Grassroots Politicians: Party Activists in British Columbia

By Donald E. Blake; R. K. Carty et al. | Go to book overview

Thus the NDP delegates, like their Social Credit counterparts, seem to have been somewhat at odds with the organizational leadership of their party. The legislative caucus accepted Harcourt's leadership with little question but there is some indication (beyond the hint in Table 23) that the extra-parliamentary party establishment did not. The party executive rejected Harcourt's initial choice for party secretary, straining relationships between the party headquarters in Vancouver and the leader's office in Victoria. Harcourt responded by hiring an Ottawa civil servant to run his office, in effect trying to circumvent his opponents. That arrangement did not work. Harcourt had to fire him, which led to a civil suit for wrongful dismissal.

The Liberal leadership convention was marked by none of these divisions between the grassroots and the party establishment. Although the party sees its role as important in offering a moderate alternative to provincial voters, and in maintaining an organization to fight elections in what they see as the more important (by more than 3 to 1) federal arena, only 5 per cent of the activists at the leadership selection convention thought they had a high chance of winning their local constituency battle in the next provincial election. In that situation, the provincial leadership is hardly a prize to be fought over, certainly not one to divide the party in any systematic way. Liberals were happy enough to have a respectable candidate to take on the job.


CONCLUSION

This portrait of British Columbia's party activists engaged in the critical task of choosing new leaders suggests that the clash of ideologies that drives inter-party debate and electoral competition is not central to the competition for power and authority within the parties. It is as if the partisans were determined to maintain a façade of ideological unity in the face of the opposition. They do not expose any internal differences, any evidence of ideological disunity or disagreement, that might be exploited by the competition. The Liberals, who take pride in the fact that they reject the very polarization of politics that animates the system, did not divide at all.

But the populist style of politics practised in the province has its own impact on the system. Less than half the delegates in the two big parties disagreed with the proposition that their leader had been cut off from ordinary members. And when it came time to choose a new leader both groups elected a man who was at best distant from the existing party establishment. In the case of the more populist of the two parties, the Socreds, the repudiation of the party elite was

-97-

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Grassroots Politicians: Party Activists in British Columbia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Grassroots Politicians i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables and Figures vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - the Polarization of Bc Politics 3
  • Chapter Three - Continuity and Change: Party Activists, 1973-87 24
  • Conclusion 34
  • Chapter Four - Social Credit: Pragmatic Coalition or Ideological Right? 36
  • Conclusion 55
  • Chapter Five - the New Democrats: What Kind of Left? 58
  • Conclusion 70
  • Chapter Six - the Liberals: Centre or Fringe? 71
  • Conclusion 83
  • Chapter Seven - Leadership Selection in the Bc Parties 85
  • Conclusion 97
  • Chapter Eight the Social Credit Grassroots Recapture Their Party 99
  • Chapter Nine Resisting Polarization: the Survival of the Liberals 112
  • Conclusion 120
  • Chapter Ten Towards the Centre?: the Dynamics of Two-Party Competition 122
  • Appendix 137
  • Notes 143
  • Bibliography 147
  • Index 151
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