Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local elections offer some good news for NDP

Municipal politics are their own world. But last weekend's election results raise interesting issues for both parties with six months left until the next provincial election.
The big news was Gregor Robertson's win to become mayor of Vancouver. A few months ago, Robertson was an NDP MLA, sitting across the red-carpeted legislature from Gordon Campbell.
Now he's the province's most prominent mayor, backed by a council with a definite NDP tilt. Geoff Meggs, one of the new Vancouver councillors, was Glen Clark's communications director for three years.
The NPA - the Liberal-aligned party in Vancouver - lost the mayor's office and captured only one council seat.
So now Campbell is facing Robertson again, this time as a mayor with an agenda that includes pressing the province for action on homelessness.
That doesn't necessarily mean conflict. Robertson is a pragmatic business owner. He knows working with the provincial and federal governments is more effective than fighting.
But where the former Vancouver council opted to hired Ken Dobell, Campbell's former deputy, to influence the government, Robertson will be more willing to turn up the heat publicly if necessary.
And the election came on the same weekend that Angus Reid Strategies released a poll showing the New Democrats ahead of the Liberals in Greater Vancouver. (That poll was challenged by an Ipsos-Reid survey that showed the Liberals with a nine-point lead provincially and a greater margin in the Lower Mainland.)
Even a couple of years ago, the Liberals could be more confident that they would start with a good base of public support if there was showdown between Robertson and Campbell. Now, that's not so sure.
But it's not just Vancouver. In a lot of communities, there seemed to be either an appetite for change, a slide to the centre-left or both.
I pause for a few disclaimers, like in those pharmaceutical ads when they warn that the drug, while great, might make your eyebrows fall out and cause frequent, unpredictable fainting.
For starters, municipal politics shouldn't really be burdened with left-right labels. Deciding whether to put in a sidewalk shouldn't be based on some ideology.
And across B.C., there were two constants. Voter turnout was dismal - 77 per cent of eligible voters didn't bother. And incumbents were overwhelmingly re-elected.
Still, there were signs that voters in many municipalities, large and small, were ready to back change.
Here in Victoria, new Mayor Dean Fortin was backed by a lot of NDP supporters; he replaces a mayor with Liberal ties who chose not to run. Prince George shifted at least slightly away from the Liberal side, Kelowna ended up with a couple of greenish councilors and Grand Forks has a mayor who was the B.C. Marijuana Party leader in the 2001 election.
None of these translate directly into NDP support. But they raise the prospect of more pressure from some municipal leaders on issues like homelessness and crime.
And they suggest some voters are ready to try a new direction.
Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne noted the results also suggest that voters are not as afraid of returning to the NDP, at least municipally, as the Liberals have hoped. (A position affirmed by the New Democrats' two byelection wins last month.)
The Liberals are still strong favorites to win the May election. Most polls have them with a reasonable lead and Campbell - although the surveys show a lot of negatives - outpolls NDP leader Carole James on managing the economy. That's likely to be a big issue.
But the municipal elections, like the Angus Reid poll results, were good news for the NDP. They picked up some potential allies in the important Lower Mainland and got at least a suggestion that some voters see a need for change.
The next six months - starting with the brief legislature sitting now under way - will be interesting.
Footnote: It should be time to declare a democratic crisis in municipal and school board elections. With a few exceptions, voter turnout was terrible and candidates - often in ridiculously large fields - had real difficulty in getting their positions and qualifications before the public. Elections B.C. should be charged with recommending ways to increase meaningful participation.

1 comment:

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