Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Jack: Three Bad Ideas & One Good One For The NDP

The weeklong outpouring of mourning, love and solidarity after the passing of NDP Leader Jack Layton has now subsided. The sense of optimism that Jack insisted upon and the hunger for change that he not only represented but fanned to flame with the funeral that he planned for himself was an awesome thing to see. As Stephen Lewis spoke and argued forcefully for "a resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth, and respect for principle and generosity back to life." That could be a powerful call in the coming months as we face some important battles, not least here in Toronto where Mayor Ford is looking to slash the social fabric of our city and where a fight against him is brewing for the fall against.

That's why what happens now to the NDP matters. Jack was no radical but he was progressive, and principled and he supported movements outside of Parliament - whether it was the anti-war movement, struggles for LGBT rights, or providing Parliamentary opposition to the Tories' discriminatory back-to-work legislation against the Postal Workers. There is a danger that his legacy could be lost and now is the time to raise the call to not go backwards. To that end, I'd like to suggest that there are three immediately bad ideas and one good one for the future of the NDP and of the left in this country.

The first idea is the most terrible. To put it most starkly, it is to follow Bob Rae into the Liberals. In other words to merge the NDP and the Liberals into a "Liberal Democratic Party" as Denis Coderre has suggested. Just to make it clear, Bob Rae joined the Liberals explicitly because he had moved to the right since he took the Ontario NDP down the path of its greatest historic disaster by... moving it to the right. To join with the rump of the Liberals at the moment when the NDP has experience its greatest triumph is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That's not to say that there aren't Liberal voters who the NDP should - and did - win over at election times. It's not to say that the NDP shouldn't try to win those unions that continue to support the Liberal Party into the real party of labour - instead of just being junior partners in a coalition with big business. But to join with the Liberals would mean that the NDP would no longer be the independent party of the labour movement. It would in reality be just another liberal party. Forget negotiations or musings about mergers and focus on building the strength of the NDP - merge with the Liberals by winning over their base.

Merger with the rump Liberals? Bad idea.

The second and third bad ideas are Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp. There is much musing - and lots of ink in the Globe & Mail for Topp - that these guys will run for the NDP. Just to be clear, these guys are on the right of the party. Topp, a former senior advisor to Roy Romanow - former Saskatchewan Premier - is a Globe & Mail columnist and is an avid supporter of the massive program of austerity in Greece

And the root causes of all of this madness (debt) needs to be addressed in the style Prime Minister Papandreou is using to address the crisis here in Greece, against overwhelming odds – calmly, thoughtfully, and with determination.
I'm sure that the Greek working class and youth, who struck and marched in their hundreds of thousands have a different view of the devastation of their lives that Papandreou hath wrought. His two austerity packages have decimated the economy, driving it into recession and doubling unemployment. If that is social democracy, who needs a Tory party?

As for Thomas Mulcair, he is a former Liberal cabinet minister in the Quebec government of Jean Charest and was a Liberal MNA for thirteen years up till 2007. Afterwards, he flirted briefly with joining the Tories before deciding on the NDP. Good for him that he joined the NDP and helped it win the major breakthrough that it did this year but he has no particular ties to the left and has not indicated a major political break from his past as a Liberal. Certainly his views on Palestinian rights put him to the right of the NDP and when Libby Davies came out in support of a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel, Mulcair had a bird.

"We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you're personally in favor of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I'm concerned, grossly unacceptable.''
Members replied that what is actually unacceptable was for an NDP party leader to form a coalition with Bob Rae and Stephen Harper against own senior party members such as Libby Davies. They added that an Apartheid State can never be a democracy.
Mulcair responded by telling the members and constituents of his riding who were raising these concerns to "shut up".
Thomas Mulcair or Brian Topp as NDP Leader? Bad idea.

The one good idea is for the possibility of Libby Davies as Leader of the NDP. She has been on the left and supported progressive struggles for decades. She is a profoundly principled woman, widely popular and deeply committed. She is in favour of drug decriminalization and for a national plan to combat homelessness. Her political roots lie in anti-poverty organizing with the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association in Vancouver. And she's a strong supporter of LGBT rights. She represents the progressive vision of a different, better society that formed the core of Stephen Lewis' eulogy. There is no one else on the left of the party, as far as I can tell, with the profile, popularity and experience to be a serious contender for the leadership. My personal feeling is that you should drop her a line at libby.davies@parl.gc.ca and let her know that you want her to run for NDP leader.


PS - I'm not a member of the NDP but they are the only party that I've ever voted for. Sober - the only party I've ever voted for sober.

Talk of NDP-Liberal merger grows after Layton funeral - The Globe and Mail
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