The bottom line

Heading into this weekend's provincial New Democrat biennial convention, there were expectations leader Carole James would address her party's lack of economic credibility. But, instead, Ms. James told delegates about the economic value of education and the need consult with "concerned business leaders" - dusting off policy planks and rhetoric her party laid down in the last two elections.

During the week before the convention, former New Democrat party communications director David Bieber wrote of a need for Ms. James to change the "public perception about the NDP's ability to manage the economy competently."

That op-ed, published in The Vancouver Sun, reinforced what has become a common talking point since the election.

Two days later, The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason reported expectations Ms. James's speech would be "littered with references to the need for a comprehensive plan for economic growth."

But, when Ms. James took to the podium, she announced she would be putting education at the top of her party's economic agenda - even though, according to Mustel Research Group Ltd., just three percent of British Columbians rate it as their top issue of concern.

As a former school trustee and president of the association representing them, the party leader said she saw "the economic wallop of education, the power of education."

So she spoke to delegates about how "building our human capital can propel us toward a more successful, stable economy" - stressing the need to invest in a "quality public education system," "new apprenticeship and training opportunities" and an "affordable, quality, post-secondary education system."

Ms. James also made a one-sentence commitment to consult with "concerned business leaders" during the New Year as part of a wider discussion about the "other changes needed to make our economy grow."

But that was the extent of what she said about the economy almost seven months after an election the Liberals won, in part, because the Campbell administration's economic competency went unchallenged by the opposition.

Nevertheless, Ms. James told reporters in a scrum after the speech, "If anyone thought the New Democrats were not going to talk about the economy, they would be mistaken after this speech today."

"We are going to put a greater emphasis on the economy," she promised. "We are going to talk about how a new modern economy needs to make sure it addresses the issues in communities."

But isn't that what you'd expect her to say when the media asks questions such as, "Reading between the lines in this speech, are you signaling that the NDP is headed in a new direction?"

And how are the New Democrats headed in a new direction if Ms. James is dusting off policy planks and rhetoric that were laid down in the last two election?

In its 2005 platform, for example, the party described education as a "strategic investment that creates a more highly skilled population and workforce, and a stronger foundation for a more diversified economy."

Four years later, the New Democrats campaigned for "accessible and affordable post-secondary and apprenticeship opportunities" by reminding voters "an economy is only as strong as the women and men in the workforce driving it."

"So it makes sense that the diversified economy we seek - one that will help us weather downturns like the one that we're experiencing now - requires highly skilled and trained workers," the party's 2009 platform argued.

As for Ms. James's commitment to consult with "concerned business leaders," it's worth remembering she promised in 2005 that those same leaders would be "consulted on every decision" that affected the province's economic climate if the New Democrats won government.

Still, it's conceivable Ms. James's new consultation effort could result in a credible economic plan for her party of the kind that wasn't presented on Saturday or during the election.

But another plausible interpretation of Ms. James's speech is the New Democrat leadership is bereft of new ideas - advancing past promises and going on talking tours rather than putting in the work required to address their lack of economic credibility.

Leave a comment

Copyright © 2004 - Public Eye Mediaworks. Reproductions of any portion of this Website are permitted only with the expressed permission of Public Eye Mediaworks.
Canadian Web Hosting graciously provided by dotcanuck Web Services. Layout and graphics courtesy of Art Department Design.