking anything for granted.
Nor should they. Even with the BC NDP leading their opponents by about 20 points, according to the Angus Reid Institute and other major pollsters, a mountain of challenges faces the province.
Critics say the government is not doing enough housing affordability, health-care worker shortages and the sky-high cost of living, which are all felt particularly acutely here on the left coast. Those same polls show a healthy majority of British Columbians want their government to take more action to fix them.
That could be a recipe for disaster for some parties. Yet through all of it, British Columbians see Premier David Eby and the BC NDP as the best option to tackle these issues. When asked if B.C. would do better under someone different, fewer people agreed than any other province, according to recent data from Research Co.
It puzzles some political watchers, and no doubt frustrates the opposition parties, but understanding the “why” is not rocket surgery: Voters want to know you get it. The old BC Liberal government never understood the old adage, “Don’t piss on my shoe and tell me it’s raining.” As housing prices nearly doubled in Vancouver during the last six years of their reign, Christy Clark was loathe to admit the problem, pointing to how great B.C.’s economic growth was instead.
Conventional knowledge says that voters facing real challenges always punish the government. However, aside from the fact that people across the country are dealing with the same issues, the asterisk to that wisdom is that voters punish governments who sweep the problems under the rug and don’t try to do anything to address them.
Eby is not only acknowledging these challenges more than any leader has in a generation, he has also sparked a flurry of actions to tackle them. Freeing up short-term rentals and the recent zoning changes are just a recent snapshot. When you drill down to who voters blame for the housing crisis, the current government is not high on the list. They see it as a problem that has existed for years, have faith that Eby is focused on solutions, and are therefore willing to give his efforts time to bear fruit.
When voters take stock of what else is on offer, they see Kevin Falcon’s BC United party having an identity crisis as they hope to whistle the right tune in a fight against the BC Conservatives, and a Green Party continually focused on whether the government should have made different decisions to combat COVID-19 – hoping to define the party for something beyond environmental issues.
Do not doubt that all the opposition parties will sharpen their tools over the next year. Polls will inevitably tighten and Falcon’s poor numbers will almost certainly improve. That’s why the current strength of the BC NDP looms large over campaign preparations. With just under a year to go, New Democrats gathering this weekend will need to stay focused and energized to make history once again.
Mike McKinnon is a senior consultant at Enterprise Canada – a national strategic communications firm. He was previously an advisor to former B.C. premier John Horgan and has worked for NDP governments and campaigns across the country.