With Trudeau riding high, it’s time for soul searching on Canada’s left

Tom Mulcair with NDP candidate Joe Cressy, who lost the Trinity-Spadina riding in last week’s byelection. | Photo courtesy of Joe Cressy

Tom Mulcair with NDP candidate Joe Cressy, who lost the Trinity-Spadina riding in last week’s byelection. | Photo courtesy of Joe Cressy

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? – Mark 8:36. I remember seeing this line from the Bible painted on the side of a grain elevator on the prairies. It’s a rhetorical question members of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) should be asking themselves. Under Thomas Mulcair, the party seems to have lost what was left of its soul. And they’re not even going to gain the whole world.

The NDP suffered a real setback in last week’s federal by-elections, especially in losing Olivia Chow’s former Toronto riding by a decisive margin to the Liberals. Polls consistently show the Official Opposition well behind the Liberal Party. If Stephen Harper is going to be defeated in next year’s election, it’s most likely he’s going to be replaced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. NDP members and supporters would do well to face up to this reality, and then take a good hard look at Mulcair’s politics and what it all means for the future of the left in Canada.

Thomas Mulcair was brought in to win. Old time leftist commentators and NDP insiders like Gerald Caplan told us that Mulcair was the only leadership candidate with the “royal jelly” to paint 24 Sussex Drive orange for the first time in history. Two years on, that whole discussion now seems based on hubris bordering on delusion that the Liberal Party of Canada was going to all but disappear. It’s now clear that analysts across the political spectrum underestimated the resilience of Canada’s traditional ruling party. The Liberals were hobbled after a decade of vicious infighting and inept leadership choices, but they weren’t dead. This whole strategic perspective – pursued ruthlessly during the later years of Jack Layton’s tenure as NDP leader – of taking over the “dead centre” in Canadian politics needs to be reassessed.

The Liberals are not going away, so Canada really doesn’t need another liberal party. Canada still needs a party of the left. We need an articulation of the demands of today’s social movements. We need a voice for the exploited, the excluded and the oppressed – a voice that will stand unequivocally behind Indigenous struggles for land and rights. We need a voice in the electoral arena against war and for international solidarity. We need a party willing to push for fair taxes and for economic democracy, a party that will take on concentrated corporate power.

Does this sound anything like today’s NDP?

Mulcair, who until 2006 was a Quebec Liberal, doesn’t seem to want to identify with the left at all. Last month, he told Global TV: “If you look at the history of some of the social democratic parties, if you look at British labour under Tony Blair, he used to quip that it wasn’t a question of left and right, it was a question of what worked and what didn’t.”

It’s especially strange timing to be citing Blair as a beacon of post-ideological pragmatism. The disaster that Blair helped create by riding shotgun on the illegal US invasion of Iraq has descended into a terrifying bloodbath, with extremist Sunni militias massacring opponents and declaring a new Caliphate. While most Labour Party politicians in the UK are eager to distance themselves from Blair’s legacy of war and privatization, the old war criminal’s venality appears boundless. Last week it was revealed that Blair is helping consult the new Egyptian dictator Sisi, a spin off from another gig with the monarchy in the United Arab Emirates. What a downright bizarre moment for Mulcair to cite Blair, a politically toxic and shameless mercenary, as an example. But I digress…

After the untimely death of Layton after the 2011 election, the leadership race to replace him hinged on who could present themselves as most “prime ministerial”. The debate was not about who could best embody the historic values and policies of the NDP, but simply about who could win. Mulcair was chosen on this basis. Critics, those of us who noted his past as a cabinet minister in a right-wing Liberal government in Quebec or his hostility to supporters of basic Palestinian human rights, were brushed aside.

The obsession with winning at all costs reflects a long-term depoliticization and withering of the democratic mechanisms within the NDP. Riding associations and rank and file members have less influence than ever. Where members used to have many avenues for real participation, they are now treated as mere donors. The leader’s office and his communications staff are in command.

Take Paul Manly, who was accepted by his riding association on Vancouver Island as a candidate for the NDP’s nomination in the 2015 election. The federal executive vetoed this decision. Why? Because Paul Manly, two years ago, had spoken up in support of his father Jim Manly, a former NDP Member of Parliament who was jailed by Israel after joining one of the boats to Gaza challenging the cruel blockade of that open air prison for

None of this to suggest that Mulcair is singularly responsible for the NDP’s shift to the right. A recent piece in Jacobin Magazine by Gerard di Trolio noted that this has been a decades-long process linked to a global crisis of traditional social democratic parties.

