Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The NDP and Leaping into the Unknown

Before I launch into this piece I think it would be fair to lay out some of my own prejudices so that all readers have a sense of where I am coming from before moving forward.

I consider myself a centrist New Democrat. While my sympathies and beliefs put me well on the left, those attitudes and values are tempered by pragmatism and certain beliefs of what is possible in the current context. In the 2012 NDP leadership contest I support Nathan Cullen until he fell off the ballot and then I moved my support to Tom Mulcair. In the lead up to the party convention in Edmonton I supported Tom Mulcair's leadership.

This past weekend members of the New Democratic Party gathered in Edmonton to assess its position in the wake of the 2015 election losses. Immediately following the election the knives came out for Mr. Mulcair and there were a number who wanted him to resign that night. Mulcair wanted to stay on. The 2015 result was the second best in the party's history despite heavy losses in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. The objections mainly came from the left-wing of the party who never sat comfortably with Mulcair's leadership.

Before the delegates voted on Mulcair's leadership though they endorsed a resolution to study the merits of the Leap Manifesto https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/. Measured against the current Canadian political debate I think it is fair to call it a radical document. It calls for an entire change over of our economy, an end to non-renewable energy industries, embracing NIMBYism. While it does not explicitly say it, it is implied that the state should be the prime mover of this shift and would theoretically call for government intervention in the economy not seen since the mid-20th century. It calls for a massive expansion of the "caregiving, teaching social work, the arts and public-interest media" to drive growth. This alone tells me this is not a series plan.

To be fair the Leap Manifesto isn't a set of policy plans, but an ambitious vision. Instead of adopting the manifesto into vague policy the NDP has decided to debate it, riding by riding. As such it will likely play a central role in the upcoming leadership race.

I was frustrated watching from afar as the NDP seemed ready to move strongly to the left. I first joined the NDP back when it was decisively an opposition party. I do not mind foregoing power in order to stand on principle. I would have preferred if the NDP made a concerted efforts in other directions.

Aside from Tom Mulcair the most important speaker at the convention was Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta. Listening to her remarks I saw far more of myself in her than in the Leap Manifesto and its advocates. Perhaps I am a Notley New Democrat and the party has moved away from her. A troubling sign given that she is the party's most popular figure at present.

Now we must fight over the soul of the party. It is not a fight that I am eager for, nor one I particularly want to have. On the positive side I am hoping that a leader emerges that I can invest my hopes in and rekindle some of my passion in politics. 


Jared Milne said...

Great points, here are a few of my own:

-Regarding high speed rail, let's say that the government builds a high speed train from Edmonton, near where I live, to Yellowknife in the NWT. What's that train going to run on? Wouldn't it be fossil fuels? And isn't the construction and running of the train going to disrupt the big wildlife corridor that cuts through the NWT?

Also, how will we reach places like Iqaluit or any community in Newfoundland? What will power the planes and boats that we use to transport people and goods to and from so many isolated locales?

-In Alberta, we have more and more Indigenous people getting involved in the oil and gas industry not just as workers, but as entrepreneurs. What happens to them if we dump fossil fuel development and use altogether? How about the B.C. First Nation that was issuing its own harvesting permits to lumber companies, as Art Manuel described in "Unsettling Canada"?

-What happens to all the working class people whose livelihoods depend on oil and gas work? It didn't just benefit Alberta-workers came from across Canada to send money home. What's going to replace that work, and generate the tax revenues needed to finance the Leap Manifesto's vision? The green energy industry, if not in its infancy, is still only in its terrible twos.

SJL said...

I think you backed into a greater point. The Leap Manifesto is inherently an urban agenda. There is no vision how to serve places like Yellowknife, there cannot be any high speed rail between Edmonton and Yellowknife, hell there isn't even low speed rail between the two! The railway ends at Hay River. What if NIMBYs oppose the rail link, the Leap Manifesto says it should be stopped.

Despite the calls that Leap is a grassroots notion it feels very top-down to me, which pushes out some of the groups you have referenced.

Even if we switched to an entirely renewable economy we still need oil for plastics and other materials. Despite casting itself as a forward-looking vision it feels short-sighted and myopic to me.