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.