Is it time for people who consider themselves on the left to abandon the NDP? At the very least, it’s time for soul searching about what to do now that the NDP has abandoned us.

Next issue Left Bank will return to matters related to municipal politics, as we get closer to the November elections.

2 thoughts on “With Trudeau riding high, it’s time for soul searching on Canada’s left

  1. Very worthy points you have raised, Derrick. While Mulcair does support what I regard as fairness and equality goals, his willingness to use the website model of relating to the electors is patently nothing but a turn off. People who are adamant about getting economic democracy goals firmly on the agenda are not swayed by websites that appear to only value credit card data.

    There are egregious policies that have yet to be adequately confronted by the Opposition parties. The 2013 Canada Economic Action Plan allows for total regulatory capture of the investment industry, and a bail-in scheme that transforms bank account holders into unsecured creditors and allows “significant” banks to confiscate depositors’ funds to pay for derivative gambling losses that result in illiquidity. This is in my view, the most blatant wealth-concentrating-at-the-top document that is known to exist. It can be found in two summarized abridged versions at the Canada Chapter of the Public Banking Institute’s website: canadachapterpbi.ca.

    At the upcoming Peoples’ Social Forum in August, we will have to engage in a process to get every Canadian fully apprised of all the facts that citizens must be aware of in a truly democratic society.

    • The Ontario election and the future of the NDP

      by Barry Weisleder

      Conservative leader Tim Hudak got exactly what he deserved. On June 12 Ontario voters rejected his plan to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs and to gut the unions.

      For the most part,
      labour’s campaign to stop Hudak worked. The Tories were trounced at
      the polls, reduced to 28 seats and 31 per cent of the ballots cast.
      Hudak announced he’d step down when his party picks a replacement
      leader. But members of his caucus forced him to quit sooner. It
      couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!

      this anti-Hudak sentiment translated into a Liberal majority. It’s
      hard to celebrate four more years of Bay Street’s preferred party.
      It’s hard to celebrate an electoral system that rewards a party that
      got less than 39 per cent of the votes cast, only about 19 per cent
      of the eligible electorate, with a majority of seats (58 of 107) in
      the Ontario Legislature.

      union-based New Democratic Party, on the other hand, lost the little
      power it had – despite increasing its vote share by 1 per cent (to 24
      per cent) and retaining a seat total of 21. It would have done
      better had it pulled the plug on Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne one
      year earlier. But the NDP did manage to pick up seats and
      consolidate its hold in the areas hardest hit by recession. In St.
      Catherines, in Hamilton (although NDP Leader Andrea Horwath did lose
      votes in her own riding), in London, Niagara, Oshawa and Windsor
      Essex regions the party had seat gains or vote increases. Still, the
      NDP lost three seats and major ground in Toronto.

      voter turnout was barely 51 per cent, a three per cent improvement
      from the 2011 provincial election, but a dismal result by any

      to the disappointment was the NDP’s feckless effort. Worse than
      losing ‘an electoral gamble’, Andrea Horwath waged the worst NDP
      campaign since Bob Rae attempted to defend his infamous Social
      Contract in 1995.

      had no mandate to veer to the right of the Liberal Party in a vain
      attempt to appeal to Conservative supporters and the business class.
      She had no mandate to abandon the fight for social justice in favour
      of a crass appeal to consumerism.

      NDP platform emphasized “making life more affordable” by
      removing the HST from electricity bills, reducing car insurance rates
      by 15%, opening up a few more child care spaces, shortening hospital
      wait times, and offering a mere $1 increase in the hourly minimum
      wage. At the same time, Horwath campaigned to continue the practice
      of bribing big private corporations to create jobs – without
      demanding any public ownership or democratic control of state

      projected a small increase in corporate taxation, but no plan to
      conscript the hidden, un-taxed billions of dollars – what a former
      head of the Bank of Canada calls ‘dead Capital’. That means the NDP
      proposed no way to fund a serious assault on poverty, on
      homelessness, or to end the deepening crises in public transit,
      education and health care.

      and her strategists said nothing about phasing out nuclear power
      plants, stopping Line 9, satisfying the just claims of indigenous
      peoples, curtailing state surveillance, and terminating police
      repression of the kind that was unleashed during the G-20 Summit in
      Toronto. There was not even a hint that the problems faced today by
      the vast majority of Ontarions are rooted in the decaying and
      increasingly destructive capitalist system — much less that the
      solution is socialist democracy.

