Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The NDP at a Crossroads: Status Quo Browns Vs. Progressive Greens

New Democrats are gathering in Edmonton this weekend to decide the fate of their leader, Tom Mulcair.  Also on the agenda will be consideration of whether the Party will adopt the Leap Manifesto as a way forward.  Both the leadership vote and Leap represent a potential turning point in the history of the New Democratic Party.

Let me address the Leap Manifesto first.  Despite a number of NDP EDA’s having passed resolutions urging the Party to adopt the Leap Manifesto as, well, not exactly policy, but something akin to a bold direction to guide the future of the Party (see: “Push for NDP to embrace, debate Leap Manifesto intensifies ahead ofconvention,” the Canadian Press, April 4, 2016), the chances of the NDP uncritically embracing Leap are slim.  Simply put, the Leap Manifesto represents a too-bold departure for New Democrats to make in one fell swoop.  While it may be that over time, the NDP opts to adopt many of the tenets of Leap, the fact is that the NDP is just too conservative an organization to position itself in the same space occupied by Leap.

NDP - Taking a Leap

More likely, New Democrats will vote to study Leap – perhaps form a committee, to report back to the convention in 2018, possibly with recommendations of adopting some of the Manifesto’s positions and action items.  While this at first sounds like a sensible, considered approach to addressing Leap – as well as sounding like a measure to placate those New Democrats who believe Leap to be the way of the future – it would completely miss the mark and once again show that the New Democratic Party simply doesn’t understand the urgency of the climate crisis.
Leap isn’t a buffet – something that diners can pick and choose from.  Greens understand this – and certainly the NDP’s buffet approach to climate action has always been one of my Party’s biggest issues with the NDP.  With Leap, you’re either all in, or you’re not in.  You’re either a part of the solution, or you’re a part of the problem.  The good works that one might do by selecting low-cal alt energy menu options are easily off set by the chocolate cake of pipeline development, to mix several metaphors.

The NDP can’t afford to go anti-pipeline at this time – not with Rachel Notley’s Alberta government acting as a Canadian environmental champion (credit where it’s due: Notley has done more in a few months than most Canadian governments have done with years or decades worth of time – but that doesn’t mean that what Alberta is doing is what’s needed for Canada at this time – she and the NDP still have not gone nearly far enough).  Don’t look for New Democrats in leadership positions to start talking about leaving fossil fuels in the ground (remember what happened to Linda McQuaig, running in the media capital of Canada – Toronto Centre – during the 2015 federal election?  She had the audacity to state the obvious – and that was pretty much the last that anyone heard of Linda McQuaig throughout the election. See: “NDP candidate under firefor saying ‘oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground’ to meet climatetargets,” the National Post, August 9, 2015).

Tom Mulcair for a Brown Future

Certainly, Tom Mulcair isn’t going to change his oily spots and overnight become the champion of a low carbon future.  Throughout the 2015 election, Mulcair went out of his way to avoid answering questions about the future of bitumen pipelines like Trans Mountain and Energy East.  His avoidance of taking any position certainly seemed to pay off for the NDP – especially in British Columbia, where New Democrats were elected in every Vancouver Island riding save one – ridings which were all targeted by the Green Party.  Mulcair’s lack of position on pipelines allowed his candidates on the west coast to preach conservation, while candidates in Ontario and New Brunswick pitched the need for secure energy to flow from the tar sands.

(The Liberals, in contrast, were quite clear about their support for pipelines – besides Northern Gateway, they hadn’t seen a pipeline they didn’t like – their straightforward support of Trans Mountain and Energy East earned Trudeau accolades from environmental and anti-pipeline groups. Why? Because Trudeau. See: “If the Green Party Can’t Count on Environmentalists…” Sudbury Steve May, October 15, 2015)

New Democrats in Edmonton looking to Leap as a signpost for the future are almost certainly going to be voting against Mulcair in their party’s leadership review.  Mulcair represents the past – in rather many ways – for the NDP.  There’s really little argument for keeping him on as leader, no matter one’s opinions on Leap or climate change.  From a purely strategic point of view, the only possible reason for keeping Mulcair around at this time would be so that he can continue to lead the Party while the NDP spends the next two years finding and developing a new set of leaders to take on Trudeau in 2019.  Putting Yesterday’s Man (Mulcair) up against Trudeau four years hence will surely only further doom New Democrats to irrelevancy.

