British Columbia New Democratic Party

British Columbia New Democratic Party
British Columbia New Democratic Party
Leader Adrian Dix
President Moe Sihota
Founded 1933 (1933)
Headquarters 5367 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
V5H 2G1
Ideology Social democracy
Political position Centre-left
International affiliation Socialist International
Official colours Orange, blue
Seats in Legislature
34 / 85
Politics of British Columbia
Political parties

The New Democratic Party of British Columbia[3] (BC NDP) is a social-democratic political party in British Columbia, Canada. The party currently forms the official opposition to the governing British Columbia Liberal Party following the 2009 provincial election in British Columbia.

The BC NDP is the provincial arm of the New Democratic Party of Canada. Unlike other parties in Canada, where provincial and federal politics are strictly separated and members of one are not necessarily members of the other, NDP members are members of both the federal party and the provincial party.


Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (British Columbia Section)


The party was formed in 1933 as the British Columbia section of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) by a coalition of the Socialist Party of Canada (BC), the League for Social Reconstruction, and affiliated organizations. In August 1933, the latter two organizations merged to become the Associated CCF Clubs. The new party won seven seats in the 1933 provincial election, enough to form the official opposition. A further merger with the SPC (BC) took place in 1935. In 1936 the party split as its moderate leader, Reverend Robert Connell was expelled over doctrinal differences in what was called the "Connell Affair". Three other CCF Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in what had been a 7 member caucus quit and joined Connell in forming the Social Constructive Party, leaving only Harold Winch, Ernest Winch and Dorothy Steeves as CCF MLAs.[1] The Constructivists nominated candidates in the 1937 election but failed to win a seat. The CCF regained their former contingent of 7 MLAs but lost official opposition status to the reconstituted British Columbia Conservative Party.

Harold Winch succeeded Connell as CCF leader and guided the party until the 1950s.

The two-party system in Canada was challenged with the rise of the CCF and the Social Credit movement in western Canada during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The CCF first took power in Saskatchewan under Premier Tommy Douglas, and made major inroads in British Columbia.

In order to block the rise of the CCF in BC, the provincial Liberal and Conservative parties formed a coalition government after the 1941 provincial election when neither party had enough seats to form a majority government on its own. For the ten years that the coalition held together, the CCF was the Official Opposition in the legislature.

Solidification as opposition party

After the coalition fell apart in 1951, the government introduced the Alternative Vote, with the expectation that Conservative voters would list the Liberals as their second choice and vice versa. In introducing the measure, the government hoped to prevent the CCF from winning in a three party competition. What they did not contemplate was that there was a new fourth party on the rise: the BC Social Credit League.

In the election on 12 June 1952, the Liberals and Conservatives were decimated. Social Credit was the main beneficiary of the new voting system as many non-CCF voters chose Social Credit as either their first or second choices. Social Credit emerged as the largest party, with one more seat than Winch's CCF. Social Credit then chose a new leader, W.A.C. Bennett.

When Social Credit lost a motion of no confidence in the legislature in March 1953, Winch argued that the CCF should be allowed to try to form a government instead of the house being dissolved for an early election. The Liberals, however, refused to support the CCF's bid to form a government and new elections were called.

In the 1953 election, Bennett won a majority government, and both the Liberal and the Conservative parties were reduced to fringe parties. Throughout the 1950s, Bennett's new electoral movement was able to keep the CCF at bay. As this was during the height of the Cold War, Bennett was able to effectively use the scare tactic of the "Red Menace" against the CCF, even referring to them as the "socialist hordes".

Creation of the New Democratic Party

In 1960, the CCF's name was changed nationally to the New Party, then in 1961 to the "New Democratic Party" (NDP), reflecting the national party formed from an alliance of the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress. Bennett was able to keep the CCF and the NDP out of power throughout the 1960s through four successive general elections. Each time, Bennett was able to effectively use the "Red Menace" tactic against the NDP and its leaders during this time, Robert Strachan and, in the 1969 general election, against Thomas Berger.

Barrett government

The NDP first won election in 1972 under Dave Barrett, who served as Premier for three years. The NDP passed a great deal of legislation in a very short time - virtually a revolution in BC provincial governance. Among lasting changes were the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the Agricultural Land Reserve, and additions such as Question Period to the legislature. The NDP drove the small BC Liberal caucus to abandon their leader David Anderson for the Social Credit Party, as did one of the two Tories elected in 1972. The NDP introduced capital taxes, slashed funding to universities, but suffered the most for bringing clarity to the accounting Social Credit had used, and showed that BC was significantly in debt.

