The NDP, free at last to … ?

Tom Mulcair lost his party’s support. Now what? Paul Wells on an NDP with big, defining decisions on the docket

NDP delegates show a banner during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday, April 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

NDP delegates show a banner during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday, April 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

It’s good to aim high. In his only election as leader of the NDP, Tom Mulcair led the party to a higher share of the national popular vote than Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Alexa McDonough and Audrey McLaughlin ever had, and higher than Jack Layton managed to win in the elections of 2004, 2006 and 2008. Not good enough, delegates to the NDP convention declared.

Pack your bags, Tom: the party will reconvene in maybe two years to select a leader from among candidates Mulcair already beat in 2012, unless they prefer to pick a new leader with less experience in the federal NDP than Mulcair himself had.

The new leader must be able to speak to a party with a still-relatively-large caucus of Quebec MPs, while growing its appeal where most NDP voters live, outside Quebec. The risk of getting caught on a whipsaw of public opinion between the two language communities haunted Layton, who was born in Quebec and was wisely leery of the debate over Quebec secession rules. The same split in allegiances finally broke Mulcair, on the question of Muslim headscarves. The next leader needs to be more agile than Layton and Mulcair were along that fault line. No candidate speaks both official languages anywhere nearly as well as Mulcair does; most aren’t close to Layton’s level of fluency.

The NDP did a pretty good job of addressing the Quebec fault line this weekend by opening a new one around Alberta, which contains what will be, by the spring, the only provincial NDP government in the country. That government faces a jobs crisis caused by the collapse in the world price of the commodity that got every out-of-town NDP delegate to Edmonton: Hydrocarbons. Rachel Notley would prefer that Albertans keep working. The extended Lewis family, visiting from Toronto and points south, has a better idea. Delegates did not endorse their Leap Manifesto as such, but voted to ensure the party continues to debate it while searching for a leader.

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair makes a speech during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday, April 10, 2016. (Jason Franson/CP)

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair makes a speech during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday, April 10, 2016. (Jason Franson/CP)

The manifesto crystallizes an eternal conflict in left-leaning parties between the right of workers to work and the right of highly educated urban literati to express their opinion about how everybody else should live. While he was leader, Layton sought to split the difference with his 2008 platform, which eschewed a broadly applied carbon tax in favour of regulation or cap-and-trade schemes that would hurt “corporations” but not their employees.

A week before last autumn’s election, a senior Mulcair adviser told me the campaign was satisfied at having neutralized the Leap Manifesto by offering as little comment on it as possible. Perhaps that was poor strategy. The NDP will now get to try it a different way.

The choices the NDP made this weekend are legitimate. There is no point holding a leadership vote and arguing that it is somehow morally wrong to vote one way or another. On policy, including Leap, the Ottawa pundit class—including yours truly—is the worst predictor of any idea’s electoral appeal. We are addicted to dubbing the recent consensus as “the centre” and predicting punishment for any deviation. By that measure, the victories of both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau could not happen.

So maybe alienating Rachel Notley while looking for a leader who can balance the regional tensions to which the NDP has always been prey is a good idea. We will soon get to find out. As will New Democrats. Their choices this weekend have the virtue of being real choices. They now need a new leader, and they have a new debate—in the temporary absence of that leader—that will open emotional rifts in the party membership. Making decisions is good. Whatever the consequences.


The NDP, free at last to … ?

  1. They abandoned the people on the Prairies with their Leap Manifesto… the very working people they are supposed to protect. Their left wing is going to drive them down and out of any serious contention. It’s almost the best thing that ever happened to finally unite the Progressives in Canada.

  2. They’re a mess. Smugness is their downfall. As for the Leap Manifesto, I’m not at the point of such despair that I’m ready to accept Naomi Klein’s and Avi Lewis’s strangely 1970s vision of the planet when we’re all doing things they like. What the NDP is good at is seeing substance where there is none.

