Mr. Irrelevant vs. Mr. Angry -

Mr. Irrelevant vs. Mr. Angry


Because Ed Broadbent has tremendous moral authority in the New Democratic Party, he must never be allowed to exercise it. That seems to be the prevailing response to the sudden hatchet assault Broadbent made last week on NDP leadership contest frontrunner Thomas Mulcair. It is a curious spectacle: a throng of columnists and observers is questioning almost everything but the factual truth of Broadbent’s comments.

There is a real disagreement about who should get the credit for the still-mysterious Vague Orange that swept Quebec in last May’s election. Mostly, however, the criticism of Broadbent is meta. It’s the appropriateness that is being bashed, not the truth-status. Nn-nn-nn, tactically unwise of you, Ed. I mean, think about the timing. And really, does all this carping befit your role as an elder statesman of the party? What’s to become of you when Mulcair wins?

(The answer to that one isn’t too difficult: he’ll stay behind the scenes and work as much as he feels like working. That’s what most 75-year-olds do anyway: it’s really hard to believe the number of people implicitly saying “Ed, think of your future!”)

We are left with the distinct impression that there is not much to be said against the accuracy of Broadbent’s attack. Some of the frowny faces have claimed it was an intemperate critique of Mulcair’s “character”. What Broadbent said was that Mulcair has talked in vaguely threatening terms about the party’s social-democratic traditions, which he has, and that most of the MPs who were in the House with Mulcair before 2011 are supporting someone else, which they are.

Broadbent was also perhaps guilty of alluding slyly to Mulcair’s bad temper; but that temper is a matter of public record. It’s up to individual NDP members whether occasional spasms of hydrophobia can be considered a matter of character, but they are unquestionably relevant to a man’s fitness for leadership, whether or not “character” is inherently implicated. Similarly, a “personal attack” can be perfectly legitimate, whether or not Ed is really guilty of having made one.

And even on the contentious question of “Who won Quebec?”… very well: Thomas Mulcair has a strong prima facie case. He was Jack Layton’s Quebec lieutenant. And the Vague Orange MPs, unlike the old-timers, are supporting him in overwhelming numbers. They’re just not doing it very visibly, at least in English Canada. It makes sense that Mulcair doesn’t want to engage Broadbent, but I don’t quite understand why nobody else seems very keen on it. If Mulcair was really organizationally indispensable to the party’s success, and it wasn’t just a matter of the party being sucked up into a vacuum left behind by the BQ and the Liberals, then I suppose someone can tell us how he helped, and provide specific examples. Ed Broadbent would appear to be in a good position to know the facts, even if they did lead him to conclude that Brian Topp is an organizational wizard (whoops); it must be said that this is not true of some of the new NDP MPs in Quebec.

Broadbent’s attack reveals that there is a split in the New Democratic Party between an Old Guard of leaders and the new forces that Mulcair is now mobilizing, the restless young progressives born after the Cold War. “Reveals”, I say: there is no sense pretending that if Broadbent hadn’t spoken up, no schism would exist. The faultlines have been there since the 1960s in every social democratic party of the western world. The leftist belief that everything is political, that almost everything is potentially a proper subject for intervention by the state, makes actual politics hard. It tends to favour the creation of party lines and personality cults; it puts a premium on sincerity and authenticity.

Jack Layton was trusted because voters of the left decided his heart was in the right place, whether their own ruling passion was for labour or for identity politics or for the environment or for breastfeeding. That his actual agenda was a bag of fog wasn’t a problem. It will be a problem now for whomever has to devise a post-Layton battle plan, because the party is not going to choose a leader who is as likeable.

Indeed, it’s probably going to choose one approximately 1% as likeable. But it does seem pretty clear what the new NDP will look like if Thomas Mulcair wins. It’s not going to be a consciously redistributionist NDP; Mulcair doesn’t, for example, seem to have any intention of hiking top-end marginal taxes on incomes. It will be an anti-some-companies NDP, especially oilpatch and mining companies, rather than anti-corporate per se. There’ll be plans for bigger EI and a bigger CPP, but all-new social programs won’t be emphasized, and the Mulcair platform is virtually silent when it comes to specific proposals in defence of private-sector labour. His program, as I read it, is one that defends and retrenches the achievements of Liberal Canada (while being much less categorical about federalism). Mulcair would like to return us to the days of aggressive foreign-investment review, for example, but so did Michael Ignatieff.

