New era gives NDP government a ‘blank slate’ to work from
Tuesday’s swearing in gives the NDP an opportunity to reposition itself and shed its haunting past, according to SFU professor.
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Tuesday’s swearing in gives the New Democratic Party a chance to finally put its past to bed, according to Simon Fraser University marketing expert Lindsay Meredith.
The “NDP of the 90s” has been raised by opponents for 16 years as an effective scare tactic to keep the party relegated to Opposition bench over the course of multiple unsuccessful election cycles.
But now that the party has enough seats to govern again – thanks to the support of the Green Party – it’s up to Premier-designate John Horgan to prove to the public the NDP can be trusted after all.
“The NDP have always had to deal with this … positioning as the commie hordes who are going to run over free capitalism. Some of that they earned themselves and a lot of it they basically got painted by the Liberals on,” said Meredith. “There will be a whole group out there that are going to be nervous about what the [NDP] might do. That means the NDP need to spend a little time on making sure they do not reinforce that positioning.”
What they do during this term in government, Meredith says, will determine whether or not the party can shake off those old talking points of reckless spending and scandals.
“It’s kind of a blank slate to some degree,” Meredith said of the new minority government.
NDP MLA Carole James, the party’s former leader and current spokesperson for the government-in-waiting’s transition team, has had to fight those perceptions herself.
She admits the party knows all-to-well it needs to reach out to NDP-wary regions of the province if it wants to regain the public’s trust.
“[Horgan] has committed to make sure that he is a premier on behalf of all British Columbians,” James said. “So you will see people [in cabinet] with connections to all parts of our province and getting up to speed quickly on those issues. It’s a historic time in British Columbia, a historic time with our agreement with the Greens, a minority government and this is a chance to show the public that politics can be done differently.”
James said her time on the transition team has been a mix of anticipation and responsibility.
“You have both when you think of the issues ahead of us when it comes to governing, including, of course, the fires that people are facing in British Columbia,” she said. “It’s a weighty responsibility, a big challenge ahead of us, but it’s also an exciting time to be able to provide some support for people who have waited so patiently and so long.”
Strategically, Meredith suggest the party needs to become a centrist one, “with a tinge of left at most”, if it wants to secure more support throughout the province long-term.
He said that might mean allowing projects like Site C and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to proceed without putting up much of a fight.
“They’ll be pointing to someone else saying they caused [the projects to proceed] and we have to live with it,” said Meredith.
But James said the party will stick to its campaign promises and items outlined in its pact with the Greens – including sending Site C for independent review, increased education and childcare spending and electoral reform.
“We have a very clear agenda that we ran on in the election and that is part of our agreement with the Greens,” said James. “Our job is to get on with implementing that and to show the public that they can trust the government. I think it’s going to be important to get moving on those issues.”
The hard work, she said, begins Tuesday.