Gor­don Camp­bell and Glen Clark Agree: Don’t Fear the NDP

How will busi­ness fare with the NDP back at the helm? Just fine, se­nior politi­cos say, as long as ev­ery­one stays calm and com­mu­nica­tive

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - By Richard Lit­tle­more

They’re back.

The dreaded New Democrats, who for­mer pre­mier Christy Clark warned would ran­sack the pro­vin­cial trea­sury and crash the econ­omy, have seized the reins of gov­ern­ment, with an elec­toral mi­nor­ity and the sup­port of a per­haps more fright­en­ing Green Party, led by cli­mate Cas­san­dra (and No­bel Peace Prize–win­ning sci­en­tist) An­drew Weaver. Af­ter sev­eral months of NDP rule, it’s amaz­ing that cor­po­rate Van­cou­ver still seems so well dressed, con­sid­er­ing the gnash­ing of teeth and tear­ing of clothes that must be oc­cur­ring be­hind closed doors.

And yet not. The econ­omy, ap­par­ently in­dif­fer­ent to swings in pro­vin­cial gov­er­nance, re­sponds in­stead to global com­mod­ity prices and to ill-con­sid­ered trade tweets from the U.S. pres­i­dent. Still, we re­mem­ber the NDP’S 1990s ten­ure: Christy Clark calls it “the lost decade.” Some of us re­call a harder-left turn in the 1970s, when the first NDP pre­mier, Dave Barrett, im­ple­mented a rad­i­cal agenda of gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion—ev­ery­thing from cre­at­ing an Agri­cul­tural Land Re­serve to na­tion­al­iz­ing auto in­sur­ance. Surely the busi­ness com­mu­nity must quake at the NDP’S re­turn.

But again, not—at least ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent and COO of the Jim Pat­ti­son Group, the largest pri­vately held com­pany in Canada and one of B.C.’S

most pow­er­ful pri­vate–sec­tor forces. He re­acts like a Mil­ton Fried­man–trained philoso­pher: “The mar­ket is im­pres­sive. It adapts and ad­justs to events.”

OK, that’s a cheat. It’s Glen Clark, NDP pre­mier dur­ing the most con­tro­ver­sial years of the 1990s. Clark, who proudly owns his par­ti­san past, is mat­ter-of­fact about how NDP rule could af­fect his cor­po­rate fu­ture. “Busi­ness might be ide­o­log­i­cally against the NDP, but I don’t think they have any rea­son to be wildly hos­tile,” he says. “For busi­nesses mak­ing in­vest­ment de­ci­sions, you just want to know what the rules are.” Clark sug­gests that the NDP’S al­liance with the Green Party might in­crease pre­dictabil­ity and sta­bil­ity be­cause both have bound them­selves to an ex­plicit, point-by-point deal that sets out the terms by which the Greens will sup­port the NDP on con­fi­dence votes. “That’s a fairly de­tailed, pub­lic agree­ment,” Clark says. “It will be hard for the NDP to go much be­yond that agenda.”

Jock Fin­layson, chief pol­icy of­fi­cer of the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Bri­tish Columbia, shares Clark’s equa­nim­ity. “I’m rel­a­tively san­guine,” Fin­layson says. “We know the pre­mier [ John Hor­gan] and his key min­is­ters rea­son­ably well,” hav­ing kept the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open, be­fore and since the elec­tion. “We’re not ex­pect­ing the prov­ince to go off the rails or for there to be a par­tic­u­larly ac­ri­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship.”

Ge­off Plant, an Op­po­si­tion MLA dur­ing the late 1990s and at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der for­mer Lib­eral pre­mier Gor­don Camp­bell, says, “The busi­ness com­mu­nity just wants to con­tinue to en­gage, be lis­tened to and be taken se­ri­ously.” That hasn’t al­ways been the sit­u­a­tion, Plant adds. “At cer­tain stages in the late 1990s, the NDP tuned out the voices of pri­vate in­dus­try. You’d hear sto­ries of shout­ing be­tween the pre­mier [then Glen Clark] and the prov­ince’s most prom­i­nent busi­ness lead­ers.” But Plant says he doesn’t see the same ide­o­log­i­cal bel­liger­ence, on ei­ther side, today.

Bruce Ralston, min­is­ter of jobs, trade and tech­nol­ogy, agrees: “Un­like the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, which seemed to have its mind made up on a bunch of is­sues, we’re open and lis­ten­ing. We are look­ing for­ward to hav­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship.” Ralston says the NDP’S first ma­jor busi­ness ini­tia­tive set the tone: right af­ter be­ing sworn in, Pre­mier Hor­gan went to Washington, D.C., to ar­gue in­dus­try’s case on the soft­wood lum­ber ex­port dis­pute. As the first time any B.C. pre­mier has taken the soft­wood fight per­son­ally to D.C., it was “very well re­ceived” by forestry in­dus­try lead­ers, Ralston says.

This good­will is a sign of the times, notes Mike Har­court, NDP pre­mier from 1991 to 1996: “Peo­ple are less fiercely and hys­ter­i­cally ide­o­log­i­cally fo­cused today.” And Hor­gan, who was Har­court’s go-to guy for any tough ne­go­ti­a­tion in the ’90s, “has very qui­etly met and had di­a­logue with most of the key busi­ness lead­ers.”

Camp­bell-era fi­nance min­is­ter Ca­role Tay­lor agrees about the im­por­tance of open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, say­ing, “It looks as though John Hor­gan is reach­ing out, which is good.” Tay­lor has also heard pos­i­tive feedback from those quiet meet­ings; ap­par­ently the new pre­mier has been “ask­ing good ques­tions, lis­ten­ing—and tak­ing notes!”

Plant rec­om­mends one other char­ac­ter­is­tic for keep­ing re­la­tions with busi­ness on an even keel: hu­mil­ity. “It’s ar­ro­gance that’s fa­tal,” he says. “Both sides need to ask how they can change to break the mould—to pre­vent them­selves from fall­ing into the pat­tern of dys­func­tion and bel­liger­ence.”

Gor­don Camp­bell, Lib­eral pre­mier from 2001 to 2011, of­fers a last bit of wis­dom for busi­ness­peo­ple fac­ing down the New Democrats. “You start by not fear­ing them,” Camp­bell says. “You just go to them and say, ‘This is what we want to do; what do you want to do? And how can we do it to­gether?’”

PARTY GUYS NDP pre­miers then and now: Mike Har­court, Glen Clark, John Hor­gan

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