In the 1975 election Social Credit, under W.A.C's son Bill Bennett, won a snap election called by Barrett. The Barrett government had initiated a number of reforms in the areas of labour relations, the public service and social programs, most of which endured through to the restraint budget of 1983.

The NDP peaked in popular support in the 1979 election with 46% of the vote. And after a minor decline in the party's vote share in 1983, Barrett retired as leader.

Riding high in the polls, it appeared that the party was poised to win the 1986 election against the unpopular Social Credit government of the day but due to a minor verbal gaffe by its new leader Bob Skelly during the campaign and the surprising charisma and telegenic performance of the Socreds' new leader William Vander Zalm, the party failed to score its anticipated breakthrough.

The 1990s

The New Democratic Party governed BC for nine and a half years, winning two back-to-back general elections in 1991 and 1996 before being defeated in 2001. Although the party's majority was reduced in 1996, it was nevertheless able to triumph over the divided remnants of the Social Credit Coalition. In 1991, due in part to Social Credit's scandal-plagued final term in office under Premier William Vander Zalm and in part to the stellar performance of then- British Columbia Liberal Party (BC Liberals) leader Gordon Wilson in the televised leader's debate, the old Social Credit vote split between the BC Liberals, which garnered 33% of the vote and BC Social Credit Party with 25%. This allowed the NDP, under the leadership of former Vancouver mayor Michael Harcourt, who had succeeded former leader Bob Skelly in 1987, to win with 41% of the popular vote (one percentage point lower than the share the party had lost with in 1986).

Whereas Harcourt's first two years in government were characterized by a notably social-democratic policy agenda, the government took a dramatic turn to the right in 1993 with Harcourt's famous province-wide televised address in which he lashed out against "welfare cheats, deadbeats and varmints". This speech inaugurated a set of draconian welfare reforms enacted between 1993 and 1995 similar to those adopted by new Progressive Conservative provincial governments elected in Alberta and Ontario in the same time period. These cutbacks were, in part, a reaction to a dramatic reduction in federal transfer payments by the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and concommitant repeal of the Canada Assistance Plan bill of rights which included a right to food and a right to shelter. Unlike the reforms of the Harris and Klein governments, the BC Benefits package of cutbacks and restrictions in social assistance eligibility was bundled with a childcare bonus paid to low- and medium-income families, similar to that recently enacted by the Harper government. While unpopular with the province's anti-poverty movement and the then-marginal BC Green Party, Harcourt's reforms were well-received by the vast majority of British Columbians.

Three months before BC Benefits was introduced by the Harcourt government, a protracted conflict began with the elements of the province's environmental movement. Harcourt's Peace in the Woods pact which brought together traditionally warring environmental groups and forest workers' unions began to collapse when Harcourt's cabinet exempted an environmentally-sensitive area of Vancouver Island, Clayoquot Sound, from its province-wide mediation process for land-use conflicts, CORE (the Commission on Resources and the Environment). This touched off logging road blockades in which over 800 people were arrested and alienated of some key environmental leaders such as David Suzuki and Colleen McCrory who shifted their support to the Green Party in the 1996 provincial election.

Although low in the polls for much of his term in office, Harcourt and his newly-appointed Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh succeeded in regaining substantial public support by taking a hard line against a fringe aboriginal group's occupation of a farmer's field in the Cariboo region of the province. The Gustafsen Lake siege, led by Dosanjh became the largest-scale police operation in BC history, in which armoured vehicles and anti-vehicle mines were deployed and thousands of rounds of ammunition were shot at protesters.

However, less than 72 hours before a planned election call, with the NDP riding high in the polls for its hard line against welfare recipients and aboriginal and environmental radicals, the party's provincial office was raided by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers as part of an ongoing investigation of illegal use of charity bingo money, coined "Bingogate" by the media, by former provincial cabinet minister and member of parliament Dave Stupich. Although Harcourt was not implicated in either the raid or the probe and was later fully exonerated, he resigned nevertheless and the party was led into the 1996 provincial general election by Glen Clark.

The Clark years

Glen Clark, who entered the 1996 election far back in the polls, proved an excellent campaigner who succeeded, at least for the duration of the election, in re-unifying the party's traditional coalition with the slogan "On Your Side". He effectively portrayed the BC Liberals' new leader, former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell, as a pawn of big business and a dangerous right-wing extremist. Clark was aided in delivering this message by Jack Weisgerber, leader of the BC Reform Party (the name under which the majority of the Social Credit caucus had rebranded itself), and Wilson, now leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) after being deposed by Campbell as leader of the BC Liberals. Although the NDP won only 39% of the vote to Campbell's 42%, it managed to secure 39 seats to Campbell's 33.