  3. The NDP with the Leap Manifesto as they bible will have us living in caves and heating ourselves with dried buffalo shit. Pray they NEVER gain power.

    • Back to sailing ships for cargo, ground all aircraft, sounds like the NDP. No Darn Principles

    • Silly. The NDP is not calling for reversion to some primitive state, as you falsely suggest. Burning carbon (weather it be via buffalo dung or FOSSIL FUELS) is OLD, OUTDATED, PRIMITIVE technology. It’s you who wants to cling to primitiveness. The NDP’s LEAP is proposing phasing out outdated, environmentally harmful energy technology in favour of new, cleaner technology. Goodbye buffalo dung & fossil fuels. Hello solar panels, electric vehicles, etc.

      • typo…I intended “whether,” not “weather.”

      • “Hello solar panels, electric vehicles, etc.”

        All, presumably, without a molecule of hydrocarbon in them. And with no need to transport them to market. And built with donated labour using hydrocarbon-free machinery confiscated from the wealthy, lest the demon “market forces” of capitalism destroy everything. All while the rest of the world continues using the “OLD, OUTDATED, PRIMITIVE technology”.

        Typos are the least of your problems.

  4. In effect, the NDP has just voted to keep themselves in perpetual opposition with the next election giving them just enough seats to compete against the Greenies. Wait a minute…this will probably get rid of the greenies, as the Leap document, was basically created by folks who have their heads in a Utopian cloud just like the greenies.

    What this has done, is basically guarantee that anyone who has a job that actually CREATES something, will now be voting Liberal or Conservative. If the LEAP document becomes NDP policy, one can be assured that the NDP will be reduced to a few seats in Toronto.

    Folks know that the ideology found in the LEAP manifesto is basically green fascism with an environmental front. But it is still just a bunch of folks like Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein who truly believe that only THEY know the proper way to live…..and they will force you to comply.

    Sorry..that won’t fly.

    • That was the same prediction when Trudeau’s Liberals during the election campaign, shocked the pundits by presenting a platform of deliberate deficit spending over a number of years to help kickstart the economy. The consensus at the time at the time was the Liberal Party had just foolishly made itself unelectable with such a “radical,” “left wing” platform. Instead, the delberate deficits platform placed the Liberals to the left of Mulcair in a way that appealed to voters instead of repelling them, & helped make Mulcair’s Party look the “Tories Lite” Party. Same with the issue of illicit drugs. Trudeau’s promise to legalize cannabis was painted as “too radical.” Instead, it’s succeeded in making Trudeau look appealingly progressive & more rational & just on drugs issues than the NDP who had an irresponsible, go-slow, craven, keep-the-drug-war-going, “Tories Lite” drugs policy (vague as it was – drugs barely got but a few sentences in the NDP’s platform). Most Canadians (as they watch our arctic ice steadily melt away), believe global warming is a serious problem that needs to be addressed seriously. Rather than being “too radical” the LEAP manifesto might be very appealing to voters, just as Trudeau’s “radical” deficits & legal pot policies turned out to be.

      • Bob,

        the only reason Justin Trudeau is PM now, is due to frightened NDP supporters. It is NOT because of the Liberal Party platform…because it was a mish-mash of scatter brained ideas. In fact, Justin Trudeau should be thanking Tom Mulcair and his campaign team for putting on a campaign designed to make harper look so scarey, even NDP supporters would do what they had to to get him out.

        The LEAP Manifesto, is a document designed by intellectual lightweight utopians. It won’t fly outside of a few select groups in Toronto, or the rarified air of the halls of Academia.

  5. Great! Thanks to the Lewis family the NDP is done for a couple of generations at least on the Federal scene. Now we’re back to a 2 party system and the choice will be between the Right and the Left.
    The game’s afoot.

  6. Just as the Tea Party and its long parade of buffoons has virtually destroyed the Republican Party in the U.S., so the Leap Manifesto gang will destroy the left in Canada. Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis are our Trump and Cruz.

