No matter what stripe the political party, the predictable pattern will emerge in government: you campaign radically and govern moderately. The left and right rhetoric slushily slides into the mushy middle where, after all, the political sweet spot lies.
Witness British Columbia, where 16 years in opposition had by 2017 activated saliva glands in the patient brethren that bestowed John Horgan with an opportunity to govern. Even if the NDP last election won neither the most seats nor the most votes, the early waves of the administration had a confident stride, with elbows up and girding for class warfare – on homeowners, high-income earners and businesses, while advancing stronger positions for organized labour on government contracts and on wages and vanishing health premiums for workers.
But in case you haven’t noticed, the more recent mid-mandate tones are comparably dulcet. For the party faithful: if this were Dickens novels, it would involve moving from Great Expectations to something approaching Hard Times.
It deserves to be noted this is a party that now supports the massive Site C hydroelectric project and the mega-massive LNG Canada venture and has gone like a mouse into the woodwork on the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning. Anyone predict that in early 2017?
It has yet to put the finishing touches on the climate action plan, partly because it has apprehended the reality of the economic sacrifice it would take to do so.
It has even taken a hard line with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over their opposition to the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline, citing the rule of law within weeks of passing law to entrench the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – but only, Horgan says, for future considerations.
In different times this would have been a different NDP in style and substance.
It is looking to gradually rewire the relationship with small business. It has run surpluses and not rushed those dividends into high-cost projects for child care, housing and transit.
In short, the NDP is acting like it wishes to get elected again – maybe sooner than the fall of 2021, but certainly then – by playing nice with the segment of society it must capture while appeasing the segment of society it must retain.
It’s not as if the latter has anywhere to go, unless in our leader-oriented political climate the Greens choose a successor to Andrew Weaver in the months ahead who can out-campaign the premier. And this meander toward the middle essentially stops the BC Liberals in their tracks and steals their lines in the theatre; besides, they are hardly rallying under Andrew Wilkinson, who has yet to identify their campaign themes.
As for Horgan’s leadership qualities, well, the polls suggest a likable leader who appears to be about balance and about avoiding problems. He hasn’t yet faced any sort of crisis to test his true capacity. He has moved from a strategic to a tactical to a strategic voice again without paying much of a price among his supporters or any more of a price among his detractors. You don’t have to be 10-out-of-10 in politics; as broadcaster Rafe Mair used to remind us, you can be a three if your opponent is a two.
The NDP technique is time-tested in politics. The most difficult of its gestures on its opponents came early: the shift of health premiums on to the shoulders of business and the attacks on housing speculation that would devalue elements of the sector, among them.
With the notable exception of the recent tactics to break the back of Western Forest Products rather than submit its labour dispute to mediation, the strokes have been bland and mild in recent times.
The leader and his party have either cloaked the wolf in sheep’s clothing or recognized that the polarized campaign politics of the province do not translate into an enduring governance. Governing, like everything, always looks simpler from the outside, and ideas to get you elected aren’t necessarily the ones that keep you in office. The middle ground in office stands you a better chance to keep the prime real estate in the legislature.
It hasn’t earned the NDP a reputation for tepidness, but it also hasn’t earned it one for tyranny. •
Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.