The man is just not much of a revolutionary. To the degree he favours social-justice goals at all, he proposes to act mostly through time-tested methods (or market-friendly ones, in the case of cap-and-trade), ones fundamentally inoffensive to the ruling class. He isn’t going to grab us by the collar and hustle us down the road toward equality, the way Bob Rae tried to early in his Ontario premiership. Longtime New Democrats must sense this about Mulcair—that his core motivating ideology is Canadian Liberalism, not socialism. That is my sense, anyway, and I’m not a socialist; I don’t have that fine-tuned sense of when little cat feet are treading upon the sacred soil of NDP Mouseland. Someone like Ed Broadbent does have that sense. That’s what he’s trying to express, whether anyone cares in 2012 or not.


Mr. Irrelevant vs. Mr. Angry

  1. I find it somewhat odd that Broadbent now complains that Mulcair would shift the NDP to the center, wherever that is, but presumably it is closer to the Libs, when he himself was proposing a  merger with the Liberal party not so long ago.

    • If you want to make an electoral cooperation pact, the values of the guy negotiating for you become a lot MORE important, not less.

      • Fair enough, but the guy leading the charge now may not be the guy in charge of the merged party, which would likely require another leadership contest. In the eventuality that the parties do merge, policy would come after, not before, the party constitution, and that will require a lot of input from the membership of both parties.

        As I recall, there was no guarantee that Harper would prevail in a contest based on winning riding associations (a PC demand) versus the one-member-one-vote that the reform & alliance were hoping for. Policy decisions subsequently flowed from that contest rather than the other way around.

        And who’s to say that Broadbent wouldn’t have been the guy tasked with the negotiating, though I’ll grant that Mulcair doesn’t seem to be the delegating type.

    • The Liberal leaders have no voters left to deliver to the NDP in the pact.

      There is absolutely no reason a Liberal voter would not vote NDP in 2011 except for the simple fact that they hate the NDP platform and policies.

      Will Mulclair turn the NDP into a clone of the Liberal party????    He will not be able to take the 10-15% of the voters in Canada with him that truly want a socialist government.

      •  By that argument, that NDP can not grow any further, at least in central Canada where they trade votes with the Libs. Moving to further accommodate Quebec to fight off the Bloc will likely alienate westerners, thereby driving support to the Cons.

        If you are right, the Conservatives have got to be awfully happy.

        • The NDP has already alienated voters in the West given its stance on the oilsands and if Mulcair talks incessantly about Quebec and its needs he will surely not expand his base anywhere outside of Quebec.

  2. His wife was a candidate for Sarkozy’s UPM, and he may have considered joining the Tories before going with the NDP. But the NDP will be much better able to accomplish its goals with him than without him. Absent Mulcair, much of the NDP support swings back to the Bloc. So long as the Bloc wins most of the seats in Quebec, an NDP or even Liberal government is unlikely (and we all know how politically toxic it would be to make a long-term deal with the Bloc).

    •  Spouses are allowed to hold distinct political views so that’s neither here nor there.

  3. “It is a curious spectacle: a throng of columnists and observers is questioning almost everything but the factual truth of Broadbent’s comments.”

    What’s curious about attacking the messenger, rather than the message?  IMO, the opposite is far more curious in politics.

  4. What a dumb column! First, many have taken on the issues raised by Broadbent. Mulcair has campaigned for what, 6 months (feels like a lifetime) and not one incident of ‘hydrophobia’ – what drivel! Second, Ed’s comments about caucus solidarity was hogwash – this is the NDP, and we don’t eat our leaders like the Liberals! It is also illogical. Many of the MPs supporting Mulcair are from pre-2011 and he has the support of more than all the other candidates combined! Finally, I won’t trust the analysis of the anti-NDP main stream media, because their only interest is in seeing the NDP back in the non-Party status in the House it occupied when Jack took over the leadership. Funny, Jack wooed Mulcair, made and kept him as his Quebec right hand, but now he isn’t to be given credit at all for the success in Quebec? The support of the Quebec MPs is somehow less than the support of the Anglo MPs? I don’t think so!

    • Repeating for the deaf: if Mulcair was so pivotal in Quebec, please tell us how, with specific examples.

      • Do we know what Layton did that was so pivotal – has there been a detailed narrative of how the Orange Wave succeeded?  Didn’t the implosion of the Bloc have a lot to do with it?

        • I agree JanBC. Chantal Hebert has pointed out that the decline of the Bloc occurred after Duceppe appeared on stage with Pauline Marois to tout Quebec separation, which had been a minor and dormant issue. The climb of the NDP in polls followed, suggesting that Layton, and certainly not Mulcair, had very little to do with NDP growth other than to be in the place at the right time.