      ONDP Leader campaigned on ‘integrity’. But she failed to reduce her
      own democratic deficit. She ignored a party convention decision to
      be tougher on the Ontario Liberal budget of 2012/13. In fact, on her
      watch, party conventions provide less time for policy debate. And
      Horwath’s Election Planning Committee undemocratically prevents
      leftists from being NDP candidates.

      it is gratifying that the Progressive Conservatives lost big time, it
      is clear that the capitalist austerity agenda continues vigorously
      under Premier Wynne. Remember, Wynne bragged during the TV leaders’
      debate that she had implemented “80 per cent of the Drummond
      Report” — a harsh austerity plan. Behind Wynne’s affable
      smile, the locomotive of the rulers’ public sector wage freeze,
      social cutbacks, 3Ps, and privatization remains firmly on track.

      Ontario found a way to sanitize its brutal anti-working class agenda
      by hiding it behind the ‘progressive’ veneer of the province’s first
      female Premier, also Canada’s first lesbian Premier.

      New Democrats, labour unionists, feminists, LGBTQ folks,
      environmentalists, socialists and social justice advocates must fight
      to take the NDP from the latter-day Blairites, and re-direct the
      party to lead the battle against capitalist austerity, and for
      socialist solutions to the mounting problems we face.

      starts with the demand that Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath resign
      immediately. It’s time for a full review of the party’s leadership
      and political direction, leading up to its November 14-16 convention
      in Toronto.

      question of Horwath’s future as ONDP leader is posed daily in the
      mass media. The Socialist Caucus did not initiate this question, but
      it does have the opportunity to rally opinion behind a concrete
      proposal. Robin Sears and Brian Topp have written articles in
      defense of Horwath. Dave Cooke, former NDP Education Minister, Gerry
      Caplan, Paul Ferriera, Michael Prue, even Rosario Marchese have
      sharply criticized her. For socialists, the main issue is not
      personality; it is the need for a full review of the leadership and
      political direction of the party.

      how do we get it?

      is not an abstract matter. A full review is triggered by a vote of
      non-confidence in the leader. A confidence vote occurs at every
      party convention. If even 35% of the delegates vote for a
      leadership review (that is, if less than 65% vote to support the
      current leader), in all likelihood a leadership race will ensue.

      is clear that such a vote would open up a period of intense
      discussion about the future of the NDP.

      what should socialists and labour activists do?

      we just wait to see what happens, and in the meantime conduct
      ‘business as usual’ by submitting resolutions to the Convention,
      knowing full well that party officials will ensure that few of our
      resolutions ever make it to the floor?

      is where a bold initiative is needed – to galvinize the widespread
      discontent in the party and its voter base by posing a concrete
      course of action: Demand that Andrea resign, and insist that a
      full review of the political direction of the party take place now.

      there a risk that such a demand may upset a section of the
      membership? Well, yes, but which section of members is
      likely to be offended? Will it be supporters of the openly critical
      letter of the 34 prominent present and former NDPers? Or that part
      of the labour section which openly broke with Andrea the day the
      election was called? Or the mass of party members who were so
      dissatisfied with Andrea’s campaign that they did not participate in

      course, there is the segment, including party staff and paid
      canvassers, who heartily support making the NDP the New Liberal
      Party – but the left has few prospects among them.
      the removal of Andrea is no guarantee that another MPP in the top
      job will change direction.
      But what are the chances if the party
      ranks, including the SC, do not demand this? It would only help
      Horwath and her team of handlers and fixers to weather the storm.

      task is to ‘fan the flames of discontent.’ On what basis should we
      demand a full review of the political direction of the party,
      starting with the demand that the Leader resign? It should be done
      on the basis that there was no mandate to turn right; indeed, that
      to survive the NDP must turn sharply to the left.

      should be said to those who argue that it’s time to launch a new
      electoral party of the left? Stand up and fight for your principles
      – but fight where it really matters. Don’t retreat into a fantasy

      is the record of new left-party initiatives in English Canada?

