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"The B.C. NDP has become an urban-interest party" - former Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali joins BC United
Four time Merritt area legislator and former Highways Minister blames doctor shortages, ER closures and mill shutdowns
Yes. That happened.
David Eby’s NDP has been hit in the face with a long-standing reality that those who live far away from Victoria and Vancouver have always understood. There’s more to British Columbia than the big cities and this province rests (even in 2023) on the profits of its resource sector. Harry Lali has always understood that - now the Merritt area MLA has his work cut out to prove it. He’s joined Leader Kevin Falcon’s BC United saying he quit the NDP back in 2020.
I am a former IWA-Steelworker. I financed my university education by working in lumber mills across B.C. For the past nine years, I have been working as a consultant in the forest industry. I am proud of my small-town rural heritage and the rural way of life. When I served four terms as an NDP MLA and as a Minister of Transportation and Highways, I was an unabashed champion of small, resource-dependent communities, and continue to this day.
It’s a truth that underscores a long-standing tension between the heartland and hinterland. The NDP, provincially or federally, has always relied on urban support and wins. Gains in the Interior are collateral at best.
As premier, John Horgan carried some ‘street cred’ with workers in the forest industry. He was one of them. But Eby is a different kind of leader - a cosmopolitan beta-male with the most ‘city’ of the city ties - working with the BC Civil Liberties Association, HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Vancouver Foundation’s Health and Social Development Committee. His success in being a strong, articulate voice for social justice is not in dispute. And he’s with the right party.
But all that doesn’t matter a damn bit at the Tim Hortons in Merritt. The new (ish) premier is not one of them…even when he tries.
Add to this the New Democrats ongoing struggle with doctor shortages and temporary ER closures, especially in smaller communities. That’s a life and death issue and it hits families. Recent well-intentioned plans to expand or even open medical schools don’t matter for those who might wait for half-an-hour or more for an ambulance.
Then there’s a resource sector that gets hit with government platitudes one day and mill or mine closures the next. Is it any government’s fault? Probably not. But the economic transition that continues in 2023 needs its scapegoat.
Whether he ever sits in the Legislature again or not, Lali’s bet is sound. While the NDP’s fortunes may expand with more constituency wins east of Vancouver and deep into the Fraser Valley, the days of picking up a few seats in the Interior are gone. And it’s not just because of a loss of high-paying resource-based union support. BC United can appeal to rural folks while issues like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, greening the economy, and funding TransLink mean fuck-all for those in Merritt, Kamloops or even Smithers.
At the end of the day, the NDP knows it’s a numbers game and most of the seats are in the Vancouver and Victoria areas. You can usually win if you win those areas.
Still, there is a place for B.C.’s heart and soul and that’s not to be found at the corner of West Broadway and Bayswater.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the late Al Passarell, MLA for Atlin from 1979 to 1986. He crossed the floor from the NDP to the Socreds knowing that he previously won his seat by only a single vote. ‘Landslide Al’ knew full-well that his riding would likely fall if only a few more people became more upset with the urban overlords.
Bruce Claggett is a 35 year veteran in the news media, having worked as a reporter, newscaster, producer/editor, senior editor, news director, journalism instructor and media consultant. He holds a BA (political science/geography) from UBC, B.Ed. (secondary education) from UBC and a Dipl. T. (broadcast journalism) from BCIT. He continues to work as a guest host on 980/CKNW, media trainer and communications advisor.
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