With the neoliberal consensus shattered worldwide, the soon-to-be new B.C. government must act decisively
Progressive politics should be a broad and ecumenical church. No one is born a socialist, a liberal, or a conservative; we are all learning and evolving beings, with ideas shaped by our upbringing, race, gender, class position – and by the prevailing views in society.
With this in mind, we should welcome Christy Clark’s political deathbed conversion to some of the programmatic cornerstones of democratic socialism. Facing near-certain defeat in the B.C. legislature this week, with an agreement between the NDP and Greens in place to form a new government after 16 long years of corporate rule, Clark and the Liberals have pulled a dramatic 180 degree turn on a number of issues, declaring their support for a referendum on electoral reform, a raise in social assistance rates, and a cool $1 billion dollars to immediately open up new child care spaces. Suddenly we can afford many of the things that just weeks ago Clark and the Liberals campaigned against on the basis of “fiscal responsibility” in the face of the “tax and spend” NDP.
Clark’s new promises made last week’s reading of the Throne Speech feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Contrary to the spin the Liberals are putting on it – that Clark has listened to the electorate and decided to put forward a more progressive politics – the move is pure posturing to make the NDP and Green MLAs vote against a buffet of measures they support.
This last-minute Hail Mary by the Liberals, however, is too clever by half. By tacitly conceding that the B.C. public has a strong appetite for change, and in fact broadly supporting social democratic policies like expanded public child care, the Liberals are undermining their own ability to oppose the forthcoming NDP-Green government. The NDP’s communications staff are no doubt already preparing to throw Clark’s words back at the soon-to-be opposition party when the Liberals revert to being right-wing opponents of progressive policies.
The religious conversion analogy falls down in that Clark failed to recant or repent for her past. Asked if her newfound commitments didn’t flagrantly contradict the program she just finished campaigning on, Clark resorted to the old political cliché that she was “looking forward, not backward.” Without a credible explanation for Clark’s new tune, it just smacks of the worst kind of cynicism we’ve come to expect from too many politicians.
As I’ve observed in the past, Clark has been an effective avatar and spokesperson for B.C.’s ruling elite, especially the corporate bosses in the fossil fuel and financial sectors. She’s a smiling, happy warrior for the provincial establishment. With seemingly few core beliefs of her own other than a desire for power, she has rather seamlessly managed to preside over a party that is effectively a coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives. Until now.
The Liberals know they are on their way out of power. They’ve started to layoff some of their senior staff, and internal recriminations have begun. Most notably, Kevin Falcon, the past runner-up to Clark for the party leadership, has publicly slammed Clark’s campaign for losing seats across the Lower Mainland. Falcon’s dissent is a sign that the B.C. Liberal coalition may have trouble hanging together once they are confined to opposition. The B.C. Conservative Party, which was a serious political factor in the province just five years ago before declining into near-oblivion, wasted no time in attacking Clark’s Throne Speech. The party circulated a graphic on social media declaring themselves the only alternative to the new tax and spend consensus. Hilariously, the Conservatives put images of Clark, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver on the graphic together with the hashtag #SocialistsUnited.
Horgan, assuming he will be sworn-in as premier in the coming weeks, should take full advantage of this historic moment of political realignment. The neoliberal consensus that has asphyxiated political life in recent decades has finally been shattered. Regime change in Victoria will be a breath of fresh air.
The appetite for real change is not confined to B.C.; it’s a worldwide phenomenon, as seen in the remarkable success and popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party. As Pankaj Mishra wrote in the New York Times this month, “A new economic consensus is quickly replacing the neoliberal one to which Blair and Clinton, as well as Thatcher and Reagan, subscribed; politicians are scrambling to articulate it, often blatantly breaking with their own history.”
Horgan, despite coming into office with the most fragile of majorities, has an opportunity to make history. The NDP and Greens should push to repair the damage done by the BC Liberals, implementing their platform and considering more radical policies to address the province-wide crisis of affordability and inequality.
The new government must take full advantage of this moment – act quickly and decisively. Social movements will need to push hard, because even when the establishment’s favoured party gets booted from office, the super-rich and their corporations still hold many of the levers of power.