How an NDP victory in B.C. could complicate Canadian politics

Saif Alnuweiri
An NDP victory in BC may not work in Rachel Notley’s favour. Photos from CP

A victory for the New Democrats in the upcoming provincial election in British Columbia could cause headaches for federal Liberals and NDP, as well as Rachel Notley’s NDP government next door in Alberta.

The B.C. NDP is in a strong position to take power from the provincial Liberals after six years in opposition. CBC currently predicts they have a 60 per cent chance of winning a majority government.

The May 9 election also promises to have an impact on politics outside the province as CBC’s Eric Grenier pointed out in his column this week. He says Conservative-minded voters will most likely vote Liberal, while liberal ones are inclined to vote NDP. Voters even further to the left, who would usually vote NDP on the federal level, may go for the Green Party, and perhaps elevate it beyond the single seat the party currently holds in the provincial legislature.

B.C. voter frustration

The NDP is aided by voter frustration over Premier Christy Clark’s lack of transparency and ethical questions raised by the party’s recent donation policies. According to recent polls, nearly half of British Columbians said Clark’s government has done a bad job managing the top issues facing the province today: housing, the economy and healthcare.

And while conventional wisdom might suggest having NDP premiers B.C. and Alberta would be a boon for the party’s national fortunes, the two provincial governments would more likely end up at loggerheads over policies on energy and fossil fuels.

The Alberta party praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline since the party still represents Alberta’s economic interest in exporting the province’s oil to international markets. The Alberta NDP even sent out a Valentine’s e-card in February with the words “Building a pipeline…to your heart” on it.

The B.C. NDP, whose voter base relies on a more diversified economy, opposed the approval.

John Horgan, the provincial party leader said, “This risky proposal is not in B.C.’s best interests” in a letter sent out to party members.

He has argued that the province’s economy is dependent on having a pristine environment that supports tourism, the film industry, fishing and livelihoods that depend on a pristine environment. On the issue of pipelines, it’s clear that the Alberta NDP would prefer to wake up with Christy Clark’s Liberals still in power come May 10.

Meanwhile, the federal NDP maintain they would block construction of the pipeline, arguing that the estimated 400 oil tankers that will enter the Burrard Inlet if it’s built would present a grave threat to the environment, tourism and the fishery.

However, not all four candidates vying to replace Thomas Mulcair in the party’s federal leadership race are as opposed to pipelines as Horgan. During a leadership debate in March,

During a leadership debate in March, Charlie Angus and Guy Caron expressed admiration for Notley’s energy program, which has involved increased funding for renewable energy resources, phasing out coal and capping carbon emissions while pushing for the construction of pipelines to get Albertan oil exported. Angus had also previously fallen short of “calling for a moratorium on pipeline construction,” according to the Toronto Star.

The two candidates most opposed to pipelines, Peter Julian and Nikki Ashton, outlined their vision for the party’s position on the environment, one which has been complicated by internal divides over the Leap Manifesto the party adopted at its Edmonton convention. Support was divided as the environmental wing of the party overwhelmingly supported the manifesto’s prescription that no new energy infrastructure that would lock Canada into resource dependency be built. The union wing of the party fears the moratorium would result in a loss of construction and other well-paying trade jobs.

Support was divided as the environmental wing of the party overwhelmingly supported the manifesto’s prescription that no new energy infrastructure that would lock Canada into resource dependency be built. The union wing of the party fears the moratorium would result in a loss of construction and other well-paying trade jobs.

The union wing of the party fears the moratorium would result in a loss of construction and other well-paying trade jobs.

“When we talk about Kinder Morgan and Energy East,” said Julian in the leadership debate. “It is very difficult to reconcile what those projects would mean in terms of accelerating climate change.” Julian has also advocated for the construction of refineries in Canada, to reduce fuel imports and eliminate the need for pipelines,

Julian has also advocated for the construction of refineries in Canada, to reduce fuel imports and eliminate the need for pipelines, according to The Hill Times.

“They want a government that is looking out for climate change,” said Nikki Ashton of Canadians, “and recognising that good jobs can come from investing in infrastructure, from investing in green energy and recognising that public and social ownership is key in job creation.”

The B.C. wing of the party more closely mirrors the official position of the federal party on the environment and climate change, which advocates for a transition to clean energy and rescinding tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

Pipeline problems

A NDP victory in B.C. would also complicate Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline.

The prime minister has staked his reputation on being able to balance the interests of environmentalists with those of the economy, one of the reasons he approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline while blocking Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline after coming into office.

While not associated or even politically aligned with the provincial Liberal Party, the federal Liberals would likely prefer that Clark remains premier.

The B.C. election on May 9 comes at a critical juncture for the federal NDP, which is due to select their new leader in October, a sufficient amount of time for disagreements between Notley and a possible Horgan government to boil over.

The party has been in the process of selecting a new leader for just over a year, with a slate of four candidates who are evenly split between positions taken by the B.C. NDP and the Alberta NDP.