FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Can the NDP See the Writing on the Wall?

While there have a been a few voices pro and con Thomas Mulcair, no one seems willing to bet on what the grass roots will do. But if they recognize that their party is facing an existential crisis they will soundly reject Mr. Mulcair and come to grips with the hard reality that Justin Trudeau is making their party almost completely irrelevant.  It is an interesting paradigm shift: for ten years Stephen Harper fantasized about disappearing the Liberal Party. Now the Liberals are in a position to destroy the NDP – tossing them into the dustbin of history along with the Social Credit Party.

The chances that the party can find its way out of this crisis are very slim because getting rid of Mulcair is just one requirement. Finding a new leader who actually embodies the social democratic values of the founders of the CCF/NDP will be extremely difficult because such a process depends on a politically engaged membership who actually own their own party. And that’s the problem, one that goes back a very long way to when the CCF joined with the labour movement to form the NDP. That was the starting point of the party’s embrace of professionals to run their til-then genuine movement/party. Following that merger, members have become increasingly marginalized – called upon only for donating and election door-knocking. Professionalization reached a high point under Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair.

The end point is today where the NDP has to grapple with a disastrous situation brought on by having made a deal-with-the-devil when they chose a conservative, over-weaning autocrat as leader – one who now believes he can lead the party to victory into the next election. One of the most amazing aspects of Mulcair’s post-election musings is that very few people have seriously called him on a series of humiliating declarations and months of denials that he or anyone in the NDP hierarchy is responsible for the drubbing the party endured on election night. First, the only reason they lost was because they were principled on the Niqab issue (though so was Trudeau). Then it shifted to “reminding” members that despite the loss of over half its seats and opposition status in a total rout it was the “second-best result” ever for the party.

After three full months of avoiding the media and any substantive comment on the leadership question Mulcair formally addressed the media on Jan 18, 2016. He wanted to talk policy, but the media wanted to know about his future. Mused Mulcair:  “It wasn’t there for us this time. As a team, we haven’t been to the finals very often, and I can tell you that we learned a lot. Next time, we’ll be there to get the cup.” Seriously? A hockey analogy? “Next time” isn’t the game next week it’s four years away – an eternity in politics. It’s notable that the response was in the passive voice: “It wasn’t there for us.” What we didn’t hear, and should have was: “We completely bungled the election and betrayed our supporters and the thousands of people who worked their butts off for months and gave us millions of dollars to campaign for their values. I am resigning.”

And when asked what percentage of the delegate vote he would consider a vote of confidence Mulcair, according to the Huffington Post: “…told reporters that he needs 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a leadership race and that he hopes to get more than that …but he refused to set a floor and say how much support he wants in order to remain the party leader.”  More than almost any other statement by Mulcair it is this one that demonstrates his political narcissism: What sort of leader truly dedicated to his party, would continue to stay in the job if almost half of the convention delegates rejected his leadership?

Mulcair’s musings about staying on as leader reveal an disturbing inability to think about what is best for the party. It’s all about him. Asked in the same interview if he had ever thought about stepping down Mulcair replied never, not once. “It’s not in my nature.” He did a self-serving interview with the Canadian Press where he revealed the moment he “decided” to stay on: “I finished that evening; Chantale was with me, we drove back to Montreal and I said, ‘We are going to continue the fight.'” There was no hint of awareness that this might not be his decision to make – that in these circumstances his feelings were secondary to what the party needed.

For almost four months Mulcair refused to formally accept any responsibility for one of the most catastrophic election debacles in Canadian history. It was not until February 10th that he sent a letter to members saying “..our campaign came up short. As leader, I take full responsibility for these shortcomings.” This conventional mea culpa is meaningless, of course, because taking responsibility means recognizing that there are real personal consequences, a price to pay. If I borrow my friend’s car and smash it up I “take full responsibility” by paying for it. In the NDP no one really takes responsibility.

To their credit the party released late last week a frank report  on the election that did identify the weaknesses of the campaign – basically confirming what most commentators had already observed. But the other shoe is unlikely to drop: no one will be held responsible in any meaningful way.

All of Mulcair’s responses to the election loss suggest a sort of political Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – an almost pathological inability to grasp reality. But whatever remained of the notion that the party could survive by keeping him on took a further, probably fatal, hit on budget day. That’s when Trudeau brought down what Armine Yalnizian of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called “the most progressive budget in forty years.”

Tossing out the “run from the left and govern from the right” formula the Liberals have relied on for decades, Trudeau has single-handedly moved the Canadian political centre a huge step to the left leaving the NDP completely stranded.  It simply cannot craft a credible response to this budget given its own policy platform and Mulcair’s deeply conservative politics.  It can’t come back from where it is.

The party’s recent missive to its members –  “Top 10 ways Budget 2016 shortchanges Canadians” –  reveals in spades how trapped Mulcair is. The response is cynical and misleading. “The Liberal’s budget was long on rhetoric but short on dollars when it came to keeping their promises to Canadians.” How a leader who ran on a balanced budget platform (which, by the way, was not party policy) could pen this line with a straight face is beyond me. Should the Liberals have racked up a $40 billion deficit or fifty billion instead of 30 billion so they could keep all their promises? The NDP – which should support virtually every Liberal expenditure – would have had zero dollars.

The document then proceeds to list a number of un-kept (so far) promises without ever acknowledging or explaining the long list they did keep. Some budget items they don’t mention at all and for obvious reasons.  For example the NDP had promised  to cancel the $115 million cuts to the CBC announced by the Conservatives in 2012. The Liberals’ budget commitment: provide additional funding of $675 million over five years.

At this point in political calendar pundits and party members alike should have been confident that the party would reject Mulcair and commit to returning to its social democratic roots and its traditional role as a party of big ideas. But this is the NDP and many commentators have made the point that the party historically hasn’t dumped its leaders for losing. The implication in this observation is that this is an admirable thing. I am not so sure. I remember heated arguments I used to have with an NDP friend in Saskatchewan who expressed his contempt for my involvement in “useless” social movement organizations. My response, in kind, was to suggest to him that the NDP was not so much a political party as it was a cult. I was only half kidding. There was a siege mentality in the NDP rooted in feelings of ideological marginalization reinforced by a hostile media. They hated extra-parliamentary groups because they couldn’t control them. Any criticism of the NDP was tantamount to heresy – and disloyalty.

In fact decades of observing this party from the outside has convinced me that loyalty is far and away the most important principle in the party’s culture. It is more important than political philosophy, more important than party democracy, more important than member engagement and even more important than winning. In the NDP, it seems, so long as you have been a loyal member since you were fourteen chances are you will never be held accountable no matter what mistakes you make. Loyalty is obviously an important principle in any party and if it had a leader who knew when to get off the stage it need not be a problem even for the NDP. But when a leader like Thomas Mulcair is prepared to shamelessly exploit it for what appear to be purely egotistical reasons it is tantamount to a political suicide pact.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail