Continuity and Change: Party Activists, 1973-87
NORMAN RUFF WITH THE AUTHORS
Political parties are inevitably institutions of both continuity and change. They bear memories of battles fought, definitions of old issues still to be settled, and traditions that shape the careers and options of contemporary politicians. At the same time, they must continue to absorb and reflect the changing patterns of a dynamic society and economy. It is the tension between these two impulses that shapes parties' organization and activity.
Individual party members and activists carry these traditions and mirror social changes. Thus we can observe in the shifting profiles of a party's activists the balance between continuity and change as well as the party's response to the changing competitive environment and its place in it. In this chapter, we use this technique to examine how, if at all, the Social Credit, New Democratic and Liberal parties in British Columbia have changed over the last decade with the emergence of a polarized two-party system.
The leadership convention studies of 1986 and 1987 provide a good deal of information about the contemporary parties. Fortunately, we also have some parallel information on a number of important dimensions similarly gathered at provincial party conventions in the early 1970s. Survey data from the Social Credit leadership convention which choose Bill Bennett in 1973, and from the NDP and Liberal party conventions of 1973 and 1974, respectively, allow us to compare the three parties at the beginning and end of the Bill Bennett era. In the case of the NDP it is also possible to extend some of the analysis back another decade using Walter Young's study ( Young 1971) of the party in the mid-1960s.
The data we have provide portraits of the parties from three perspectives. First, it is possible to examine socio-economic profiles of