BC Leadership Acclamation, PQ defeat spell big trouble for the NDP
By Bruce Cameron
April 10, 2014
The upcoming acclamation of John Horgan as the BC NDP leader (nominations close May 1 and his only declared opponent Mike Farnworth just dropped out of the race) speaks volumes about the state of the party, not only in BC, but across the country.
Remember this is the same John Horgan who finished third in the 2011 BC leadership race, and who rejected running for leader last October because he “thought the party should allow the next generation to shape the future”.
But no one from ‘the next generation’ picked up the torch.
Farnworth tried and couldn’t generate any momentum or cash. Even the relatively young NDP MP from Burnaby, Kennedy Stewart, who became the lightning rod of opposition to Kinder Morgan expansion plans, decided not to run because he couldn’t break the grasp of the old guard of the BC NDP. Ditto for Nathan Cullen.
So victory goes to the old guard. But it will be a hollow victory for the tired, out-of-touch, back room cadre of MLAs and advisers who brought British Columbians such disasters as Carole James, Adrian Dix and the Kinder Morgan debacle in the 2013 election.
As NDP MLAs line up to have their picture taken with their “new” leader, they should be deeply worried beneath all those smiles.
No question the BC NDP caucus is united.
But it is easy to be united when your base is slowly shrinking to a rump of old, white, union oriented social democrats and “fellow travelers”. The old generation of NDP leaders seems unable, or stubbornly unwilling, to make the shift to the new world of high technology, innovation, and greening of the economy. They cut their political teeth in the era when top down leaders rallied the public to support great social causes. No wonder they struggle with the instant “bottom up” feedback of Twitter and Facebook.
Maybe that is why the personable, urbane Mike Harcourt, still popular across many sectors of BC society, publicly quit the NDP, a party he once led to power.
Make no mistake: the NDP is facing a generational crisis not only in BC, but all across Canada.
Case in point: The social media presence of NDP Federal leader Thomas Mulcair is a mere fraction of Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, whose online footprint continues to grow.
Even among the small group of people talking about Mulcair online in the past week, there was a net negative response. Mulcair’s gyrations on Quebec clearly caused a negative backlash, and the back room power brokers for the NDP haven’t helped by acting like deer in the headlights of the oncoming social media semi-trailer.
In examining the rout of the Parti Quebecois this week, there is a painful lesson for the BC NDP: if lose the youth vote, due to old leaders, old methods and outdated views of the new global economy, you will most certainly lose the election.
During the 2013 BC election campaign, the NDP’s lack of presence and skill in social media sealed its defeat, and at the federal level the same lackluster, ill-informed approach to the new media world exists. The NDP seems unable to attract new young supporters to the cause, many of who have gravitated to the Greens or the Liberals. Which leaves the old guard like Carole James and her team united behind their establishment candidate.
And it almost certainly guarantees another BC Liberal term beyond 2017.
Bruce Cameron, a frequent media commentator on Canadian politics, is President of the polling firm Return On Insight and Social Media ROi, which analyzes social media trends in public affairs, energy and technology.