IN THE NEWS ~ New Democrats aim to rebuild the party's western support

Major increase in representation in Quebec has not turned the party away from its western roots, party's new deputy caucus chair says

Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun

Published | Publié: 2011-06-02

New Democrats won't be diverted by a swollen caucus of Quebecers from their priority task of rebuilding western support.

That was the message this week from Peter Julian, the NDP's newly appointed deputy caucus chair and industry critic.

Julian says the key to the NDP winning government in 2015 will be renewing its western base.

Sipping coffee at a Kerrisdale café, the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, an NDPer since age 14, reports the party was disappointed by its May 2 showing in the Prairie region.

New Democrats lost out on winning half a dozen seats in Manitoba and Saskatchewan -where it was shut out entirely -by painfully small margins. In fact the NDP reelected just three MPs in the three Prairie provinces: Linda Duncan in Alberta, and Niki Ashton and Pat Martin in Manitoba.

In B.C., the party won 12 seats, three more than in 2008. It picked up Newton-North Delta with a win by Jinny Sims, Surrey North captured by Jasbir Sandhu and Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, snared by Randall Garrison.

But the NDP had also expected to win seats in the B.C. Interior and the Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge areas.

So, while Jack Layton and his team were delighted by their surprise breakthrough in Quebec, in the next Parliament "Western Canada will be front and centre in our preoccupation, because that's the key to getting to the next step.

"The reality is, we'll be into another election in 52 1/2 months."

B.C. MPs with critic duties include: Julian, Libby Davies, Don Davies, Sandhu, Jean Crowder and Fin Donnelly.

And Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie is vying for the Speaker's job in a vote Thursday in Ottawa.

On B.C.'s behalf, the NDP will be opposing repayment of $1.6 billion in transition costs for harmonized sales tax implementation if a late-June referendum vote nixes harmonization of the federal goods and services tax and the provincial sales tax.

The NDP will pursue its objective of having oil tanker traffic on B.C.'s north coast banned.

It will fight for more federal funding for salmon monitoring and enhancement and encourage "closed containment" for salmon farms to prevent interaction between farmed and wild salmon that could contaminate stocks.

New Democrats will continue to champion Vancouver's supervised injection site, opposed by the Conservative government.

It will also begin public consultations on renewing the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement, due to expire in 2013.

Julian says the party will work for more value-added manufacturing in the forestry sector to prevent the export of raw logs, and jobs, to the U.S.

"This is part of a broader economic strategy [being embraced by the NDP] to maximize for Canadians the benefit of our resources.

"We've been exporting raw minerals, logs, bitumen. And as a result we've seen an erosion of Canada's manufacturing industry in the last decade."

The party has plans for a celebratory convention June 17-19 in Vancouver to mark its 50th anniversary as a federal party.

In addition to electing a new executive, party members will vote on Layton's leadership, which is bound to bring the leader a resounding endorsement.

Julian says NDP insiders were not as surprised as pundits and the public at recent election results because internal polls carried out pre-campaign had pointed to a significant surge in support for Layton.

Julian recalls that he had predicted back in 1993 that the party would make an eventual breakthrough in Quebec, which now has 59 members of Parliament in the NDP's total caucus of 103.

"Quebecers are social democrats," he told La Presse, showing off the newspaper clipping: "We have to be patient. In 15 or 20 years, the majority of Quebec MPs will be NDPers, it's inevitable."