Trudeau is No Progressive

If Trudeau outflanked the NDP on the left in 2015 (and given my own dislike and disbelief in the notion of left-right politics, I’m certainly not going to endorse this frame as so many others have done – and continue to do), it had a lot more to do with Trudeau and the Liberals than it did Mulcair.  The NDP ran a competent campaign – they had a plan, and they largely stuck to it and implemented it throughout the campaign.  Things didn’t really start going off the rails for the NDP until the Liberals had gathered enough steam to displace the NDP as the government-in-waiting in the minds of voters.  I chalk that one up more to Trudeau’s charisma than to any utterings on niqabs that Mulcair made.  The Liberals also ran a good campaign, and were better positioned to capitalize on their leader’s strengths.  I understand that the niqab and deficits are features that the pundits have pointed to as reasons for the Liberals victory and the NDP’s defeat – but really, 2015 was about two things: getting rid of Harper, and winning a popularity contest.  And that’s why today we have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rather than Prime Minister Mulcair.

And it’s too bad, really.  I’m no fan of Tom Mulcair, but the NDP would have made a much more competent government than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who, after just a few months in power, have already started backsliding on a slew of promises they made to get elected in 2015 (see:  “Liberalsrisk losing the public trust,” Lawrence Martin, the Globe & Mail, April 5, 2016).  Oh sure, the Liberals have been all sound and fury on the climate crisis, but do those paying attention really think that Justin Trudeau is going to take Canada to where it needs to go – especially if Rachel Notley can’t even bootstrap Alberta?  (see: “PM putters along while climate crisisdeepens,” Steve May, the Sudbury Star, March 12, 2014). Trudeau continues to run around talking up “responsible pipeline development” as if that were a thing (see: “Trudeau supports pipelines, but wants responsible energyproduction,” The Hill, March 31, 2016). What Trudeau is already doing is exactly what New Democrats feared he would do - run on the left, and govern from the right.  It's actually worse, in my opinion - Trudeau ran for the future, but he's behaving like a dinosaur (see: "Paris Changed Everything. So Why Are We Still Talking Pipelines?" David Suzuki, the Huffington Post, January 27, 2016).

I can’t believe that Mulcair, at least, would have gone out of his way to antagonize a significant portion of his base who, despite the NDP’s lack of seriousness on climate change, continue to have confidence that the NDP is the only party that can actually demonstrate leadership on the issue.

For those members of the NDP who are concerned about the climate crisis, if you are a delegate in Edmonton this weekend, it’s clear that you just can’t support Mulcair and the other browns that have been running your party for so long – stealing your future and that of your children out from under you.

What's At Stake

And for those reading this blogpost who must now be thinking that I, the author, am representing a narrow view-point in absence of economic or political realities, I’d like to just take a moment and remind you about what’s actually at stake here.  As I’ve written time and time again, what’s important to me is the need to hold the line of global warming at just 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid tipping points which will trigger positive feedback loops and lead to potentially catastrophic global warming.  Warming beyond 2 degrees C will put our economy, our civic institutions, our livelihoods and our very lives at risk.  It’s not a world that I want to live in – and it’s certainly not a world that I want to pass along to my children.  My generation will have a lot to answer for when future generations look back on our reckless, wasteful ways.  I don’t want to have to face my own children and tell them that I’m sorry, I understood the urgency of the crisis, but I refused to do enough to make a difference.  And that’s why I’m a member of the Green Party today – because it’s the only party on the Canadian political landscape that truly understands the urgency of the crisis – and has some semblance of a plan for our nation to work its way through it, while simultaneously creating a prosperous and flexible society that we’ll need to thrive in a century of change of uncertainty.

