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B.C. NDP must face role Kinder Morgan opposition played in defeat

B.C. New Democrats who oppose the expansion of oil pipelines across the province face a dilemma coming up on the weekend: Attend their party convention that will perhaps debate the NDP's pipeline policy, or head over to a rally against the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal on Saturday afternoon, where they can take part in a national day of action on climate change.

There are many holes in the NDP's review, released last Friday, on why it lost the May, 2013, election. But the absence of the words "Kinder Morgan" in the 19-page report suggests an aversion to dealing with a substantial policy issue that will have to be addressed if the party wants to end its long stretch on the opposition benches. Last spring, the NDP were successfully framed as the party of "no" by the B.C. Liberals because it opposed both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines – without communicating a clear alternative for resource-sector jobs.

Delegates to the party's convention have put forward 67 resolutions related to the economy and the environment for debate. One resolution, sponsored by labour, reminds New Democrats that the party knew this weakness needed to be addressed well before the election: "The B.C. NDP had a strategic plan that clearly stated, 'We need a coherent, confidence-building strategy and message on the economy or we are doomed to defeat in 2013.'"

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That prophecy was fulfilled when Adrian Dix surprised even his closest advisers in the middle of the campaign when he announced the party would oppose Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline plans even before it made a formal application. The message was not delivered in the context of a confidence-building message about prosperity for B.C.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who announced last week he will not be running for the B.C. NDP leadership, will be a guest speaker at what is being billed as a mass pipeline protest at Science World on Saturday. He is expected to lead a group over from the NDP convention gathering a few blocks away. Maybe the delegates who remain behind will get to talk about what a coherent strategy and message on jobs and the economy might look like.

Mr. Dix's Earth Day announcement during the campaign was aimed at the well-organized environmental movement and it did play well in urban ridings, including Vancouver-Point Grey where Premier Christy Clark lost her seat on election night. But over all, it let the B.C. Liberals own the jobs-and-economy vote at the ballot box.

The review by a panel of New Democrats was set up by Mr. Dix to look at the reasons for the electoral defeat. But in the first page of the report, it is clear something was amiss when the authors note they were unable to lay their hands on a copy of the NDP campaign strategy, and that polling data they had requested in the summer were not turned over until it was too late to incorporate into their findings. A party official said Friday that it was not a deliberate stall, but that most of the staff at headquarters were on holidays when the requests were made.

The impression, however, is that the panel appointed by the party leader was left to forge ahead without key information, and faced unhelpful witnesses. On the "major failing" to stick to a strict message during the leader's daily campaign events, for example, "it remains unclear to our panel as to how that failure was allowed to persist."

Brian Topp, the campaign manager, spent a morning early in September answering questions from the four-member panel. In his own postmortem, he concluded that the Kinder Morgan announcement was a turning point in the campaign that allowed the Liberals to turn a 20-point deficit in opinion polls into victory. He's surprised the review panel didn't pick up on this.

"In my opinion, a careful postmortem of the campaign has to include the Kinder Morgan issue," he said in an interview. "Because it clearly did have an effect on the outcome."

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Carole James, the former NDP leader and elder statesman in the NDP caucus, was one of the advisers caught off guard by the Kinder Morgan announcement.

The resolution book scarcely mentions pipelines and there is one reference to Kinder Morgan. But she doesn't advise the party to shy away from a debate on the issue now. "On the Kinder Morgan issue in the election, it was more of a process concern from my perspective. It was around how it was announced – there were some challenges there," she said in an interview. "But British Columbians are having a discussion around what is the right balance between economic growth and protection of the environment. If we didn't have that debate, we wouldn't be relevant."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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