Print Edition: November 27, 2013
For the NDP, black is the new orange. After losing the 2013 provincial election, the party is frequently described in media as a party in mourning. The defeat was made all the more bitter because all the numbers predicted an orange win; one way or another, the NDP dropped the ball. And whatever the reason, the result is a shift in leadership: the NDP recently elected Craig Keating as party president, replacing Moe Sihota, and is now gearing up to vote on a new party leader within the next two years.
However, it’s difficult to say at this point whether the change in leadership will amount to a 2017 win.
In addition to provincial hopefuls, a few federal MPs have been identified as considering putting their names forward, including Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas), Fin Donnelly (New Westminster-Coquitlam), and Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster), but none has declared an official bid. Each would bring something different to the table; Stewart is the official opposition critic for science and technology, and Donnelly is the deputy critic for fisheries and oceans as well as infrastructure. Mike Farnworth, who ran against Dix in the previous NDP leadership race, is also a name to keep in mind, but these are only a few of the names caught up in the media grapevine. It will be interesting to see whether a federal player is elected for the provincial game and how that influences election strategy in the next few years.
While new leadership may make all the difference in the next election, I’m concerned that it will have little impact for a number of reasons.
For one, new leadership has to include new ideas. Moving forward, the NDP has to start fresh, take solid stances on issues important to voters, and communicate their stance effectively. It’s not impossible to run a “clean” campaign, but last election it seemed the party confused that goal with a refusal to rebut the repetitive attack ads from the Liberals on the NDP leader. Just because you don’t want to focus your politics on slamming the other party doesn’t mean you have to take such attacks lying down. Lack of faith in the leader, already present but cemented in voters’ minds by relentless reminders from the Liberals, was arguably a huge factor in the orange loss. Dix was also identified in the media as lacking charisma, especially held up to Christy Clark, who flashed a camera-ready smile at every opportunity.
Another problem I have repeatedly attempted to express to my acquaintances in the NDP is that the party fails to connect with constituents in predominantly Liberal ridings outside election time. Increasingly on both the federal and provincial level, parties in power are essentially campaigning long before elections take place. While I strongly disagree with this practice (another issue for another day), it gives the party currently in power a major advantage when election time does come around – they don’t have to work nearly as hard on their public image, whereas the provincial NDP essentially has to start fresh each election in Liberal ridings (at least locally), while also battling the lingering resentment of the party’s past shortcomings.
To build trust at the community level means the party has to get its act together early and make wine out of sour grapes. The NDP candidates for all three Abbotsford ridings have disappeared back into the woodwork post-election. Where are they? If a candidate is truly serious about serving his or her community as an MLA, that person should be clearly present, taking leadership roles in community events and establishing him or herself as someone connected to issues constituents care about at the level of that specific constituency. I strongly support the idea of voting for someone who will best represent the community as an MLA, and who has established a relationship with that community. I want to know my MLA would be committed to representing my community even if he or she was not paid to do so – so far, that has been a weakness for the NDP locally.
Generally speaking, there are some great MLAs out there, and hopefully some of them will be interested in the leadership race. The key words are economy, community, and charisma. To gain voters’ trust, the NDP needs an airtight economic vision. Leadership at the community level is also an integral building block for that trust. Finally, like it or not, a leader can have all the experience and knowledge in the world but fail for lack of charisma. Tinder won’t catch fire without a spark to ignite it.