B.C. New Democrats find uninspiring campaign, leader scandal to blame

VANCOUVER – There was no single failure that led British Columbia’s New Democrats to a devastating loss in a provincial election they were highly anticipated to win, says a party post-mortem released Friday.

Rather, it was a “perfect storm” of missteps that culminated in the unexpected May election defeat, said Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators and chairwoman of the five-member panel that conducted the review during the past few months.

“We really tried to turn over every rock, so to speak, and we really came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t one what I would call a `smoking gun,’ there wasn’t one reason the election was lost. There were many factors in it,” Oliver said.

The report makes 47 recommendations to be implemented before the next provincial election in 2017, affecting everything from candidate selection and fundraising to platform messaging and positive campaigning.

“While their promises were paper-thin and their track record as a government was deplorable, their strategic approach in the campaign was to downplay all of those weaknesses and emphasize a message that played well with voters,” the report said.

“In the end, it worked.”

The New Democrats went into the 28-day campaign with a 20-point lead over the incumbent B.C. Liberals in polls but instead actually lost a seat, leaving B.C. with 49 Liberal MLAs, 34 NDP, one Independent and one provincial Green Party member.

The five-member panel heard from more than 3,000 people in online surveys of party members and spoke at length to Dix, his campaign team and candidates successful and not. They gathered input from constituency associations and party committees.

What they didn’t do was speak to any of the tens of thousands of voters who told pollsters they would cast their ballots for the NDP last May and either stayed home or voted Liberal.

The report has it’s limitations because of limited time and resources but it identified some key issues, said Shane Simpson, the NDP’s caucus chairman.

And despite some pundits’ call for a complete policy overhaul, Simpson said the review shows that election night is not a result of the party’s place on the political spectrum.

The difference between forming government and being the Opposition in B.C. is consistently about two or thee per cent of voters, he said.

“If we move two per cent in the polls, we win an election,” he said.

“Our challenge really is to maintain our base of support, which is about three-quarters of a million voters, and how do we get two, three, four per cent of that electorate? How do we move those people and inspire them to vote for us?

“We didn’t inspire them and we didn’t motivate them.”

Michael Byers, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said any party that can lead in the polls by more than 20 per cent at any time has a serious chance of forming government.

“That has to give New Democrats hope that there are an awful lot of people in this province who, at a particular point in time, will seriously consider voting NDP,” Byers said. “You have to follow that through with a strong, credible campaign and the NDP failed to do that this time.”

The review panel was struck at the request of BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix following the party’s loss May, and was under a tight deadline to finish in time for the NDP party convention beginning Nov. 15.

The 19-page report was a round-up of the multitude of possibilities plumbed since the NDP’s election night loss:

— The positive campaign failed to remind voters of the government record, while the Liberals made a memo scandal involving NDP Leader Adrian Dix a focus of the campaign.

— The campaign was “cautious and uninspiring.”

— The platform lacked in a clear and concise message for voters.

— The lead in the polls led to complacency.

— The party failed to connect with ethnic voters.

Dix announced in September that he would step down as leader over the dismal election result.

The party’s provincial council will choose the date for a leadership vote to replace outgoing party leader Adrian Dix after the party convention next week.

No candidates have officially declared themselves in the running, though NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth has expressed interest. Federal New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen announced Friday he will not be in the race.

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