Stepping into Jack Layton’s shoes was a most challenging act allowing for few outcomes that would not lead to disappointment. Jack had become a legend even before his heroic struggle with cancer and his immortalizing last words of love, hope and optimism. People instinctively loved Jack and the you and me together way that he drew out our common hopes for a more just and sustainable society.
I disagree with things that Tom Mulcair did as leader of the NDP, but I deeply respect the way he wholeheartedly took up the reins of a political party so shattered by the loss of its iconic leader. And I think everyone agrees that, despite the bitterly disappointing election result, Mulcair did a superb job as leader of the opposition—doing more than anyone to ensure the electorate fully understood the Harper Conservatives arrogant indifference to the needs and interests of everyday Canadians.
And the mistakes/failings of Mulcair during the Oct election were mistakes the NDP makes over and over—federally and across all the provinces. It is just the NDP way of politics to chase after illusionary “middle” votes hoping against hope that voters who want a liberal government will vote NDP—rather than Liberal! Doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t win elections.
While I respect Tom for his efforts, I am—also—very happy with the weekend vote at the Edmonton convention calling for leadership renewal. To me, more than just a change of leadership, this weekend’s vote was a clarion call for renewal of the party –most especially an opportunity to renew what the party stands for and what distinguishes it from the other parties. Despite a desperate plea by Rachel Notley—whose Alberta economy is suffering under the downturn in tar sands oil production–to reject the Leap Manifesto with its call to urgent action on climate change, delegates voted to recognize the manifesto as a “statement of principles that speaks to the aspirations, history and values of the party.”
Delegates had, obviously, been looking south to the incredible success of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator that is building such a successful campaign for Democratic Party presidential nomination by boldly speaking out about “socialist” values like; ending the Flint Michigan styled privatizing that poisons the community water supply for the sake of right wing ideology about the value of privatizing everything, about healthcare that puts healthy people before corporate profits, about ending tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to hide from their obligations to contribute to the common good, about the absurdity of giving corporations all the privileges of personhood without the responsibilities, about opposing trade deals that simply trade away our democracy governance, about meaningful action on climate change and a healthy environment, about meaningful regulation of Wall Street, about creating a country that works for the benefit of all rather than just a few at the top.
If Bernie Sanders can make such a successful campaign out of speaking up for such “Socialist” values in the United States, then surely the NDP with its (hush, hush) socialist roots in Canada can make the Leap to promoting “a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. (a country where)Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. “
As Crawford Kilian observes in a recent Tyee post: (The Leap Manifesto’s call to urgent action is)” about as radical and “hard left” as explaining to your 16-year-old why she should stop smoking right now, not after she’s finished her current carton plus the two stashed under her bed.” What Kilian’s metaphor misses is that the bed the teenager is smoking in is smoldering with a cigarette ignited fire that is about to burst into a deadly inferno.
With this commitment to new leadership and to incorporating the Leap Manifesto into NDP policy (with a few caveats) the seemingly disastrous defeat in November may yet turn into an opportunity to grow the party in both its commitment to values relevant to the twenty-first century and in its appeal to voters who are looking for real leadership in building a more just, sustaining and sustainable Canada.
What many too often forget is that Preston Manning did not coyly set out to trick Canadians into voting for a party that seemed to be mainstream but had a hidden rightwing agenda. Manning had no mind for small dreams declaring from the beginning that his primary goal was to change what Canadians value. The NDP now has an opportunity to, first of all, help Canadians to remember what are truly important values, to believe that real change is possible and to become the party that represents those values and that change.
Opposition to the Leap Manifesto by both Rachel Notley and Paul Horgan pose a real challenge to voices in the NDP that want significant action—now—to deal with climate change including a moratorium on new pipelines and other infrastructure that promotes the ever increasing accumulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Notley argued passionately during the convention that Alberta needs tar sands money create jobs and to fund a socially just society. Following the convention BCNDP leader John Horgan belligerently declared: “We won’t be proceeding under any Leap Manifesto… under my leadership.” Jobs, jobs, jobs is the mantra Horgan intends to run in the upcoming provincial election. It seems almost incomprehensible that neither can see the incredible success of Germany in creating sustainable jobs in renewable energy while sustaining the atmosphere on which we depend for our lives as well as our economy. Neither Notley nor Horgan seem to be able to understand that the mattress on which they lie has been set afire by the very fag they are toking and it is past time to get out of bed and go in search of safer places and fresher air. Neither seem to understand what the Saudis have most reluctantly but thoroughly grasped—the age of oil is ending; the consequences of global warming will shortly be so apparent and so alarming that fossil fuels won’t sell; at any price!
As Bob Dylan noted in his haunting and insightful song: “Come senators and congressmen throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly ageing. For the times they are a changin’.”
Significant change wouldn’t be significant if it didn’t have considerable challenges to meet. It seems so utterly appropriate that the upcoming federal NDP leadership contest will be framed in terms of not only leadership style but, most importantly, in terms of a debate about fundamental values for the NDP and our nation. With potential leadership candidates like Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton this contest will be about values—values that will either set the NDP in the forefront of change in Canadian politics or assign it to the dustbin of parties that once flourished and then lost touch and relevance because “The times they are a changin’.