          Speaking to my own relatives in Quebec, that logic seems to hold true. They really liked Jack, and for a short period, were enamored by the NDP. That initial euphoria has now largely evaporated.

          Incidentally, one of my Quebec relatives has actually had interactions with Mulcair on a professional level. Their impression was that he was arrogant and incredibly self-centered, which perhaps is not news, but could explain the fact that so few individuals he has worked with support him.

      •  Mulcair no doubt worked hard during the campaign last spring, and probably made as big a contribution to that as anyone else. However, his major contribution was in the period between his byelection victory and the 2011 campaign. During that period, he gave the NDP a face and voice in Quebec which was already very popular and familiar to most people. During these years, the popularity of the NDP steadily rose in Quebec, with polls in early 2011, before the election call, showing the party’s popularity in the high teens or low 20s, well ahead of the CPC, and neck and neck with the LPC. If it were not for this, it would not matter what Jack Layton did during the campaign, there would have been no possibility of a Vague Orange.

      • Exactly…..its more of the hurt feelings of the Quebec crowd.

    • If Mulclair was such an important pivotal player in Quebec’s election why was his melt down on camera and calling out a reporter in exteremely antagonistic terms not front page election news.— “SCANDAL”   It would have been if Harper or any Cabinet minister  or Former Liberal Cabinet minister had done the same.

      He got less play than Pat Martin’s outrageous comments.

      He was treated as a bit player by the media.

    • Well then put your money where your mouth is. How has Mulcair helped the NDP in Quebec outside of his Outremont win. There is no provincial NDP in Quebec. Therefore there are no federal riding associations. The NDP only had 2000 members of the federal party when the election was called last year. That`s why Mulcair is up against the wall if he is relying on Quebec to win him the leadership.

      The support of Quebec MPs gets discounted because they are a pile of kids who have no life experience and really won by happenstance. When these kids move out of their parents homes, graduate from university and get some life experience then they will be given more credit. The same would be true if they happened to be from outside of Quebec. Quit with the feigned hurt feelings. Its unbecoming.

      • Like the ‘kid’ Mackay accused of not supporting the troops who turned out to be ex-military? 

        • Answer the question. Quick trying to divert from the subject at hand which you try to do all the time. This whole blog is about the NDP. Try to control yourself and stay on topic.

          • I was directly responding to your post, h.  And skip the bully boy routine, you should know by know it doesn’t work on me.

      • Old thread now, but here’s some contemporaneous evidence: 

        “Each day during the election campaign, Thomas Mulcair would have a conference call with all the other Quebec NDP candidates. There were ridings they knew they could win, ridings in which they thought they had a chance, and ridings where the odds were against them. When candidates would report suspicious things like a large number of their signs being removed, Mulcair said that was their way of knowing the competition must be worried and they took it as a signal they should up their game in those areas.”

        For what it’s worth.

        • So he made conference calls? That’s why the NDP won in Quebec. Give me a break.

  5. 1) “…approximately 1% as likeable.” I don’t think I liked your tone in that sentence :).

    2) Had never seen the “mouseland” story before. What a perfect gem of mid-century socialist thinking.

    • really….  I would have been very comfortable having a discussion with Mr. Layton.  Even if it was uncomfortable topics and opinions being expressed.  We would both leave the discussion smiling.

      It is not a put down pointing out that none of the candidates are as likeable as Mr. Layton.

      Chances are the next leader of the NDP will not be as likeable as Mr. Harper…. and that is a big problem when trying to sell policies that 85% of Canadians historically disagree with.

  6. I think that Cosh is right – the comments I’ve seen about Broadbent’s P&P interview were more directed at Broadbent’s character and not about whether or not Mulcair can legitimately seize upon the title of “King Quebec”. I think it’s a proper question to ask – Mulcair just assumed that mantle. The argument of “I was the only New Democrat in Quebec thus all Quebec success hinges on me.” is ludicrous!

    I think it’s more insulting to old-line New Democrats because Mulcair is white-washing a *team* effort. I always had a feeling that a strong, collaborative style was predominant amongst the so-called “Old Guard” of New Democrats and I think they find it insulting that Mulcair is running around claiming all the credit for work that was shared by party organizers, grassroots workers, and many other New Democrats who *aren’t* Thomas Mulcair. It’d be pretty flippant, insulting, and demeaning if your editor went around saying, “Cosh’s material was garbage until I edited to perfection.”

