OPINION: New Democrats are not wrong to stand by their leader

FRED CHARTRAND / THE CANADIAN PRESS
FRED CHARTRAND / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The 2015 Canadian federal election was a humiliation for the NDP. After winning 103 seats in 2011 and holding early front-runner status, the NDP wound up Canada’s third party again with only 44 seats.

The Conservatives were also humiliated in the election, as the Liberals won a majority riding a wave of anti-Harper sentiment. The difference between the orange and blue defeats, however, is that while Stephen promptly resigned as Conservative leader, Tom Mulcair seems primed to hold his fort.

Mulcair’s defeat has largely been blamed on his support for balanced budgets, which tarnished the NDP’s image as the relative idealists of the three major parties. This in turn allowed for a successful appeal from the Liberal Party for strategic anti-Harper votes.

Mulcair’s critics from the left have compared him to Tony Blair, the British Labour leader who explicitly shifted his party to the centre in the ’90s as a strategy to win elections. It certainly didn’t help Mulcair’s cause that when asked whether he was imitating Blair, he responded by asking if the questioner was referring to Blair’s winning three consecutive majority governments.

With left Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn having recently surged to a shocking victory in his party’s leadership race, it’s understandable that some are eager to see Mulcair resign so that Mul“blairism” can suffer a similar defeat.

That said, despite my personal distaste for a party leader who campaigned on the premise of limiting union influence in the NDP, refused to support social movements like the 2012 Quebec student strikers and vocally defends Israel while his party has forced out pro-Palestine candidates, I don’t see Mulcair’s non-resignation as a disaster for the NDP.

Former NDP MP Lorne Nystrom said of Mulcair’s status, “I would be shocked if [he is deposed of. That’s [not] the NDP way. We don’t tend to turn on our leaders.” In an election where the NDP, at least in terms of strategy, has turned towards the political centre (“modernizing” as Mulcair described it when he ran for the party’s leadership), it’s heartening to hear comments like these that are, on a sentimental level at least, left wing.

One of the underlying pillars of our corporatized culture is a belief in accountability. Job security, for example, is denounced as it threatens accountability. Leftism, by contrast, acknowledges that people’s failures are not irredeemable and individually-packaged flaws, but the result of complex social interactions. Leftists also emphasize solidarity over instant gratification. As painful as it is for the NDP to have elected a leader like Mulcair in the first place, it’s good to see there’s enough of a leftist shimmer left in his party for him not to be tossed out like trash because he failed strategically in his first shot at heading a campaign.

Of course, this argument would not hold water if the NDP had a chance to become a genuinely better party by kicking out Mulcair. But the party is not turning left any time soon. Linda McQuaig, the closest thing to a Canadian Corbyn, failed to win a seat and will likely not be the NDP’s next leader. A member of Fightback or Socialist Action (two vocal Trotskyist factions within the NDP) will certainly not be the party’s next leader. Those looking to topple Mulcair should stop and ask, what’s the point?

Not only would toppling Mulcair not necessarily change the party’s ideological direction, it might not change its fortunes. While the claim that the NDP campaigned right in 2015 is a fair criticism from the party’s left wing, it’s also an opportunistic one coming from the Liberals. “Real change” rhetoric aside, the NDP’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Bill C-51 and the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act put them to the Liberals’ left. When the Liberals attacked NDP promises, like a $15 federal minimum wage and affordable child care, all they could do was expose the moderate nature of these proposals—they did not offer “real change” themselves.

Mulcair was widely seen as a stronger opposition politician than Trudeau, yet Trudeau rid his family and party brand to victory on the hollow slogan of “Real Change Now.” Regardless of whether Brian Topp, Paul Dewar or Peggy Nash was leading the party, the NDP would likely have struggled to overcome this obstacle. While another leader might do better at matching Trudeau’s charm, said leader would have to be willing to commit to far-left if not anti-capitalist rhetoric to effectively call out Trudeau’s liberal BS.

Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister in 2007, yet he was followed by Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, neither of whom, along with their scores of MPs, managed or wanted to bring the party back to its social-democratic roots. So don’t jab at the NDP for defending their leader. Why should he be blamed for having a centrist disease when so much of his party is infected?

comments powered by Disqus