A new book on a pivotal time in B.C. history is an excellent guide for how a government can ensure it won't survive, no matter how good its intentions.
And even though the book is about the NDP government of the 1970s, one assumes current NDP leader Adrian Dix realizes it contains lessons he won't want to repeat if he forms government next spring.
The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-1975 paints a picture of a government on a frantic roller coaster ride, eager to fulfill ambitions that had lingered for decades and wanting to do so as quickly as possible.
The authors, Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs, provide a sympathetic account of Barrett's wild ride. While mindful of the historic legacy of his government, they don't sugarcoat the sense of near-chaos, poor planning and lack of strategy that ultimately doomed Barrett's administration.
There's no question the NDP government of the 1970s established a rich and enduring legacy of landmark legislation that changed B.C. for the better in so many areas of society.
But in their rush to do so much, they made many missteps. The Barrett government picked fights everywhere, including with their own supporters, many of whom were blind to the realities of government and what it took to get re-elected.
And Barrett contributed in a great way to the polarization of B.C. politics, which ultimately worked against him and the NDP in the years following.
After his defeat in 1975, Barrett fought two more elections against Social Credit premier Bill Bennett and lost each time. Polarization pitted the NDP against a larger pool of voters united against them, thus ensuring their loss.
The Art of the Impossible also shows how much B.C.'s political culture has changed since the time it covers, and here is where the lessons come in.
First, the organized labour movement is a shadow of its former self. Barrett had to deal with powerful private sector union leaders who threatened to bring down his government after he legislated more than 50,000 striking workers back on the job.
In fact, it can be argued much of that labour movement deserted the NDP in the 1975 election, which was akin to cutting their nose to spite their face, as the Social Credit government was far less friendly to its interests.
But labour no longer has that kind of political might. Much of its power now resides among public sector unions, more narrowly focused on their own plight.
This removes a potential headache for Dix should he become premier.
Another thing that jumps out of The Art of the Impossible is how the forest industry has also almost disappeared from the political arena.
Back then, of course, forestry was the dominant industry in this province and even talk of work stoppages in it were huge events.
Today, the industry has suffered thousands of job losses and simply doesn't have the financial or political clout that played such a prominent role before.
Neither Dix nor Clark shows any signs of emulating Barrett's approach to governing. Dix keeps stressing he has a "modest" agenda for government, and has repeatedly said he doesn't intend to bring in a lot of legislation.
As for Clark, she seems genuinely disinterested (if not contemptuous) of the legislature.
But she is also trying to polarize everything, to make the choice next May a stark one between left and right with nothing in the middle. It is Clark who is behaving more like Barrett.
Ah, such are the ironies of B.C. politics!
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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