    I’m making a blind and wild assumption here, but I’d wager that the team of NDP central staffers that got Mulcair into office and essentially put his legion of MP’s behind him are getting itchy at the thought of Tom sweeping in and claiming everything for himself when it’s all said and done – re-writing NDP successes as his own. He’s already going about re-writing his own history when it comes to leaving the Quebec Liberals and downplaying the invitation he got to join the federal Conservatives. Add to that the alleged dealings with Singh – and I just think that a lot of “Old Guard” New Democrats don’t agree with a leadership candidate willing to use tactics like those.

    It’s also hilarious that every media outlet is claiming Mulcair as the frontrunner, when in a one-person-one-vote system like the NDP leadership race Quebec’s 12,000 or so members are going to be overwhelmed by the other 110,000 New Democrats in the rest of the country. I think they’re wildly underestimating the voting block under Cullen (and to an extent Topp and Nash) and preposterously promoting Mulcair. I just think Mulcair is going to have a much tougher time, especially since his stance on marijuana was hardened on Global recently – the BC support was just lost in a puff of smoke. Possibly even the support of a lot of the vague orange swarm you speak of.

    I guess he just felt comfortable confirming it after the mail-in ballots started streaming in…

    • A team effort?  I don’t mean to depreciate the work of many, but all one could hear coming out of Quebec in the days preceding the last election was, I vote for Jack. It was about Jack’s leadership.  When QC nationalists zero in on Mulcair, you’ll see that they have a long memory, and he a long past.

      Check out Jean-François Lizée at l’Actualité, an excellent column here,  if you want a taste of what’s to come for Mulcair, leader of the NDP. Mulcair could be as soon forgotten as the Caquistes would appear to be these days.

      What about support from the trade unions?  Mulcair a union guy? Ha Ha Ha !!!

  7. “The leftist belief that everything is political, that almost everything is potentially a proper subject for intervention by the state, makes actual politics hard. It tends to favour the creation of party lines and personality cults; it puts a premium on sincerity and authenticity.”

    Sorry to ruin an otherwise fine piece by minor carping. But are you seriously arguing the right doesn’t engage in cult of personality – particularly when we have the major self anointed conservative cultish personality of the last decade or so resident in 24 Sussex? You go too far sir!

    • No, I’m not arguing that. But, no, I don’t think there is a Stephen Harper personality cult. (You would have to prove he had a personality first, for one thing.)

      • LOL

        I’m not fobbed off that easily CC. I’m pretty sure there’s a shrine to Steve set up somewhere in the bowels of CPC HQ.Attended to day and night by his handmaids – DD & PP.

    • Technically you could argue that it’s not a cult of personality because there is so little, if any, personality present. 

  8. The 1950`s boiler plate NDP language may change but the end result is the same. Redistribution of wealth pure and simple. Canadians won`t be fooled. A cap and trade or carbon tax are the same. They will increase the cost of all consumer goods, reduce the standard of living in Canada and cause interest rates to rise and inflation to take hold in a serious way.

    Raisng corporate taxes will cause corporations to rethink their investement strategy and may cause them to move their operations to friendly terriorities. Therefore less corporate revenue and fewer jobs in Canada.

    Broadbent spoke what he believes to be true and who should know more about Mulcair and it is Ed Broadbent. Today anybody who dares not stick to the talking points is considered a rebel or has gone rogue. We don`t want free speech we want politically correct speech.

    • Yes, because the 1950’s boiler plate capitalist language you’re espousing is *totally* the solution to modern problems. Because those solutions have been tried and outsourcing has done nothing but increase since the introduction of industry targeted tax cuts. But I’m sure you’ll have some kind of retort about them not being correlated for some reason or another; or you’ll minimize reports which have shown that R&D subsidies don’t work either.

      Some entities produce wealth but then assuming they’re going to pass savings back to customers directly is based in 1950’s capitalistic idealism. The past sixty years have proven this fallacy – companies will accept tax breaks, government money and still continue to charge a mark-up and underpay staff to improve the looks of their balance-sheets.

      • Ok now you have identified the problem what’s the solution.

        You are not suggesting that we drive industry out of Canada, shut down the oildsands, natinalize the banks etc. etc. What will you socialists use to finance your big socialist schemes when everybody is poor and on welfare. The current system isn’t perfect but the alternative isn’t pretty either.
        The world is a very complicated these days and for every action taken by government there is a reaction and that reaction is not always good.