Editorial: Provincial party politics and the invasion of Wet’suwet’en: The BC NDP’s special role in the settler colonial state
The day before RCMP forces raided the Gitdumt’en checkpoint on behalf of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline company, an article started circulating on Twitter that quoted Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip saying, “I don’t want to disclose names, but there have been top political leaders who have contacted senior levels of the RCMP again, attempting to persuade them to stand down” from the raid on the Unist’ot’en Camp. This was perplexing because, based on the comments from BC NDP politicians to land defenders occupying their offices, Premier Horgan, and later, Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the media, it appeared that the NDP had greenlit the police attack on the hereditary leadership of the Wet’suwet’en nation. The difference, it turned out, was between the NDP in opposition and the NDP in power – the article was from 2015.
Over the past three decades, whether under the NDP or the Liberals, the BC government’s pro-industry policies towards resource extraction – theft from Indigenous peoples’ unceded territories – have continued and escalated. In 1993, the BC NDP opposed the Nuu-chah-nulth, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Ahousaht nations at Clayquot Sound, arresting more than 900 people involved in blockades against logging, and attacked the Ts’Peten Defenders at Gustafsen Lake in 1995. The BC Liberals then watered down third-party regulatory frameworks over logging and mining that Indigenous nations won in court battles in the 1990s, outsourcing industry oversight from the public to the private sector, and to companies hired by the very industries they were supposed to monitor.
Overall, since the 1990s, the government of British Columbia has used a unified left-right strategy of snatching land wealth with the hand of the NDP in the name of jobs and workers, and then concentrating that wealth in the upper tiers of capitalist society with the hand of the BC Liberals. The overall government policy has been similar between the Liberals and the NDP, but each Party has had its specialities in an overall project of advancing corporate profits.
The BC Liberals have tended to be more aggressive than the NDP in cutting funding for public services and in their boldness of tax cuts for corporations. But in repressing Indigenous peoples’ resistance against incursions of resources extraction corporations, it has been the BC NDP that has excelled.
The reason the BC NDP tends to be more fierce than the Liberals in their attacks on Indigenous people is that they can get away with it. The civil society groups that would oppose BC Liberal government assaults on Indigenous sovereignty tend to be silent, or slow to respond and quick to apologize for attacks waged or overseen by the BC NDP. Why? Because the NDP is intertwined with the leadership of civil society organizations. The NDP uses these organizations as “farm teams” to train and recruit their future organizers and politicians. Many activists and leaders of trade unions, civil liberties groups, environmental organizations, housing advocacy, feminist, and anti-racist service groups have gone on to become NDP big shots. Others who are still leaders of these civil society groups have personal histories and relationships with these NDP politicians.
Underneath the corruptions of personal connections is a deeper issue: the NDP – and similar parties in Municipal politics – fills the horizon of imagined possibility for too much of western Canada’s social movements. During the 16 years of BC Liberal rule, the connections between leaderships of progressive groups and their social bases was broken by these leaders’ focus on getting the NDP elected at all costs. Even now, with the NDP in power, the progressive groups and leaders with the loudest voices and most influence remain occupied with keeping them there, qualifying any critique of NDP attacks on the Wet’suwet’en nation with concern that the BC Liberals would be worse.
The effect of the BC NDP marriage with progressive organizations was that the response to the January 7, 2019 RCMP raid on the Gitdumt’en checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory was muted. There were huge, energetic, and worldwide grassroots solidarity actions on January 8, immediately following the raid. In Vancouver, a rally attended by more than 1,500 people included speakers from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and progressive civic politicians were seen in the crowd. But when more militant actions shook the streets of Vancouver, shutting down the main truck access point to the Port for six hours on January 9, and for an hour three days later, and then blockading the rail line on Venables Street for more than two hours on January 16, not only were mainstream civil society groups absent, but there was an effective media blackout. Neither the CBC, which tends to be more sharply critical of BC Liberal policies and to cheer the NDP, nor the corporate media which tends to cheer business interests, covered these escalating actions.
As long as progressive organizations dedicate themselves to electoral maneuverings, they will be granting the NDP a free pass to attack Indigenous nations that rise up in defence of their sovereign territories. As Indigenous sovereigntists have always said, the struggle for Indigenous sovereignty cannot be subordinated to settler electoral politics. The problem facing the Wet’suwet’en and all Indigenous nations is the whole body of settler colonialism – including the bosses represented by the Liberals and the workers represented by the NDP.