who else turned 60 this year: celebrating the bc ndp

The great Tommy Douglas
was an MP for a BC riding in the 1960s.
I recently learned that the BC NDP -- the party I vote for, the party that currently leads the provincial government -- is 60 years old this year. 

There's a website showing highlights of the party's accomplishments. It's impressive, and it explains why I vote for them. 

In a sense, it explains why I moved to Canada: the fact that there's a viable party I can feel good about voting for, a party that shares my values. That means my politics are not freakish or extreme in Canadian culture. It means I belong here, more than I ever did in the US. 

Right now, both my MP (federal) and my MLA (as provincial representatives are called here) are both NDP: Rachel Blaney and Michele Babchuk (who was elected after long-serving Claire Trevena retired). They are both outstanding representatives. I met Rachel Blaney when Port Hardy held its first-ever Pride event; she came all the way up to Port Hardy to join in. 

* * * *

Many leftists are angry at the BC NDP for its support of the logging industry -- for allowing more forest to be logged. Now that I live in a "resource town," as it is called here, I see why this is. It's one thing to hear vaguely about the economic impacts of the failing logging, mining and fishing industries. It's quite another thing to see people struggle for survival in an area almost completely dependent on extraction. Or, as is often the case, struggle to remain in the middle class -- to have enough stability to pay a mortgage, keep the kids playing sports. In other words, the same concerns as millions of other families. 

This doesn't mean I want to see all the old-growth forests felled and all the oceans overfished. It means I understand the political struggle in a different way.

In BC, no party is going to form the government campaigning on shutting down the logging industry. If the BC NDP were too vocal about curtailing logging, it wouldn't win an election. And if the NDP doesn't win the election, it won't be able to do all the good things: support and expand child care, build affordable housing, expand health care, fund education.

And if the NDP isn't elected, not only won't we have a government doing good for all people, we would be suffering from all the very bad things the Conservatives or Liberals would most assuredly do. We'd suffer through corporate tax cuts and an austerity agenda. 

So the BC NDP walks a fine line. Logging families think the government is weak and gives in to the tree-huggers. Lefties and environmentalists think the party sells out by allowing too much logging. 

A brief history of the BC NDP

Perhaps this is what caused Rachel Notley's government to implode in Alberta. I don't know. (I'm sure someone will be along to tell us!) But when Canada's most right-wing province elected an NDP government, I knew that government would support the expansion of the tar sands. It could not be otherwise.

This doesn't speak to the faults of the NDP: it speaks to the reality and the limitations of electoral politics. 

It's also why the path to creating change must begin outside electoral politics, in the grassroots -- educating ourselves and others, gathering support, creating campaigns, applying political pressure. 

And it's why any win for the grassroots will always be partial -- will always be, on some level, a disappointment. But that doesn't mean it won't be significant and have a very positive impact on people's lives. 

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Here's something else I've heard from nominally progressive Canadians: the Liberal Party, historically, is responsible for everything that's good about Canada -- that all positive change in Canadian society has come under Liberal governments. While perhaps this is technically true -- since the NDP has never formed a federal government -- it's a false narrative. Would the Liberals have done anything progressive without pressure from the left? Without knowing that they might lose left-leaning, "liberal" (in the American sense of the word) voters? 

Here's a snip from a story in Canadian Dimension about the birth of universal health insurance in Canada. (Emphasis mine.) We know that the movement to universal health insurance began under the CCF, which later became the NDP. The NDP weren't in government, but their presence exerted the necessary political pressure on both the Liberals and Conservatives.

By 1964 the pro-Medicare forces in the country were riding the crest of public opinion during a period when the political culture was moving to the left. The political alignment of national parties saw six years of minority governments over three elections between 1962 and 1968, and this favoured those political forces attempting to move the country in a more progressive direction. The NDP was growing and this strengthened left Liberals who argued that their party must protect their left flank. This in turn encouraged the red Tories within the Progressive Conservatives, who argued that the party must move left to remain electorally competitive. All of this was occurring during a minority situation when an election might occur at any time and no party wanted to be caught on the wrong side of a popular issue like public Medicare.

It took fierce struggles within both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parliamentary parties, but in the end the party whips forced the right wing into submission. The National Medical Care Insurance Act was passed in the House of Commons on December 8, 1966, by an overwhelming vote of 177 to 2. The starting date was July 1, 1968, and the Act provided that the federal government would pay about half of Medicare costs in any province with insurance plans that met the criteria of being universal, publicly administered, portable and comprehensive. By 1971 all provinces had established plans which met the criteria.

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Speaking of healthcare, when I moved to BC, I was surprised to learn that residents of this province paid monthly premiums. In Ontario, the cost of health insurance is calculated in provincial taxes, according to income. (Ours was about $1,200 per year for two people.) In BC, residents would pay monthly, also on an income-based scale. 

For the past decade, under Liberal governments, those costs had been rising steadily. In 2015, the maximum premium was $864 annually per person, or $1,728 per family. By 2018, the individual premium was $125 per month or $1,500 annually, and the annual family premium was $3,000. If you have good employment with benefits, that monthly premium may be covered by your employer. But obviously that's a condition that many people don't meet.

The BC NDP promised that, if elected, they would eliminate these fees. The Liberals trotted out charts and graphs supposedly proving that without these fees, the Province would go bankrupt. 

The NDP was elected, and it kept its promise: the monthly premiums were eliminated in January 2020. No services have been cut. Services continue to expand. 

Why wouldn't I vote for the party that does that?

* * * *

I hope many of you have seen this video of Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, then a Member of Parliament, speaking about her experience in the House of Commons, after deciding not to stand for re-election. It's a powerful speech, shared widely on social media. I hope you will watch it or re-watch it. 

Mumilaaq also explains why she stands with the NDP; she also specifically mentions my MP, Rachel Blaney.

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