A Green Party Member's (Unsolicited) Advice to Green New Democrats

I strongly suggest that if you are a New Democrat and continue to support your Party and your leader to take Canada in the direction that Mulcair and Jack Layton before him wanted to go, you’re not doing enough, and in fact you are a part of the problem, and are impeding the solution.  And that’s why I sincerely hope that this weekend New Democrats will make the choice to support the Leap Manifesto, and dump their leader in favour of a process which will identify a better one – one equipped to lead a revitalized and rejuvenated political enterprise into the next decade, and hopefully those decades beyond.  Sure, I’m a partisan, but I have a much stronger commitment to my family and my planet than I do my Party.  An NDP that does the right thing will be an asset for Canada in a way that today’s NDP simply isn’t.  You can’t put your efforts and energies into a political party that refuses to accept the science of climate change, that refuses to acknowledge that fossil fuels will need to be left in the ground, that refuses to take a position on pipelines and other new fossil fuel infrastructure – you can’t work to elect “those people” and claim to take the climate crisis seriously. And that’s what the NDP and its supporters did in 2015. 

I, for one, sincerely hope that 2015 was the last election in Canada fought under this antiquated notion of “progress”.  If the NDP really wants to be a progressive political party, they’ve got to start by focusing on the climate crisis – and the Leap Manifesto is certainly a vehicle which provides that laser-like focus.  But there remain too many browns entrenched in positions of power and influence in the NDP, on all sides of the political spectrum.  Forward-thinking seems to have taken a back-seat to the NDP’s quest for power, at the expense of an engaged membership.

Fight for the Future

Of course, that’s just my take.  But New Democrats, take heart – I’ve not given up on you completely. This weekend, you’ll have a chance to make a difference.  You’ll have a chance to tell your Party’s leadership that the future is important, and that to get to the future that you need to go to, the NDP has to embrace progress by dumping Tom Mulcair, renouncing pro-fossil policies, and moving towards the vision contained in the Leap Manifesto.  If you do these things, you can begin the process of turning your Party into a vehicle equipped to take on the challenges of the 21st Century.

But if your Party fails to follow suit, you ought to know that there are other vehicles out there which are already working towards these same goals.  The Green Party has supported the Leap Manifesto since Day 1.  Yes, we’ve got our problems – but they’re not insurmountable.  And with your help, we can probably figure out some workable solutions.  At least Greens are heading in the right direction.  If brown New Democrats continue to control your Party, I strongly suggest that you take a look at the Green Party – because frankly, you’re not going to get another pivotal opportunity like the one you have this weekend to influence the future should your Party opt to maintain the status quo.

We’re running out of time. After this weekend, the way forward should become clearer. 

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)


The Mound of Sound said...

No matter how often I read it Steve I find a deep incoherence to the Leap Manifesto. While I agree with many of its objectives it comes across as a hastily thought out shopping list.

I think the clock has nearly run out on us Steve if it hasn't already. Instead of sweeping, lofty goals of changing everything surely we should take stock of our situation and identify the "must do" tasks that have to be placed in priority to all others. Leap doesn't accommodate this essential focus but would have us do an entire makeover at once. There's no popular will for that and there might never be that degree of support.

As for Mulcair I sense his numbers are rebounding. He might not be toast after all.

Good post. Thanks.

Craig Buntin said...

Mulcair's numbers are still below what they were in last year's election, so I don't think he's rebounding that much.

I don't think he's toast, but I don't think he has the ability or support to lead the NDP into the future.

I think he can be an okay leader, but he would probably just keep the NDP at the levels of support they had before the Layton Wave.

If the NDP wants to make another major breakthrough, it will probably take a different leader.