Give him a chance ? Sure, as long as…

I do not want to start criticizing the newly elected leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, just one day after his inauguration, without even giving him the time to show what he has got. It would be unfair to start on a sour note just because he was not my first choice, nor second, nor third … all right, he was my last choice.
Facts will speak louder than anything else, as usual, and it is not like I have not been wrong before, so, for all I know, five years from now we may look back at his election as a turning point for the party and the nation.

But I would be a liar (I mean, even more so), if I wholeheartedly endorsed this pick without at least expressing some concerns. The thing is, I worry about language and rhetoric that seem to permeate the speeches delivered by the new party leader (well, in fairness the whole political discourse in Canada and in the western world), according to which one would almost think that a party leader should be judged based on the same criteria upon which the records of football coaches are evaluated — as if it were all about “winning the next election”.
I think we badly need to remind ourselves that this is politics, not sport, or some other pastime. Politics both affects both our daily lives as individuals, as well as determines how society will evolve over our lifetime, and beyond.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of seeing the current conservative government replaced by one more sympathetic to progressive causes, but the notion that an effective party leader should be first and foremost the one who will lead to electoral victory and/or make a good next prime minister, is both dismal and depressing.

First of all, politics is a lot more than just that. A successful party leader is a strong advocate of those ideals that underlie the party’s plank; a champion, both inside and outside the House of Commons, of those issues that are dear to voters and sympathizers; one who is capable of generating consensus, shifting public opinion. That may or not go together with winning an election, much less with serving as a country’s head of government.
Secondly, having “my guy” sit on the Prime Minister chair does nothing for me, a progressive person, if in order for him to get there basic ideals for which the party stands have been compromised. And unfortunately that does tend to happen, ideals and visions tend to be sacrificed to the altar of electoral strategy, when it is all about “winning” (“forming the next government”, as Mulcair is fond of repeating as if that were his mantra).

Mulcair did declare not to be interested in pursuing a merger between the NDP and the Liberal Party, which, to me, would have the effect of depriving progressive, left-leaning Canadians of a party for which to vote, i.e., de facto ending the Left in Canada (or, whatever is “Left” of it — I admit it, I love the English language sometimes).
I am afraid, however, that he may be doing it for the wrong reasons, namely because he may be thinking of making the NDP the new Liberal Party, i.e., a centrist political formation, something reminiscent of the U. S. Democratic Party.
That would be just as bad as a merger. Mulcair, himself a former Liberal, whose recent public statements call for “broadening of the party’s appeal” (how can one read this differently than another step taken toward the centre ?), may well be thinking of seizing the opportunity of capturing the interest of centrist, disenchanted liberal voters, who have been deserting their party at the last two elections. That would presumably spell the demise of the Liberal Party of Canada, consolidate the role of the NDP as the one and only alternative to the conservatives, and yes, it would also poise it to become “the next government” — but at what cost ?

So, by all means let us wait and see, and let us give our new leader a chance. However, I hope he understands that the NDP is a progressive, leftist party, seeking the support of progressive, leftist Canadians. The day it stops being that, a lot of us will be looking for another leftist party (possibly one splitting off the new, “centrist” NDP), or stay home on election day.

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4 Responses to “Give him a chance ? Sure, as long as…”

  1. Cath Ennis (@enniscath) Says:

    I wouldn’t say he was my last choice, exactly… I voted Cullen #1, Nash #2, Ashton #3, and was so uninspired by the rest of the field that I didn’t bother ranking any of the others.

    “Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of seeing the current conservative government replaced by one more sympathetic to progressive causes, but the notion that an effective party leader should be first and foremost the one who will lead to electoral victory and/or make a good next prime minister, is both dismal and depressing.”

    I disagree. I know exactly where you’re coming from (there are parallels to Blair winning the UK Labour Party leadership with a similar appeal to centrists), and in a different era I might very well agree with you, but I think that with the appalling government we have at this moment there is nothing more important than getting rid of them ASAP. NOTHING.

    There’s another interesting point that is very timely: electoral reform. I was particularly interested in what the seven leadership candidates had to say on this issue, and found that they seemed to differ from each other only in the degree of enthusiasm for implementing some sort of proportional representation (probably a mixed member system as in NZ, Scotland etc). The Robocalls scandal really proves the point that the current system is not only ridiculously non-representative of the politics of the population as a whole, but dangerously susceptible to abuse – if 18 votes determine which party takes ALL the representation for a given riding (as happened in one of the ridings being investigated by Elections Canada), there’s much more likelihood of voter suppression and other dirty tactics being effective. I think that the NDP need to put this concept front and central in their next election campaign, and based on what I read before the convention, I think any of the candidates would have agreed.

    Once we have PR, talk of an NDP-Liberal merger should disappear for good. Coalitions / other forms of co-operation, sure, but there’d no longer be a need for a merger, and each party would be free to express its core values.

    “Mulcair, himself a former Liberal,

    And Rae is a former Dipper. Strange times we live in.

