BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Election Results: Adrian Dix, NDP Face Wrath Of Union Leaders

05/15/2013 09:20 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - New Democrat leader Adrian Dix may have bitten the union hand that fed his election campaign and the ballot boxes, prompting the NDP to fail to clinch its once-surefire spot as the next government of British Columbia.

Several union leaders have called Dix's loss an astonishing and terrible disappointment but Tom Sigurdson, a representative of the province's construction workers, says in hindsight he knows the exact point when the NDP's chances for victory vanished.

"I don't think our members in the building trades wholly embraced the NDP platform when Adrian announced his platform on Kinder Morgan, (and that) he said no to Northern Gateway," Sigurdson said during a telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon.

"The Liberals ... had the ballot question. They drove jobs and the economy, and people will vote with their pocketbooks," he added.

The executive director of the BC & Yukon Territory Building Construction Trades Council said he fielded more phone calls about Dix's stance on Kinder Morgan than any other campaign issue.

"When he out-and-out said that it was not going to happen, that disappointed so many of our members," Sigurdson said, adding it caused many to take a second look at Dix's approach to resource development.

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"I think that was a turning point for a lot of our members."

The Liberal win Tuesday night was sobering to unions, some of whom took a more conciliatory approach to a government they once believed would be relegated to the dustbins of history.

A strong backer of the NDP in the lead up to May 14, Sigurdson said the union threw more funds behind Dix's campaign than in any other year.

Sigurdson said while he didn't have his union's final donation figures, it ranged in the "tens of thousands" of dollars.

"We supported (the NDP) this time in a degree that we hadn't in the past ... We thought it was important to address our concerns on apprentice issues, on labour-code issues, on workers' compensation issues, temporary-foreign-workers' issues," Sigurdson said.

While the union had some concerns about the party's stance on projects that would transport liquefied natural gas and oil across the province for markets abroad, Sigurdson said Dix's responses left them optimistic.

"We were of the opinion that, at least the process of Kinder Morgan's twinning of the Trans Mountain pipe would go ahead, and there would be an environmental review as there should be."

Their hopes were dashed, however, when Dix took a clear position against the project in April to prevent what he called a nine-fold increase of tanker traffic in B.C.'s coastal waters.

Premier Christy Clark said her come-from-behind win had much to do with the importance of resource development in much of the province.

"Resource communities clearly heard the message about protecting our economy, growing the number of jobs, making sure that we are in support of ... a thriving private sector and a growing economy," said Clark at a news conference the day after her momentous election victory.

She said the anti-tanker and anti-Kinder Morgan sentiment cries came loudest from ridings traditionally held by the New Democrats, and wasn't much of an indication that the broader public opposed the project outright.

"Those ridings have traditionally been some of the strongest ridings for the NDP well before there was any discussion of heavy oil movement in British Columbia, so I don't know that I would read too much into that," Clark said.

Meanwhile, one of the New Democrats' most staunch allies throughout the election campaign seemed to slowly back away from the defeated party a day after the election.

Outgoing BC Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert appeared to relish the prospect of the once scandal-plagued Liberals being defeated when she delivered her final swan song to union members at a conference in March.

"You know, I may be a lame duck," Lambert said to about 600 union members in Vancouver. "But I think Christy's goose is cooked."

Dix also made an appearance at the conference in Vancouver, something Lambert explained Wednesday was not organized by the union.

She adamantly defended her party's non-partisan position, denying that more than $3 million in federation funding for television and print ads urged voters' to elect any one party.

She also said the teachers' federation had not donated a cent to Dix's election campaign or the NDP.

The ads feature teachers asking B.C. to vote for change, coincidentally one of the key slogans of the NDP's "Change for the Better" campaign.

"It's part of our advocacy for public education," Lambert said.

"We are absolutely clear that the funding policy ... over the last 12 years has been detrimental to public education," she said shying away from a question about whether or not the ads inferred union endorsement of the New Democrats.

Lambert said in the end, the NDP's campaign failed to woo teachers.

"We were disappointed in the NDP's pledges," Lambert said.

She said regardless of the new government's party colours, the federation's goal is to advocate for public education.

In light of a majority victory, Lambert said she wants Clark's government to nurture education and make it thrive.

Stephen Hunt, Western Canadian director for the United Steelworkers Union, said his camp was as shocked as many other unions were when the election results were announced.

"People were hopeful there was going to be a change," Hunt said, adding many steelworkers backed the New Democrats according to an in-house union poll.

"We support the political party that best supports workers, and it's not for any other reason. We don't get favours."

Hunt said the union doesn't expect a change from the past 12 years, but he's not opposed to working with Clark's Liberals if they learn from their poor poll results.

"Maybe with this scare (the Liberal) party will do something. We're not stupid, so if they came to us and said, 'We're willing to work with you,' we wouldn't say no," Hunt said.

"There's some new people there, which maybe will change the complexion ... a lot of the old hands left that were responsible for the damage that was done."

Leaders from some of the NDP's biggest million-dollar union backers, including the BC Government and Service Employees' Union and the BC Federation of Labour, were not available to comment.