Although largely continuing Harcourt's policy agenda, Clark's government appeared rudderless with the campaign behind it and the Premier's scrappy style began to further alienate parts of the NDP coalition outside of the core group of labour activists who had masterminded Clark's campaign. It was also discovered, shortly after the election, that the balanced budgets for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 fiscal years on which Clark had campaigned were not, in fact, balanced but actually small deficits of approximately $100 million. This was termed the "fudge-it" budget fiasco. Further, large debt was shifted onto Crown Corporations so as to create a perception of "surpluses".[citation needed]

During these years, the NDP began to bleed support and activists to the Greens who reached 5% in the polls in the fall of 1997 and 11% by the fall of 1998; however, by far the majority of the NDP's former voters deserted the party for the centre-right BC Liberals.[citation needed] New scandals also surfaced, this time appearing to implicate Clark in using his influence to win a casino licence for a neighbour who had helped him with some home renovations. Another blunder was the botched construction of the PacifiCat BC Ferries, which would later become part of the FastCat Fiasco; the project, designed to speed transportation between Vancouver and Nanaimo, was plagued by cost over-runs and poor technical decisions.[citation needed] By mid-1999, an obvious rift had appeared in the administration as Attorney-General Dosanjh and Finance Minister Joy MacPhail challenged Clark's legitimacy. The party and province endured a few chaotic months of government with frequent cabinet shuffles, following a police raid on Clark's home before the premier stepped aside.

Dan Miller, the longest-serving member of the legislature stepped-in as interim premier and party leader during an acrimonious leadership race between Dosanjh, maverick West Kootenay MLA Corky Evans and Wilson, who had been persuaded to fold his stalled PDA in 1998 and join Clark's cabinet.[citation needed] Despite clear favouritism from Clark, Wilson finished last with Dosanjh winning a majority of votes at the convention, despite Evans winning the support of over two thirds of the party's constituency associations.

Having bottomed out at 15 percent in the polls,[2] the Dosanjh government attempted to capitalize on the new Premier's high personal approval rating with their remaining year in power. The government made a number of concessions to the party's anti-poverty and environmental wings in an attempt to reforge the coalition but the party would not budge in the polls. Halfway through his mandate, Dosanjh seemed to lose interest in governing and left for a lengthy tour of his native Punjab.[citation needed]

Dosanjh waited as long as possible to call the next election, finally doing so in May 2001. By this time, the party had risen to 21 percent in opinion polling--a slight improvement from the nadir of a year earlier.[2] Nonetheless, it was obvious that the NDP would not be reelected. Midway through the campaign, Dosanjh conceded defeat in a pre-recorded message and asked the electorate to give the NDP a chance as a strong opposition party.[3] De facto leadership passed to MacPhail, who managed to reinvigorate the campaign. The NDP's popular vote dropped to 22 percent, while its seat count dropped to only two — MacPhail and neighbouring Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan. They were also the only surviving members of the previous Cabinet; even Dosanjh lost his seat. All 77 other seats were captured by the BC Liberals who won 58 percent of the vote. It was the second-worst defeat of a sitting provincial government in Canada. Despite the severe defeat, MacPhail was credited for saving the party from being completely wiped off the map.

Shortly after the election, Dosanjh resigned as leader and Joy MacPhail was appointed interim leader.


Although recognized by the BC legislature's speaker, former Social Credit cabinet minister-turned BC Liberal Claude Richmond, as Leader of the Official Opposition, MacPhail's caucus was not granted party status by Campbell on the grounds that the legislature's rules stipulated a party must hold four seats. Ultimately, Richmond's position gradually won-out as more and more of the resources and funds appropriate for an opposition party found their way to the NDP's tiny caucus.

Given the high level of support within the party for her leadership, MacPhail surprised many by choosing not to seek the party leadership in 2003. The low-key leadership campaign was contested by establishment favourite and former Victoria School Board chair Carole James, Oak Bay City Councillor Nils Jensen, and former MLAs Leonard Krog and Steve Orcherton and a few minor candidates. First ballot results had James first followed by Jensen, Krog and the Orcherton. A second ballot was held with James winning.

In late 2004, the party won an upset election victory in the constituency of Surrey-Panorama Ridge. The region had not voted NDP in 1996 but had in 1991. Jagrup Brar became the third member of the party's caucus. Brar beat a locally popular BC Liberal candidate and Adriane Carr, the BC Green Party's leader, winning an absolute majority of the vote.