    • And don’t forget Sanders-he could do far more harm that either Trump or Cruz!!

  7. I’m speaking as a 40+ year supporter of the NDP. Getting rid of Mulcair is one thing, but by doing it, along with adopting the debate on the LEAP manifesto, the NDP have signaled that they are prepared to take a giant step backwards and are undoing the work of Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair to modernize the party. It is clear that the NDP needs to split into two parties. The Leap people can be called the Socialist Party of Canada, with unions being in control as they seem to be now in the NDP, and the center left moderate party should be called the Social Democratic Party of Canada, with no union control, which I will join. Rachel Notley is right about the oil marketing in this country. Just do it right and environmentally sound and keep people employed. This doesn’t mean abandoning looking at other renewable energy options. Stephen Lewis got it right over the arms sale to Saudi Arabian murderers. The NDP seems to support the arms jobs but doesn’t support the oil jobs. Go figure! I feel homeless today.

    • Federally the unions control the NDP, in Ontario they control the Liberals. did a little calculation on how the last election would have gone if we had “proportional representation” my number are approximate but close enough Lberals 39.4 133 seats, Conservatives 32% 108 seats, ndp 22% 74 seats Greens 6% 23 seats onhers point.6% 1 seat Total 100% 338 seats A HUNG PARLIMENT.

      • By HUNG in unnecessary capital letters you mean either a minority government or a Liberal/NDP coalition government?

  8. “The manifesto crystallizes an eternal conflict in left-leaning parties between the right of workers to work and the right of highly educated urban literati to express their opinion about how everybody else should live.”

    So glad no fluids were in my mouth when I read that.
    Interesting times indeed.

  9. Distancing herself from the federal party is only part of Premier Rach’s dilemma. She’s also surrounded herself with the LEAP minded, starting with her environment minister, as strident an anti-oilsands person as there was until the scales apparently fell from her eyes shortly after her election. Premier Rach might also have to cut a few ties with the likes of the Pembina Institute, who festoon the editorial pages of Alberta newspapers with anti fossil fuel screeds on a weekly basis. It’s been pointed out elsewhere her hubby is a big wig with the provincial counterpart of the CUPE, who supported LEAP at the convention.

  10. Political parties are about winning elections, otherwise why bother. That has been the perpetual dilemma of the NDP. Ideological purity and adherence to democratic decisions by the party delegates, or giving a leader the chance to define policy and build a constituency with unaffiliated voters. The second option is the only way the NDP can attract new people. And I think the majority of centrist Canadian voters want to hear that pipelines can be environmentally responsible.

  11. The NDP has already lost the farmers as we see the beliefs of the wheat board disappear to open markets and big business.

    Now with the Leap manifesto they are bound to lose labour.

    What will they be left with? Green party idealisms. If the NDP approve the Leap manifesto does that mean they will merge with the Greens.

    And who will be left to support the average guy? Nobody!

  12. Tell the intellectuals to stay home. “Politics” means public policy and most people are concerned about bread and butter issues, not airy-fairy debates about the environment. And measures that are punitive to industry and business cost jobs – don’t forget that. Finally, forget the Quebec NDP MPs – the are the receding tide of a Jack Layton wave. Quebec often gets passionate movements that do not last very long.

  13. It makes me gag when a bunch of harmful nonsense like the Leap Manifesto is called “progressive”!!

  14. The NDP is no longer relevant,have become the Party of latte socialists and fat cat civil servants, NOT the “little guy” they were alleged to represent.

    The delegates treatment of Mulcair showed their true fascist colors,always looking for a convenient scapegoat instead of doing some honest introspection. The current bunch would utterly destroy Canada as an industrial Nation, with no alternative for us “little” folk other than the abject poverty of third world Countries.

  15. Wow, right wingers seem to be really upset with the treatment of Mulcair.

    The NDP will never get the right wing vote now!

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