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Les Leyne: Defeated MLA analyzes NDP’s loss

Defeated New Democratic Party MLA Harry Lali spent a few days after the election on a missing-persons case. He wanted to find out why 3,000 identified NDP supporters in the Fraser-Nicola riding never showed up at the polls.
Les Leyne mugshot generic
Politics columnist Les Leyne

Defeated New Democratic Party MLA Harry Lali spent a few days after the election on a missing-persons case.

He wanted to find out why 3,000 identified NDP supporters in the Fraser-Nicola riding never showed up at the polls. Result? He lost by 600 votes.

He’s pretty sure he cracked the case. It was partly complacency, based on pollsters and everyone else repeatedly assuring the NDP that they had the 2013 election in the bag.

Beyond that, it was mostly the fact that the party completely overlooked the need to appeal to blue-collar working people.

Lali said there was simply nothing in the campaign that connected with them. “We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said.

And they did so with one specific move: Leader Adrian Dix’s decision on Earth Day to come out against the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin an existing oil pipeline from Alberta to the Vancouver harbour.

Lali has no bitterness toward his friend Dix, because the entire party is to blame for the epic collapse.

“But Kinder Morgan [Dix’s decision to oppose the concept, even before the company has applied] put the final nail in the coffin for rural B.C.,” Lali said.

“Kinder Morgan did me in. I could see it on the doorstep. It came across as the NDP against the economy and jobs.”

Loggers, sawmill hands, ranchers, trades and transportation people — most of whom traditionally support the NDP — all “saw us as being against their jobs,” said Lali.

“I think what’s happening to the NDP — we’ve lost four in a row — is that we are not connecting with blue-collar workers. We are failing miserably.”

The perception was that the party is against the Enbridge proposal, against the big new Site C hydro dam and against Kinder Morgan.

“The blue-collar guy was saying: ‘That’s my job,’”said Lali.

“If you can’t speak to rural B.C. and the blue-collar worker, I would bet a million bucks if I had it, the NDP will never win an election again, if we cannot reconnect with the blue-collar worker.”

Lali differentiates between union support and blue-collar support. The vast majority of the blue-collar people he has in mind are not in unions.

“It’s people who get their hands dirty when they’re working. They care about bread and butter. Everything else is secondary … the future of your children and jobs for them, is paramount.”

Campaign tactics fed the complacency.

“We had a whole lot of grenades to throw at the Liberals, and we failed to point out a single one of the [scandals],” he said.

The harmonized sales tax, B.C. Rail, the $6-million payout to the guilty aides, the ethnic-outreach memo — none of the controversies were raised during the campaign.

“The message that really came across was: ‘Don’t rock the boat, be positive, we’re not going to attack these guys on anything,’” said Lali. “So that sent a subliminal message to the voters: ‘We’re a shoo-in.’ ’’

The polls reinforced that complacency among NDP voters.

Meanwhile, the Liberals put “the fear of God” into their voters and milked the electorate for every single available Liberal vote.

“The unpalatable truth is that people are more motivated by the negative than the positive,” he said. “[NDP members] are upset; a lot of people are devastated.

“Instead of becoming a masterpiece, it became a disaster.”

Thirty-four New Democrats survived the disaster and will be sworn in today. House Leader John Horgan said Lali’s explanation is valid, but there are dozens of reasons why they lost.

Another survivor, Esquimalt’s Maurine Kariaganis, said the NDP did reach the blue-collar vote on the Island, where they increased their hold. “We traditionally lose elections. This is now three for 19.”

She said the bigger challenge is the Green Party, to be represented in the legislature for the first time, by Andrew Weaver.

“They’re obviously a bit more hip,” she said. “They’re attracting young, new voters. We need to look at that and say: ‘How come they’re hip, we’re not hip, and how do we become relevant to young voters?’ ”

That squeeze — between a free-enterprise coalition that consistently beats them, and a trendy new party that appeals to an environmental movement the NDP used to own — could make the Opposition uncomfortable for some time to come.