Roy L Hales
For the past two decades, the majority of British Columbia’s MPs have been Conservatives. Recent polls show that is about to change. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is poised to take over as many as 23 seats in the Federal election this October. One of the important political battles will be fought by Rachel Blaney, the NDP candidate for North Island-Powell River.
The Old Vancouver Island North Riding
This is part of the old Vancouver Island North riding, and the scene of hard fought campaigns in every election since Reform candidate John Duncan took it away from the NDP in 1993. They briefly regained Vancouver Island North in 2006, then lost to Duncan again two years later. When Duncan was last re-elected, in 2011, he received 46% of the popular vote, the NDP 43%, the Green Party and the Liberals each received 5%.
The riding has now been divided, with Duncan running in Courtenay-Alberni and his former advisor, Laura Smith, becoming the candidate for North Island-Powell River. She is facing a tough battle, as anti-Harper sentiment continues to spread across the province. According to the most recent Insights West Poll, the Conservatives may have lost 30% of their former supporters province wide. This could be deadly in the new ridings carved out of Vancouver Island North because they have not beaten the NDP by more than 10% since 2000.
The NDP candidate for North Island-Powell River
The NDP challenger in North Island-Powell River is Rachel Blaney, the former Executive Director of Campbell River’s Immigrant Welcome Centre.
Though obviously of European ancestry, Blaney was raised in a First Nations household and was once the employment officer for Homalco First Nation. Her husband, Derek Blaney, was the Chief of that nation for six years and is presently on council.
Rachel Blaney’s introduction to politics largely came through band members who dropped by the house to discuss issues.
She is one of many NDP candidates coming out of First Nations communities and “is excited to stand with Tom Mulcair on our policy of working with nation to nation with First Nations.”
Increased Spending On Healthcare
Asked about the cost of reversing the Conservative Government’s $36 billion funding cut from health care, Blaney responded:
“You know what, the money was there and the Conservative Government has taken it back. One of the things I have heard again and again , is this isn’t about spending more, it is about how we choose to spend our money.”
A Cleaner, More Diversified Economy
In the podcast above, Blaney says that one of the most important issues of this election is employment and the need for Canada to develop a cleaner, more diversified, economy. “This isn’t an either or discussion, our economy and our environment need to work together.”
“A lot of other countries are exploring clean energy and they are seeing a boom. We are seeing more and more jobs, exploding across the world, that are dealing specifically with clean energy. Canada needs to get invested in clean energy, and part of that is voting NDP,” said Blaney.
She added, “When we increase taxes to big corporations, that (money) is going to be reinvested in clean energy across Canada.”
Aside from the idea of adopting a cap-and-trade system, the NDP plan seems vague.
Thus it is reassuring to see a feisty candidate like Alison Thompson, Chair of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, running for the NDP in Alberta. Thompson has repeatedly demonstrated her expertise on clean energy, an attention to detail and the strength of character to make her views known. If the NDP attracts candidates of her calibre, they may have people that can make this work.
Failure To Take A Stand
A similar argument can be made in defence of the NDP’s failure to take a stand against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project.
Thomas Mulcair has repeatedly denounced the National Energy Board’s review process, but for the wrong reasons. The most important question isn’t whether the pipeline will work, but rather is this project something the people of British Columbia want.
This project would go through the most densely populated areas of the province. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s reserve looks across Burrard Inlet to the pipeline’s terminus in Burnaby. Their opposition to this project rests upon the claim it is a violation of their aboriginal title. There was already a 250,000 litre oil spill in Burnaby, during 2007, and a recent poll found that 70% of the city’s inhabitants are opposed to this project. Vancouver is one of the greenest cities in the world and, understandably concerned about the prospect of increased tanker traffic through its waters.
Do the cities and peoples that are directly impacted by the proposed Kinder Morgan project have an opportunity to say no?
“What Tom Mulcair has spoken about is that we need to have a strong assessment process, not just an environmental approval process but a really rigorous environmental assessment process, so that we know what the right choices are to make, that we are consulting with the people who are going to be impacted” says Blaney.
Does this mean it is not sufficient for cities like Burnaby and Vancouver to say no?
Some argue that the federal NDP are trying to escape the trap which may have cost their party the last provincial election in British Columbia. (The Georgia Straight, for example, claimed the NDP leader’s announcement that he opposed the Kinder Morgan project “killed him.”)
Mulcair’s reluctance to take a stand may be valid from a tactical perspective, but it leaves British Columbians in the position of being asked to trust the NDP .
How do we know they will look after our interests?
In a recent Op-ed, BC’s former Minister of Environment turned journalist, Rafe Mair, suggests Mulcair’s position on the Kinder Morgan project is “political double talk for ‘we’ll get rid of the present, obviously fixed process and bring in more subtle, fixed process of our own before approving the pipeline.’”
Yet the NDP has candidates who have taken a stand against the Kinder Morgan pipeline like Kennedy Stewart, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, and the NDP candidate for North Vancouver, Carleen Thomas, a former councillor of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
Will Mulcair listen to them?
Two former NDP members, now running for the Green party, claim that Mulcair is as much of a dictator as Harper.
Rafe Mair writes that during “Mulcair’s time as leader, not one NDP MP has taken an independent line, such is his ironclad discipline. Does that sound like a man who favours freedom for his MPs?”
Blaney is convinced that, except where it comes to voicing opposition to core party issues, MPs have the freedom to express themselves.
She points to her leader’s promise to put an end to majority governments elected by a minority of the population. Mulcair wants to replace it with a proportional representation system, “which means that every single vote counts.” (The Liberals and Green Party also endorse this idea.)
“Right now we have first past the post, which means that people have to (choose whether they will) vote strategically, or from their heart. They get to make that decision, but it is an unfair situation because it does not actually represent the feelings of Canadians as a whole,” said Blaney.
She added, “over 40 countries across the World have proportional representation. The research is clear. They vote more, voter apathy goes down, voter turnout increases and when they are surveyed, they say again and again, they feel represented.”
If her party goes through with the idea of adopting proportional representation, they might effectively end the Prime Minister’s ability to exercise dictatorial control.
The last time a party won a majority of the votes was 1984, and you have to go back to 1958 to find another. (Ironically, in both cases they were Conservative governments.)
Under a proportional representation system, Canadian politicians would be forced to cooperate with each other, becoming team players, or nothing would get done.
Top Photo Credit: Rachel Blaney and Tom Mulcair heard the concerns of a young voter at a rally in Courtenay – Courtesy Rachel Blaney’s Campaign Office