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Why I am voting for the BC NDP, despite their do-nothing platform

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Why I am voting for the BC NDP, despite their do-nothing platform

Why I am voting for the BC NDP, despite their do-nothing platform

Ivan Drury

Since the BC election season started I have been proud to travel around the province with a small group of social housing advocates to connect with communities facing the housing crisis and to protest against the social housing-free platforms of the BC Liberals and NDP.[1] Through these actions we have connected with communities facing different forms of homelessness. And together we have spoken out against the vacuous media and politician conspiracy of silence about the housing crisis in BC. Through this work I think we have managed to begin to resuscitate the idea of social housing in political discourse. The eve of the election and its morrow are certainly not the moments to give up this campaign to push back against the rapacious BC real estate market and demand justice.

But what is an anti-poverty activist to do on election day? Under the rhetoric of balanced budget the BC Liberals are promising still more austerity for workers and the poor, and tax cuts for the rich. The NDP, to the profound disappointment of those who were promised differently, is hardly any better.[2] They have kept the words “social housing” out of their platform and, worse, are sinking further into the morass of neoliberal logic with P3s by another name.[3] On their housing platform alone I would not vote NDP; far from “better than nothing,” I believe nothing is better than their plan to offer state support to developers in exchange for crumbs of social housing.

However, defying the logic of the ballot box, I still plan to vote for the NDP for reasons besides their do-nothing program.

First and most simply: because the Liberals will be worse. These 12 years have been devastating for communities throughout the province and, while the NDP is not proposing a break from the ideologies of perpetual growth in real estate development or resource industry, their rule will likely be less bloodthirsty. There is a chance that working and low-income communities in BC might be able to come forward off our heels and adopt something stronger than a defensive posture. We are tired of being constantly compelled to dedicate our activism to putting out fires lit by tax cutting psychopaths. This could be the opportunity to think, assess, and act long-term that we badly need.

The potential opportunity presented by a new NDP government in Victoria is a bit counter-intuitive. Throughout the history of the NDP, like the Democrats in the US, their election has portended downturn and de-escalation of social movements. Take, for example, the growing conservatism of the labour movement in Vancouver (particularly around real estate development and gentrification issues) under Vision Vancouver’s mantle. And their orientation towards the BC NDP has been slavish. The Social Housing Coalition BC took a request to the Vancouver and District Labour Council for endorsement of our 6 demands for social housing and rent controls, and key leaders maneuvered to block the vote at least until after the election. On the provincial level labour has been silent for years, following one union busting attack from Victoria after another. Because they have been so inactive there is nothing for an NDP election to demobilize; labour does not hold the purse or communications strings in the grassroots movements in BC.

Still more exciting are the dialectics of unity that have been set in motion around BC. The perfect symbol for me was at a Social Housing Coalition rally outside a Liberal fundraiser at the Hotel Georgia. Inside were the MLAs representing the pipelines, welfare, housing, health, and immigration. And outside the doors of their posh fundraiser were representatives of community struggles on each one of these distinct issues, pushed into unity by the appearance of Victoria in downtown Vancouver. Our single issues, spanning city and small town and Indigenous land sovereignty, were brought together by the focus on the government. I realized that the shifts in power and governmental responsibility that have been keeping us apart have the potential to be broken down in practice. We can overcome the individualizing cynicism of the BC Liberal years and unite around opposition to the capitalist and colonial agendas radiating out from Victoria. All signs are that this agenda will not be significantly interrupted by an NDP victory.

The most important information we gleaned from our flying squad actions at NDP events was about the gaping maw between the consciousness of NDP supporters and the official program of the leadership. At nearly every single NDP rally or fundraiser we attended with our “Social Housing Now” banners and brochures we were greeted by NDP supporters who assumed their party was on the same page as we were. NDP members tend to think they are voting for change that will push back against the free market, undo Liberal tax reforms, and bring ordinary working and low-income people in BC back into the political realm. Our experiences at the NDP rally events are confirmed by the BC Liberal leak of the “real, Chavez-esque” NDP platform on the eve of the election. The radical hopes in that dream platform are of NDP members, frustrated by actual party policy. In short, it will be very necessary to continue struggling under the NDP as it was under the Liberals, and, as Bertolt Brecht said, “In the contradiction [between NDP member dreams and NDP party policy] lies the hope.”

One on-the-ground effect of the federal and then provincial offloading of governing responsibilities to the municipalities has been the atomization, of struggles against the capitalist state. Neighbourhood struggles, novel in the 1970s and ‘80s, are the rule in the Downtown Eastside as well as rural areas in BC today. We have moved to think about our struggles as highly geographic, and our targets as the most local of governments. Victoria feels impossibly far away and non-responsive; demanding action from the Liberals most often felt like screaming with our heads underwater.

But our struggles are anything but local. The gentrification of the Downtown Eastside is directed by local government managing and responding to transnational economic pressures and trends. Struggles for the land are driven by investors and markets which cannot be tracked to a single person, location, or parliament. An NDP government, particularly one that lets down the hopes of thousands of its followers, could refocus our municipalized attention on a common enemy and, in the context of the housing movements, bring people facing eviction from a trailer park in Kelowna into the same frame as someone fighting displacement by police baton in downtown Victoria.

Our communities have developed local expertise through these years of municipal struggles. We know that local communities are the experts of their own needs. With this knowledge we can extend the housing struggle from a “single issue” of winning a social housing program to drawing a single sword across the knot of ways communities most affected by the housing crises experience those crises: police brutality, violence against women, criminalization of health condition and addiction, displacement from the land, permanent uprootedness, abuse by service providers, super exploitation by employers... all our experiences can be united in demand against Victoria, for locally directed solution.

I am planning on voting NDP because I believe they will make a better, more activating, adversary than the BC Liberals. I am planning on voting NDP today, and mounting a struggle against them tomorrow, a struggle with renewed hope.

[1] Read reports and see photos from some of these Flying Squad actions on the Social Housing Coalition BC website here:

[2] Read the Social Housing Coalition BC statement on the BC Liberal and NDP housing platforms here:

[3] Read my article about the NDP housing platform, “NDP housing platform promises disaster for the Downtown Eastside.”


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But what difference would your vote make anyway.

But I assume you live in an NDP dominated district already, so what difference did your one vote make anyway? None at all. THe NDP got in anyway in those districts and it wasn't even a close race, which are never decided by single votes anyway.

Elections are decided by voting blocks not individuals. Voting blocks are decided by economic and social conditions in relation to geographical districts that are formed by economic and social conditions. Elections have nothing to do with your personal opinion.

Assuming your individual vote mattered (which as a scientific fact it doesn't) you would have to vote Liberal or some other party if you lived in an NDP district or move to a Liberal district and vote NDP if you wanted your vote to be part of a change in the political landscape. 

But of course the reason you live in a certain district is also the reason that district has a voting block that votes a certain way and makes your individual vote meaningless.

Politics is decided by economic and social conditions not individual whims.


Solid argument!

Hope you don't mind if I steal your rant and use it to mock sanctimonious voters in the future?

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