Wednesday, June 04, 2003

MacPhail does the right thing for NDP
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Joy MacPhail has done the right thing.
Now it's up to New Democrats to come up with a leader who can establish the party as a credible alternative.
MacPhail pulled the plug on her 12-year political career this week, announcing she won't be part of the race for the NDP leadership and won't run again.
She has won respect for her determined effort in opposition.
But she's still the wrong person to lead the NDP into the next election. As she rightly observed, the New Democrats need a fresh start. And she can't give them that.
MacPhail held almost every key cabinet job in the reviled Glen Clark government, and was a senior member of the team. That's a past she can not escape.
She said this week that she made the decision not to run about six weeks ago. But the Ipsos-Reid poll released earlier this month must have also given her a nudge. It isn't so much that the Liberals continue to have the support of 44 per cent of voters - enough for a big majority - while the NDP is stalled at 28 per cent. But the poll also found that half the Liberal supporters said they were backing the Campbell party because they don't see a reasonable alternative. That's a harsh judgment on the NDP two full years after the election.
If not Joy, who?
No one has entered the race yet, but things should start to heat up fairly quickly.
The leadership vote will be held Nov. 23, which sounds a long way off. But candidates will be able to start their campaigns June 15.
And despite the terrible mess and bitter allegations of abuse in the last leadership race, the party has kept its flawed selection process. The leader will be chosen by delegates elected at constituency meetings and union delegates. The number of delegates from each riding will be based on the party membership in the constituency. That creates an incentive for candidates to rush out and recruit as many new members as they can, both to ensure their supporters are elected as delegates and to inflate representation from the riding. (The system also works against rural ridings. It's easier to sign up 2,000 new members in Surrey than it is in a sprawling riding like the North Coast.)
But new members must be signed up 90 days before the delegate selection meeting in each riding. Those meetings can start as early as Sept. 15 and must be held by Nov. 6. That means the cut-off date for recruiting new supporters is as early as June 15.
Of course, that assumes a heated race for a pretty crummy job. The first 18 months will be spent outside the legislature, trying to build support, with no salary beyond what the party can afford to pay. And the next four years will be spent in opposition.
There are no front-runners, or even obvious candidates. The old guard - Corky Evans and Steve Orcherton - have the same liabilities as MacPhail. A high-profile union candidate would be vulnerable to Liberal charges of special interest. And other possible candidates, like Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, are largely unknown and untested.
On the other hand, the softness of the Liberals' support shows there is an opportunity to rebuild the party. And the same poll showed that almost half of British Columbians think the province is worse off today than it was before the Liberals were elected, and that corporations and the rich had done well, while small business and the middle class have been hurt. Campbell has chosen an extreme approach to cutting services and taxes, and in the process he has created more room in the middle for other parties.
The leadership race will be the first indication of whether the New Democrats are able to take advantage of that opportunity.
Footnote: B.C. New Democrats might want to take notice of the success of their counterparts in Manitoba, re-elected this week with a larger majority. Premier Gary Doer promised modest tax cuts, modest increases in health and education spending, public ownership of key Crowns, balanced budgets and pragmatism. Boring, perhaps, but apparently what voters were looking for.

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