      ranges from tragedy to farce. The Waffle movement had 10,000 NDP
      supporters in the early 1970s. But within three years of its
      departure from the NDP, it had disappeared. The Campaign for an
      Activist Party, and later the New Politics Initiative, led by Svend
      Robinson and Judy Rebick in the 1990s, were top-down, undemocratic
      structures that gave up the fight and disappeared. Four years ago a
      small body of dissident NDPers launched the Ginger Group. After a
      brief polemic, it quit the NDP and launched the Socialist Party of
      Ontario. In 2011 it ran three candidates. On June 12, 2014 the SPO
      ran only two candidates. The Communist Party of Canada ran 11
      candidates on a left-reformist platform. None of those ‘left’
      candidates got more than 200 votes. The NDP got 1.1 million votes,
      with no support from big business. Most of its votes came from
      working people in heavily working class districts.

      there is the left-populist or anarchist perspective. It says “Just
      ignore the NDP”. The problem with that is many-fold. It is
      economist. It leaves the struggle for bread and butter improvements
      at the front door of the Legislature. It is anti-political, or at
      best, a stunted form of politics. Worst of all, it gives the present
      leadership of the working class a free hand to continue the sell-out.
      That includes so-called strategic voting, which favours the Liberal
      Party. We saw what that means when Gerry Dias, the President of
      UNIFOR, was shown on TV at the Liberal victory party congratulating
      Kathleen Wynne.

      NDP is the only mass, labour-based political party in North America.
      To understand the significance of that, just look at politics in the
      United States. The NDP remains a workers’ party, which is obvious to
      anyone who has been to an NDP convention. But the NDP has a
      staunchly pro-capitalist leadership which is out of step with
      reality, that is, seemingly oblivious to the extremely destructive
      decline of late capitalism.

      struggle for a Workers’ Agenda will take place in the NDP, as it will
      take place in the unions. Not exclusively there, but there too.

      battle against capitalist austerity continues. Quickly the Toronto
      Star warned Wynne to renege on her ‘progressive’ promises and instead
      to reduce the deficit – “to avoid a credit-rating downgrade.”
      The Star asks, “Will Wynne play Hudak-lite and cut public service
      jobs or government spending?” It darkly predicts “confrontations
      with public sector unions.”

      hope that there will be confrontations – arising from resistence to
      the coming cuts. Let’s hope that union leaders don’t declare victory
      over Hudak and then go to sleep, as they did when the Bob Rae-led
      Ontario NDP surprisingly won a majority of seats in 1990.

      thing should be clear: for anti-austerity resistence to succeed
      there must be rank and file organization against austerity and
      concessions inside the NDP and the unions.

      critical test of that idea will occur at the Ontario NDP Convention
      in November. To prepare for that, the Socialist Caucus will host an
      Ontario Conference on Saturday, September 6. It will petition for a
      change of leadership and political direction of the party. It will
      decide on priority resolutions. It will select SC candidates for the
      ONDP Executive. It will plan the next edition of Turn Left, the SC
      magazine, for which a fund appeal is presently underway.

      the Socialist Caucus make a difference? It has proven that it can.
      The SC won the federal NDP in 2006 to the policy ‘Canada Out of
      Afghanistan’. The SC led the fight at the 2011 NDP convention in
      Vancouver to keep ‘socialism’ in the party constitution, and again at
      the 2013 convention where we won the debate on ‘free post-secondary
      education’. We forced the Ontario party leadership in 2010 to
      conduct a review of public funding of Catholic separate schools, and
      held the only large public hearing on the issue.

      socialist revolution requires more than socialist resolutions. But
      change starts with joining the fight inside the main working class

      has nothing to offer workers, women, youths, seniors and the poor.
      The Occupy movement showed there is a hunger for change, and
      re-defined the notion of ‘majority.’ The Quebec students’ movement
      showed what a mass ‘social strike’ against neo-liberalism looks like.
      The current continental campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage
      inspires millions.

      to Line 9, to the Northern Gateway pipeline, and the fight to save
      Canada’s postal services have the same potential. The global
      popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book ‘Capital
      in the Twenty-First Century’
      indicates the wide disdain for growing inequality, and the appetite
      for a radical new direction. The defeat of Ken Georgetti’s executive
      slate at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention in May is further
      evidence of stirrings below the surface.

      our tortured world, anger and suffering there is aplenty. What’s
      lacking is leadership. Leadership is born in struggle. Join the
      struggle for a new leadership in the workers’ movement. Join the NDP
      Socialist Caucus. Together we will win.

      Want to help? Visit: http://www.ndpsocialists.ca Call 647 – 986-1917

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