    I’m surprised, given that you agree you want the Tories gone, that you weren’t more enthusiastic about Cullen’s joint nomination idea, aka co-operation without a merger, allowing each party to maintain its unique identity. But hey, a clear majority of the party agreed with you rather than me :)

    TL;DR version: “the end justifies the means, if the end = Harper OUT”.

    • Massimo Says:

      but I think that with the appalling government we have at this moment there is nothing more important than getting rid of them ASAP. NOTHING.

      No, I am sorry, I do not see it that way. This is a perverse notion that has led to utter disaster in Italy, where 17 years of repeated attempts at defeating not just bad government — pure evil — by the bits of trying to form ugly coalitions and alliances between political forces that have absolutely nothing in common has only resulted in the disappearance of the left (quite likely the goal that the far right had in the first place).

      I do not care to replace a conservative government with one of PINOs — I would rather keep the Tories, facing a stronger opposition.

      As for electoral reform and Cullen’s proposal, I am sorry but I really do not understand the connection, it seems a red herring to me.
      First of all, the notion that we could remedy to an electoral system that fails to represent the diversity of opinions in the country, by means of common candidates, namely electoral lists that are just as equally flawed to begin with, seems downright nonsensical to me. You cannot elect a House of Commons hoping that they will change the electoral law and send the country back to the polls in a month.

      Secondly, why is it that electoral reform cannot be pursued in the current legislature ? Are you telling me that the conservatives, many of whom surely must remember when they were reduced to merely two seats in 1993, will oppose in principle any electoral reform just because they happen to have been winning the past three elections ? In 2015 they will have been in power for ten years, people will be sick and tired of them and they seriously risk to be literally wiped out — I think they would more than welcome the chance of limiting the damage. The fact is, electoral reform must be pursued all the time under any government.

  2. Cath Ennis (@enniscath) Says:

    Well, maybe it didn’t work in Italy – but it did in the UK. At least to a pragmatist such as myself :) Yes Blair’s government had some fairly serious flaws to it, but their move to the centre got them elected where they did some good things, such as massively increase the UK science budget, lead a world-wide movement to ban landmines, increased the international aid budget and forgave third world debt, made national museums free, and a bunch of other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. My Dad will know :) Compared to the corrupt, arrogant, 1% / business-oriented Conservatives who’d held power for almost two full decades before that, the Labour government was a hugely welcome breath of fresh air.

    p.s. what are PINOs? Google didn’t help me much!

    “As for electoral reform and Cullen’s proposal, I am sorry but I really do not understand the connection, it seems a red herring to me.”

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear – I wasn’t trying to make any kind of direct connection between Cullen’s joint nomination proposal and electoral reform. I just meant that his proposal, if successful, could have led to election of a progressive government within the current system and without the need for any kind of LPC-NDP merger talks.

    And yes, I really do think that a progressive government is much more likely than the Tories to implement electoral reform. I think this is as true in Canada as it is in the UK, where only the two left wing parties have ever expressed any support for it whatsoever (although I feel this is a function of which wing experiences vote splitting, rather than an inherent difference between right and left wing philosophies). Harper must know that the right wing is not going to be a true majority in Canada within the next few decades at the very least (and hopefully never) – less than 40% of people who voted, voted Conservative, and that was their best result, what, ever? In recent memory at least. But within the current system, that’s enough – even with a 60% turnout. Voter suppression tactics may have also helped bulk up that 40% :) Perhaps reform would help the Tories in the next election, but not beyond that – in the hypothetical situation you describe in which the CPC takes a hammering in 2015, they’d surely recover better and faster under the current system, with a left wing vote split, than if they had to try and turn their, what, 35% support or whatever you think they’ll have left into 51% within four years.

    p.s. are you just mad at me over the ice cream comment? ;)

    • Massimo Says:

      p.s. what are PINOs? Google didn’t help me much!

      Progressives In Name Only. Like Tony Blair (no, I am sorry, I cannot get past the Iraq war).

      could have led to election of a progressive government within the current system and without the need for any kind of LPC-NDP merger talks.

      But that is not the point. It is basically institutionalized strategic voting, and the result is again that the opinions of many do not get a fair representation in the House.

      Perhaps reform would help the Tories in the next election, but not beyond that – in the hypothetical situation you describe in which the CPC takes a hammering in 2015, they’d surely recover better and faster under the current system, with a left wing vote split, than if they had to try and turn their, what, 35% support or whatever you think they’ll have left into 51% within four years.

      Disagree. Take away the sponsorship scandal and the disastrous decision by the late Jack Layton of pulling the plug on Martin’s government (right after extracting from the Liberals major budget concessions), and there would have been no Harper government. I am convinced of that.

      p.s. are you just mad at me over the ice cream comment?

      Nah, it was obvious that you wrote that under the euphoria over Chelsea’s performance in the game with Napoli… You clearly were not thinking straight, you are forgiven…

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