Time for ‘The Forces of Yes’ to awaken in B.C.

The BC Liberals suffered a blow in by-elections last week, losing a riding they had previously held in Coquitlam Burke Mountain.

The NDP’s Jodie Wickens picked up that seat in the Legislature, winning a close race that included a strong showing from the Green Party’s Joey Keithley.

The NDP also easily retained their traditional stronghold of Mount Pleasant in Vancouver, with newcomer Melanie Mark winning in a landslide. Mark is the first Indigenous woman to ever be elected to serve in the provincial legislature. What an outrage that it took so long.

These by-election defeats can’t have come as much of a surprise to the B.C. government. By-elections tend to favour opposition parties, after all.

Photo courtesy of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Photo courtesy of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Other forms of opposition, outside of the electoral arena, do however appear to be causing more serious concern for this government.

Take, for example, the growing number of groups opposed to liquified natural gas megaprojects in the province. LNG, if you recall, was of course the much hyped centrepiece of Christy Clark’s successful campaign and surprising election win in 2013. Touted as a trillion dollar industry that would bring tens of billions to public coffers as early as 2015, Clark’s LNG promises are now both behind schedule and greatly reduced in scale.

Even with low global gas prices and a glut of supply, Clark and the Liberals have continued with their laser focus on LNG boosterism. Last month, the premier’s discourse turned to the dark side when questioned about the Lelu Declaration signed by First Nations and allies against a proposed LNG facility near Prince Rupert.

As The Tyee reported, “The formal declaration to oppose a key component of Petronas’s $36-billion LNG project capped a two-day Salmon Nation Summit in Prince Rupert, where around 300 hereditary and elected First Nations leaders, scientists, politicians, commercial and sport fishermen, and other northern residents came together to defend wild salmon from the company’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project.”

Clark’s response was dismissive, labelling her critics “the forces of no.”

“There are people who just say no to everything, and heaven knows there are plenty of those in British Columbia…I’m not sure what science the forces of no bring together up there except that it’s not really about the science…It’s not really about the fish. It’s just about trying to say no. It’s about fear of change. It’s about a fear of the future.”

Premier Clark even lumped in critics of the Trans Pacific Partnership with the so-called “forces of no.” Although she charges her opponents with being afraid of our glorious LNG-fuelled future, it is Clark who is wielding the weapon of fear, making out like anyone who stands against her agenda is acting in bad faith, or trying to kill the economy. In this way she uses the force of fear for dark ends, obscuring necessary debate about the economic and ecological risks of her LNG gambit.

Her first order of business seems to be to frame the NDP as the head of this “forces of no” strawman. From her point of view, such a framing was key to stopping Adrian Dix last election, especially after the NDP’s belated stand in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Taking a longer view, her framing is perhaps even more reminiscent of Glen Clark’s polarizing description of opponents of forest industry practices as “enemies of B.C.”

But the Premier Clark of 2016 is playing a dangerous game with this rhetoric.

First, because environmentalists and First Nations asserting their traditional rights are no longer marginal political actors in B.C. New coalitions, more diverse than ever, have been forged in the pipeline battles of recent years.

Secondly, there are positive signs the BC NDP will not allow itself to fight the next election on Christy Clark’s rhetorical ground. After the debacle of 2013, the party seems to have an increased awareness that the best defence against these “forces of no” smears is a good offence: a series of concrete, substantial proposals to decrease inequality, to create “green jobs,” and to build more energy efficient homes and communities.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives cleverly responded to Clark’s remarks by inviting supporters to join “The Forces of Yes” (ccpabc.ca/forcesofyes), pointing out all the good ideas the BC Liberal government has refused to say yes to over the years.

B.C. desperately needs a legislature where the majority of political forces say yes to affordable child care and post-secondary education, yes to a real poverty reduction strategy, and yes to a rapid transition to renewable energy.

The Resistance in this part of the Galaxy has been scattered and weak for years, but there are signs it is awakening to finally defeat the BC Liberal Empire.