NDP Convention

As Mulcair era ends, NDP must stop hugging the mushy middle

After turfing the party leader, New Democrats are in need of a raison d’etre
Photo: Marie Louise Héroux

Finally, Thomas Mulcair has been voted off the island.

Of course, true to his obstinate nature, he told the majority of New Democrats in Edmonton, who had just shown him and his team of inept strategists the exit door yesterday afternoon, that he and his crew were going to stick around the island for at least another year to, in his words, “take our project forward” … whatever that means.

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Look, if Mulcair had any functioning political antennae he would have quit on election night, when it was clear that his future as NDP leader was emphatically extinguished. That would have been the gracious and honourable thing to do. Instead, he hung on by his fingertips — no doubt encouraged by his equally obdurate “people” in an ultimately futile and sad effort to keep their jobs. My goodness, even Stephen Harper, in a rare display of common sense, knew when the jig was up and wisely retreated into the political wilderness.

The seeds of Mulcair’s humiliation on Sunday were apparent to anyone not inhabiting Ottawa’s cloistered, smug world.

Predictably, much of the Ottawa press corps — which presumably is paid to keep tabs on the “political pulse” of the nation — immediately took to Twitter to express their collective shock at the “unexpected” scale of the New Democrats’ non-confidence in a politician I once described as Stephen Harper with a beard. Like Harper, Mulcair suppressed legitimate dissent within the party by banning long-time, faithful New Democrats in British Columbia and beyond from even becoming candidates because they apparently strayed from NDP-headquarter-approved lines.

Fact is, the seeds of Mulcair’s humiliation on Sunday were apparent to anyone not inhabiting Ottawa’s cloistered, smug world. All you had to do was to talk to young New Democrats, particularly from Quebec, who have been motivated and organizing for a long time to dump Mulcair and his “centrist” brand of politics that, in their view, made the party indistinguishable from not only the Liberals, but the Conservatives, too.

A recipe for electoral disaster

Indeed, for many New Democrats the tipping point that confirmed their deep suspicion that Mulcair was little more than a political opportunist and, as such, a time-share socialist, was his unforgivable silence around the indiscriminate killing and maiming of thousands of Palestinian children, women and men during the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Mulcair and his gullible advisers coveted the ephemeral validation of the neocon punditry class.

(The widespread and angry backlash prompted Anne McGrath, then the NDP’s national director, to pen a four-page letter to federal council members that attempted to douse the mushrooming revolt over Mulcair’s muted — to put it charitably — response to the near indescribable suffering in Gaza. Clearly, McGrath’s condescending letter failed to mollify many outraged New Democrats. And a few months after the disastrous election results, McGrath promptly headed out of dodge to become Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s deputy chief of staff.)

Still, the establishment press celebrated the NDP leader’s “balanced approach” to the Middle East as a welcome sign that he could govern “responsibly” from the so-called centre. Mulcair and his gullible advisers coveted the ephemeral validation of the neocon punditry class, at the expense of listening, and responding to, the metastasizing discontent among New Democrats who knew that adopting media-palatable policies abroad and at home — like a “balanced budget” — was a certain recipe for electoral disaster.

It’s no wonder then that in the lead-up to the leadership review those same neocon pundits took to their columns and airwaves to lecture New Democrats about how it was in their best interest to keep Mulcair on as leader. This, from the same blind, disconnected-from-reality gang who urged the country to vote yet again for Darth Harper. Happily, like millions of Canadians on Oct. 19, New Democrats gave Rex Murphy and company the proverbial finger and decided to chart a new course for a party in desperate need of direction and a raison d’etre.

The status quo is not an option

What that direction and raison d’etre precisely will be was the subject of a lot of intense reflection over the weekend in Alberta. At the centre of it all was the so-called Leap Manifesto, a document its architects are convinced can offer the NDP a blueprint for the future, not only for the party, but for the country, as well.

The deficit the NDP is facing today is not only financial.

Not surprisingly, the cocky know-it-alls who enthusiastically insisted the NDP and Canada would be better off with Mulcair and Harper respectively at the helm have been quick to deride the Leap Manifesto as naïve and politically dead on arrival. They have also tried, and to some extent have been successful, to define the Leap Manifesto simply as a “far left” effort to “kill” Canada’s fossil fuel industry, thus pitting one part of the country against another. For evidence of this, they pointed to Notley’s rejection of the manifesto and Mulcair’s tepid and belated embrace of it in a last-ditch bid to save his job.

This familiar media construct reads like this: division is bad politics; consensus is good politics. This simplistic calculus denigrates the kind of healthy, vigorous debate we witnessed in Edmonton around all the ingredients of the Leap Manifesto. Arriving, if possible, at a consensus about those terms is what politics is and should be about. It’s an overdue debate, I believe, that the manifesto’s authors and supporters hope to promote and, no doubt, engage in as the NDP searches for a way back to political relevance as a first step towards possible electoral victory.

Viewed in this context, the Leap Manifesto is a tangible acknowledgement that the status quo is not an option. The NDP is hovering at historically low levels of support and is saddled — as an internal NDP financial statement shows — with a large, perhaps debilitating, debt.

But the deficit the NDP is facing today is not only financial. New Democrats appear to understand that the party and its new leader must fashion a new identity far removed from Mulcair’s politics of the mushy middle.

Who emerges to help craft and steer that identity in the months ahead will be a defining moment in the NDP’s often turbulent history.

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