I voted for the Liberals once and for the Greens once, but for those two exceptions, my heart, wallet, effort and vote has been with the New Democratic Party—even when I was considerably unhappy with particular actions or persons.
To me the NDP is the party that is, or should be, leading the way to a more just, sustaining and sustainable province and nation. I say should be as that is what the party is supposed to be, though, in practice it often seems to fall short of its own lofty goals—as one would expect given that it is so easy to talk ideals and another thing to put together a broad coalition of people who agree enough—despite differences– to work together for a goal that must by the nature of democratic politics represent a diversity of opinions.
So, with the above in mind, let’s look at the last federal election as it is, I think, an epiphany of the NDP as visionary social movement and compromising political agenda.
Clearly, there is no debate on this, Tom Mulcair has very openly admitted that what caused the NDP to move from government in waiting to a devastating defeat that relegated it to third party status was his leadership, inspired by his trusted advisors, that decided the NDP election strategy was about reassuring Canadians that the NDP was only marginally left of centre; which meant that the NDP would have balanced budgets from the start—no matter what it cost average Canadians. The problem with that was that what the electorate heard was: vote for us, we won’t do much—exactly the message that Adrian Dix used in this gallant effort to throw away a nearly assured victory in the last BC provincial election. There was no galvanizing message that compelled people to get out and vote NDP. In the end the Liberal Party ran on what should have been the NDP platform and won and the NDP ran on what always has been the Liberal platform and lost.
Tom has tried to blame much of the 2015 election loss on his support for the right to wear a niqab to Canadian citizenship ceremony. According to Mulcair the NDP lost 20 points in the polls 48 hours after supporting the niqab. But I don’t think it was support for the niqab per se that cut into NDP support. Justin Trudeau supported the niqab and gained ground. (I love this one) Pollsters say the Conservatives actually drove away more voters than they attracted with their efforts to divide Canadians into warring ethnic camps.
The difference between Mulcair and Trudeau on the niqab was that Mulcair said(approx) I personally don’t like the niqab but it is in our constitution so I have to support it. Trudeau said(approx). I believe in Canada as a multicultural society so I support the niqab like I support the cultural diversity of all Canadians. Both supported the rights of minorities: however they had very different messaging around that support.
And Mulcair’s message was generally like his niqab stand: please don’t vote against me, I’m not exceptional. The NDP message was, like too many NDP messages, vote for us we aren’t very different—maybe just a little better. Adrian Dix said it explicitly during the provincial election campaign: you will feel good about my NDP government because we won’t do much!???
The NDP has, since its inception, stood for a more just, sustaining and sustainable province/country. They just seem to forget what makes them a progressive party when election time comes around.
This used to be all theoretical stuff: what if the NDP talked openly about progressive values, like putting people before corporate monopoly of the direction society is going; like getting a fair share of the wealth extracted from Canadian lands; like Canadian companies practicing Canadian values—like respect for basic human rights—even when working in countries that do not protect environment, indigenous people, workers; like a society that works for the well being of all; like a society that will hand to its children a land as healthy as the one we inherited with an atmosphere that is not frying their future. Why didn’t Mulcair—at least—speak up about the vicious attack that Harper was making on almost all of civil society that did speak for a broader agenda than corporate interests?
This used to be theoretical stuff: but, the Liberals to some degree and Bernie Sanders—most certainly– have changed all that. Bernie Sanders started his bid for nomination to run for the US presidency under the Democratic ticket as a hardly mentionable also ran. But Bernie—as he prefers to be called—had a very different vision from his Democratic Party predecessors and certainly from Mulcair and the NDP. His speeches do not in the remotest way say “Vote for me; I won’t change much.” What he is clearly saying is “vote for me because what we have been doing is failing. Vote for me because I WILL make BIG changes.”
Sanders’ speeches are laced with calls for a political revolution to “transform politics.” “When I talk about a political revolution, what I am referring to is the need to do more than just win the next election. It’s about creating a situation where we are involving millions of people in the process who are not now involved.” He says Wall Street needs to be severely reined in—no more high risk bets with someone else’s money. He says everyone should have a fair chance to an education that will enable them to lead the lives in which they will work to build a better society. He says workers need a much more equitable return on their efforts and corporations and the obesely wealthy need to start paying their fair share of the costs of maintaining the society that supports them; “we must stop the massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the ultra-rich.” He says there needs to be a single payer health care system that ensures health care to all. While the word socialism makes the like of Tom Mulcair run for his hole like a rabbit with a hawk circling overhead, Bernie has identified his values, his platform, as “socialist” so many times the term has become simply a descriptor of a set of progressive values—even in the United States! Whether Bernie wins or loses, it is clear that the politico-ideological cycle ushered in by Ronald Reagan is crashing to an end.
As Bob Dylan put to lyrics “ Come Senators and Congressman, please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall. For he who gets hurt will be he who as stalled. The order is rapidly changing!”
Personally, I just can’t believe that Tom Mulcair can now be the agent of change in the NDP. It is time to turn the reins over to someone with the vision of Bernie Sanders or visionary British Labour Jeremy Corbyn. The successes of Sanders and Corbyn demonstrate that society is tired of rising inequality as the outcome of government policy, we are tired of pseudo-alternatives.
It is time to have an NDP leader that will boldly sign onto the Leap Manifesto with its promise to end fossil fuel subsidies and introduce a progressive carbon tax, initiate financial transaction taxes to support societal values, put an end to unfair trade deals whose primary goal is to entrench corporate privilege over our democratic institutions and decision making. It is time for the NDP to speak up for the tradition of egalitarianism that was once its hallmark.
I started out to talk about both the federal and BC NDP. Well, I went to the November BCNDP convention and came away despondent as the words climate change had been entirely expunged from the speeches and discussions. John Horgan did speak of the absurdity of the Site C dam. There was enthusiasm for inclusiveness and the promotion of an act to include rights for persons with disabilities. The mantra was jobs, jobs, jobs, but little in the way of proposals to create those jobs and the word green jobs was never spoken. John Horgan’s speech to the convention was a litany of the abuses and shady dealings of the Christy Clark Liberals. The convention organizers insured that the once popular Sustainable BC was buried so deeply on the agenda that there wasn’t a faint chance of discussing how to move this visionary document from the back shelves to forefront of the party. It seemed clear that despite the Adrian Dix and Tom Mulcair losses, the insiders were firmly in control of the party agenda and the next election would be fought on the theme of vote for us, we are better in some ways than the Liberals and you can trust us to not make any significant changes outside of a little cleaning up.
Gone are the Davey days when a newly elected NDP premier would be branded Allende of the North. Gone are the days when the hallmark of an NDP government would be its “acute sense of social justice.” Gone are the days when, in one term the NDP would force politicians to reveal their donors, create a comprehensive agricultural land reserve, create a public insurance corporation to provide fair, universal vehicle insurance, introduce Hansard records, create a much needed BC Human Rights Board and a guaranteed income for senior citizens.
I would dearly love to be wrong about John Horgan and the values the NDP will be taking into the 2017 election. I just have a hard time imagining John as Bernie or Jeremy or even Trudeau. I am very worried about being forced to choose between the corporate cronyism of the BC Liberals and the little bit better party. I am so worried that progressives will, once again, split over whether to vote for a little bit better party that might just displace the failed vision of the Liberals or vote for a party like the Green Party that will—in a first past the post electoral system—simply ensure the return of Christy Clark and the bandits.
Any creative ideas out there? I would be delighted to hear from those who have a brighter view of the current federal and provincial NDP, and from anyone who has a more optimistic vision for provincial political quagmire that we seem to be in.
Happy Trails!
Norm