Les Leyne: NDP abandon collaboration, embrace it's us vs. them

B.C. New Democrats have been using their own coded political language for a while, but now they’ve put it in a pamphlet for internal use during the election campaign.

It’s called the B.C. NDP Message Guide, a primer for candidates and staff on how to drive home their main point: The NDP is looking out for everyone, while the B.C. Liberals only care about the rich.

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It’s a vivid illustration of how abruptly divisive the party got after months of working closely with the other parties during the pandemic.

Their us-versus-them attitude toward the upper-income brackets comes through loud and clear.

The guide states: “We want people to see that as B.C. recovers, we want a premier who works for us, not one who works for the rich.”

It also raises COVID-19 as a wedge issue, in contrast to the cooperative unanimity that held up to the election call.

The guide offers examples of “how to keep our communications relevant to people.”

One of them uses the COVID-19 response as point of contrast. The guide encourages New Democrats to talk about how “they’re making life better, protecting people’s health and working to provide financial stability.”

When it comes to the B.C. Liberals it instructs campaigners to show that Andrew Wilkinson and the B.C. Liberals are only working for a few at the top.

“They cut services like health care and seniors care, privatized seniors care homes while cutting staff and forcing them to work at multiple facilities. Can’t be trusted to fix the problems they created.”

Those criticisms are valid. But they go back to policies from 15 years ago and overlook the consensus on the COVID-19 response that held sway in the legislature up to when NDP Leader John Horgan asked that it be dissolved for the election.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said Friday it is disappointing to see the message guide. “The three parties were able to rise above partisanship this year.”

She said they could still be collaborating today if the election hadn’t been called.

The message guide advises New Democrats to make the point that the Greens, who supported the government for three years, can’t stop the B.C. Liberals and “are not focused on the challenges families face.”

Furstenau said that contradicts Green economic and social ideas that were built into the NDP’s last three years of minority government.

The central thrust of the guide is on “what we want people to be thinking at the end of the day.”

It’s this: “(B.C. Liberal Leader) Andrew Wilkinson is working for people at the top. John Horgan is working for you.”

The NDP’s portrayal of Horgan as a man of the people emerged during the 2017 election campaign and was hammered home in throne speeches that stressed the NDP was working for the common folk.

The message guide directs NDP campaigners to contrast that at every turn with their definitions of the Liberals. “Andrew Wilkinson is working for people at the top,” the guide says.

On another COVID-19- related wedge issue, the guide portrays a specific contrast on economic recovery between the parties. The NDP wants “investments in good jobs that help working people. … Planning economic recovery that works for everyone, not just multi-millionaires,” it says.

The Liberals stand for “tax breaks and special deals for the rich and powerful, those who need the help the least,” says the guide. “Make everyone else pay for it, including those hardest-hit by the pandemic. … The plan helps the rich and leaves everyone else behind.”

On health care in general, the party’s message is that: “John Horgan is investing to improve care for people. Andrew Wilkinson’s tax cuts for the wealthy would mean less money for… health care. We can’t afford that.”

The constant drumbeat through the guide is the danger of the “multi-millionaires,” “the richest two per cent,” “those at the top” and “the rich and powerful” getting ahead under the Liberals at the expense of the rest of us.

It’s a fair summary of the party’s historic mindset. But it’s remarkable to see how fast the spin doctors changed gears. They spent months extolling the virtues of collaborating in a minority government and writing heartfelt speeches about the unity of purpose that brought B.C. together as never before.

Forget all that nonsense. They’ve reverted to “us versus them” now and it’s working just fine.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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