The New Democrats: What Kind of Left?
As the left-wing alternative in a province with a tradition of radical socialist activity, British Columbia's New Democratic Party presents a set of conflicting images. On the one hand the party projects a middle-of-the-road image. This is suggested by the party's strength in the electorate, its considerable appeal to voters whose attachments at the national level remain with the Liberal party, and actions such as its support in the British Columbia legislature for the entrenchment of property rights in the Canadian constitution. On the other hand, a more radical image is suggested by its historical roots and is reinforced by events such as the endorsement, in the early 1970s, of the Waffle manifesto by the provincial party leader, Dave Barrett, or the 1975 national leadership convention in which BC'S Rosemary Brown was clearly the left-wing alternative to Ed Broadbent, the choice of the national establishment.
The BC party has also been variously characterized in terms of its internal politics. Pictured as a homogeneous group compared to the kind of coalition the Social Credit party represents, the NDP is said to embody less of the diversity of opinion among the British Columbia electorate than does its opponents. But it is also seen as a party often split by the kinds of ideological and organizational divisions that plague left-wing parties, especially those not in power. These include divisions between traditional left and right wings of the party; between those committed to trade union issues and strong links between the party and organized labour, and those whose trade union sympathies are weak; differences based on what might be called new-left or life-style issues; and, more recently, divisions between environmentalists and those concerned with job preservation.