The B.C. NDP consistently boasts that the party is completely different from the one that inflicted so much damage in the 1990s. But Leader John Horgan’s remarks to the annual convention of the B.C. Building Trades put the lie to that claim. With a provincial election one year away, British Columbians should take notice and be weary.
If you’re under 30, the 1990s may seem like ancient history. But for those who experienced NDP government then, Horgan’s speech last week was chilling. Two things stood out.
The first is a careless attitude toward resource development and investment — topics on which the NDP doesn’t “get it” any better than it did in the 1990s. Horgan already indicated he might kill B.C. Hydro’s under-construction Site C Clean Energy Project. That would mean walking away from not only the massive construction employment and other economic benefits, but also from a key ingredient of energy security and cost competitiveness in B.C. for decades to come.
More recently, the NDP opposed the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. This is the largest potential private-sector investment in B.C., and perhaps the best positioned of the many LNG proposals to actually get under construction. Horgan, however, is clearly aligning the NDP with the vocal groups that do not want responsible resource development projects built in B.C.
The second thing that stood out was an apparent effort to ease the pain his anti-development stance would inflict on his union audience. Horgan effectively promised them that an NDP government would shutout small, family-owned and non-union construction businesses and their employees from taxpayer-funded capital projects.
As he told the building trades convention: “We will build roads, we will build transit in the Lower Mainland, and we will do it with your members.” This is a clear signal of his intent to return to the bad old days of union-only labour agreements that will exclude 85 per cent of B.C.’s workforce.
Setting aside the inherent unfairness, the impact on project costs would be predictable and significant. When the Island Highway was built using a union-only approach, for example, labour costs were inflated by more than $70 million as a result. Effectively, significant public money was diverted from any number of other important potential uses to pay for a union premium.
This kind of hard-left shift in favour of unions could also disrupt the relative labour peace we’ve enjoyed under non-NDP governments. Mass protests, threats and sometimes even violent confrontations were part of the labour relations climate in B.C. during the NDP regime. And we need to be extremely cautious about anything that could re-ignite that turmoil.
It’s hard to imagine a worse pair of policy prescriptions than Horgan put forward: On the one hand, leave our natural resources undeveloped, and send a clear “not interested” message to private investors willing to make major commitments to B.C. And on the other hand, manage precious public infrastructure dollars in an exclusive way that means spending more to build less.
Whether you lived through the 1990s in B.C. or not, this should concern you. We can’t afford a government that would not only drive off investment, but also serve up a bigger piece of a shrinking economic pie exclusively for its labour allies. Horgan and the NDP will no doubt dust off the “we’ve changed” message in the run-up to next spring’s election. But his policies speak for themselves.