In 2005, James came closer to forming a government than even the NDP had predicted, winning 33 seats to Campbell's 45 and receiving a vote share 5% higher in suburban Vancouver than any pollster had predicted. The NDP also exceeded 40% of the vote for the first time since 1991.

In 2008, the NDP won two key by-elections in Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Burrard.

In 2009, the NDP came a close second to the BC Liberals, with a 45%-42% popular vote, with 35 New Democrats elected to the BC Liberals 49. Despite the popular vote, only 3,500 votes separated the party from forming government.[4]


  • Robert Connell (1933–1936)1
  • Harold Winch (1939–1953)
  • Arnold Webster (1953–1956)
  • Robert Strachan (1956 – April 12, 1969)
  • Thomas Berger (April 12, 1969 – September 1969)
  • Dave Barrett (September 1969 – May 20, 1984)
  • Bob Skelly (May 20, 1984 – April 12, 1987)
  • Michael Harcourt (April 12, 1987 – February 18, 1996)
  • Glen Clark (February 18, 1996 – August 25, 1999)
  • Dan Miller (August 25, 1999 – February 20, 2000) acting
  • Ujjal Dosanjh (February 20, 2000 – June 16, 2001)
  • Joy MacPhail (June 16, 2001 – November 23, 2003) interim
  • Carole James (November 23, 2003 – January 20, 2011)
  • Dawn Black (January 20, 2011 – April 17, 2011) interim
  • Adrian Dix (April 17, 2011 – present)

1 In 1936, Connell was expelled and three other MLAs resigned from the CCF. They formed the Social Constructive Party.[5]

For further information, see British Columbia New Democratic Party Leadership Conventions.

Election results

Election Party leader # of candidates Seats Popular vote Final round
Previous After % Change # % Change (1952-53 only)
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
1933 Robert Connell 46 n.a. 7 n.a. 120,185 31.53% n.a.
1937 46 7 7 - 119,400 28.57% −2.96%
1941 Harold Winch 45 7 14 +100% 151,440 33.36% +4.79%
1945 Harold Winch 48 14 10 −28.6% 175,960 37.62% +4.26%
1949 Harold Winch 48 10 7 -30.0% 245,284 35.10% −2.52% Votes %
1952 Harold Winch 48 7 18 +157.1% 236,562 30.78% −4.32% 231,756 34.3%
1953 Arnold Webster 47 18 14 −22.2% 224,513 30.85% +0.07% 194,414 29.48%
1956 Robert Strachan 51 14 10 −28.6% 231,511 28.32% −2.53%
1960 Robert Strachan 52 10 16 +60.0% 326,094 32.73% +4.41%
New Democratic Party
1963 Robert Strachan 52 16 14 −12.5% 269,004 27.80% -4.93%
1966 Robert Strachan 55 14 16 +14.3% 252,753 33.62% +5.82%
1969 Thomas Berger 55 16 12 −25.0% 331,813 33.92% +0.30%
1972 David Barrett 55 12 38 +217% 448,260 39.59% +5.67%
1975 David Barrett 55 38 18 −52.6% 505,396 39.16% −0.43%
1979 David Barrett 57 18 26 44.4% 646,188 45.99% +6.83%
1983 David Barrett 57 26 22 -15.4% 741,354 44.94% -1.05%
1986 Robert Skelly 69 22 22 - 824,544 42.60% −2.34%
1991 Michael Harcourt 75 22 51 +131.8% 595,391 40.71% −1.89%
1996 Glen Clark 75 51 39 −23.53% 624,395 39.45% −1.26%
2001 Ujjal Dosanjh 79 39 2 −94.9% 343,156 21.56% −17.89%
2005 Carole James 79 2 33 +1,550% 694,978 41.43% +19.87%
2009[6] Carole James 85 33 35 +6.06% 691,342 42.14% +0.71%


  • ^ The party's constitution defines the full name to be the "New Democratic Party of British Columbia,";[7] however, the name "British Columbia New Democratic Party" can also be found in occasional use both internally and externally. Today the party usually calls itself the "BC NDP".

See also


  1. ^ Howard, Irene, "The Struggle for Social Justice in British Columbia: Helena Gutteridge", UBC Press, 1992, page 183-184
  2. ^ a b "Just another futile gesture?". Toronto Star: p. NR02. December 9, 2000. 
  3. ^ MacQueen, Ken (May 21, 2001). "Vanishing Act". Maclean's 114 (21): 55–56. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ [2][dead link]
  7. ^ "Constitution of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-12. 

External links

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