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Volume Ten, Number Three   May 2005

Getting 'Back to the Future' in B.C. politics

Derrick O'Keefe

The anger at Campbell is not limited to his slashing of funding for women's centres. From students to seniors, many are anxious for the election and a chance at 'regime change' here at home.

With a May 17 election looming, Premier Gordon Campbell's face is starting to show up around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia on lampposts and bulletin boards. The other day I was in Kitsilano and was buoyed by the simple but effective homemade poster of a headshot of the premier with the caption, “I hate women.”

The anger at Campbell and the Liberals is certainly not limited to their slashing of funding for women's centres across the province. From students to seniors, many British Columbians are anxious for the May 17 election and a chance at “regime change” here at home (where regime change belongs).
So it's no surprise that most are looking to the New Democratic Party and leader Carole James with great expectations. James, though, is taking great pains not to make many promises and to stake out a moderate position, in contrast to the more visceral and expressive propaganda of the mug shots and angry slogans. James, for her part, have few promises of reversals of Liberal cuts and privatizations, having stated more than once, “You can't go back in time.”

David Schreck, political commentator and former NDP MLA, justified this approach in a column at his Strategic Thoughts website last May 7, right after the inspiring strike by hospital workers that was called off on the verge of a province-wide labour shutdown. In an effort to douse the flames that had been stoked by the strike, Schreck scolded those intemperate souls calling for more mobilizations against the government:
“One of the frequent comments is 'we cannot wait until the next election.' Other correspondents suggest that a new government should be expected to reverse the Campbell cuts quickly. There is no choice but to wait until May 17, 2005. There is no magic wand that will suddenly allow a new government to reverse what will be four years of cuts by May 17, 2005. There is no time machine and there is no money machine.”
Unfortunately, it is Gordon Campbell's government that has been taking British Columbians for a ride in a political time machine. The Liberals have slashed away at social programs built up over decades, imposed a training wage on par with the early 1990s minimum wage, and brought in 19th century-style child labour legislation — to name just a few glaring examples.

To declare that we “can't go back in time” is to accept defeat and cede the terms of discussion entirely to the Liberals. Then there is the assertion that there is “no money machine.” But a rollback of the tax break given to the highest income bracket would generate hundreds of millions of dollars of government revenue. That the NDP is too skittish to make such a proposal indicates that corporate B.C. is indeed setting the terms of debate around this upcoming election. Much of this, of course, is due to the incredible power that the big business friendly media has in framing political discussion.

Finally, I think that the counter-posing of electoral success and strike or protest mobilization is false. If anything, the province-wide solidarity for the hospital workers last May hinted at the huge potential to galvanize opposition against the government in Victoria. Indeed, a movement in the streets and on picket lines can resonate much more powerfully with the victims of the neo-Liberals than a strictly electoral “Anybody but Gordo” approach.

So in the weeks ahead, I hope and expect to see not only lawn signs, but also protest signs, more of those Campbell mug shots, and demonstrations against the Liberals' corporate agenda. That's the kind of vibrant, multi-faceted movement we'll need to get this province back to a future of progressive change and social justice.

Derrick O'Keefe is a founding editor of Seven Oaks Magazine, a progressive on-line journal based in Vancouver, B.C.

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