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Mulcair’s Social Democratic Platform Exposes the True NDP Imposters

In my new role of NDP moderate and regime apologist, I have to say that I am baffled by the sudden vociferousness of people marking the Tom Mulcair​ leadership as the moment the NDP abandoned socialism and joined the Third Way. The reality is that, depending on which province you live in, this event took place some time between 1989 and 1997.

The NDP joined the global capitulation of social democratic parties that culminated in the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour earlier than most SDPs did. In many ways, Mike Harcourt and Roy Romanow could be credited as the true founders of the Third Way; and Audrey McLaughlin can be seen as the first national NDP leader to focus more on limiting rather than building the power of Canada’s federal government to build a fair and equitable nation.

The reality is that whereas Jack Layton’s left turn ended in the middle of the 2004 federal election campaign, the party under Mulcair unflinchingly marks the high water mark for advocating old-style social democratic programs and policies. While I do not agree with all of them, like the Energy East endorsement, for instance, it is undeniable that Mulcair’s party is offering the most comprehensive social democratic national vision the NDP has offered Canadians since the 1988 election.

So, why all the whinging now?

I would suggest that current whining about the NDP abandoning socialism for neoliberalism comes from very problematic places and helps to reveal what has sustained the New Democrats, as a party, in the generation since the Cold War ended and global financial elites no longer needed to tolerate the existence of NATO-member welfare states as a bulwark against the Soviet Empire.

The New Democratic Party survived from 1989-2011 based on lineage and culture. Those connected to the party remained connected to it through family ties, union ties and ties to the non-profit QuaNGO sector that expanded vastly under Third Way ideology. In provinces where, to privatize services, shrink the state and deregulate and depress wages, Third Way governments delivered new programs or transferred delivery of old programs to state-patronized non-profits, the NDP-aligned institutional sector grew, as did the loyalty of those in the caring professions to the party. Family and extended family lineages, reinforced for a minority through access to trade union seniority or QuaNGO jobs, held onto their loyalty to the NDP not just through nostalgia, social memory and the making of a shared past but through governmental and trade union financial patronage.

Relatedly, the party survived, especially in the West, through the cooptation of the right-wing populism practiced by Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon and George Wallace, one that blames some element of the working class for the ills suffered by the rest of the working class. For the Third Way governments in BC and Saskatchewan, this group was welfare recipients. Draconian laws were enacted throughout Western Canada, cracking down on “welfare cheats and deadbeats,” and there was little difference between those of Tory Ralph Klein in Alberta and those of New Democrats Mike Harcourt and Roy Romanow. In this way, working class people distant from union, QuaNGO and other party-aligned patronage networks were offered a watered-down right-wing populism that lacked the financially suicidal character of its genuinely conservative competitors.

So, why is it that a minority of long-time NDP supporters and activists are so upset that Tom Mulcair, like most NDP leaders in most elections since the early 80s, is refusing to say he will raise taxes on individuals? Why are people so upset with Mulcair’s anemic climate justice platform, when the BC NDP ran for re-election in 1996 and 2001 trumpeting a five-fold increase in hydrocarbon extraction in the province’s northeast? Why are people so unimpressed with the most robust national energy, childcare and housing policies the party has offered since Audrey McLaughlin stepped down in 1994?

Perhaps it is because, for what remains of the long-term NDP base, our most left-wing leader in a generation is not “one of us.” If what makes you a New Democrat, increasingly, has come to mean your descent from an old NDP lineage, your association with a QuaNGO or trade union patronage system, your access to a union job or your belief that the NDP will crack down on the indigenous and/or chronically unemployed Canadian underclass on your behalf, then Tom Mulcair and his crew are not New Democrats.

They don’t even act like New Democrats. No double-speak and cheap shots against indigenous people, no demonization of the chronically unemployed, no signals that the new regime will be run by the multigenerational party lineages with names like Notley and Woodsworth, no sign, even, that the career courtiers, like Brian Topp, and their hangers-on are part of this new crew. Not to mention the suspicion of Catholics, francophones and Quebeckers endemic in any Canadian party with Western roots.

Most troublingly, by standing for the kind of activist federal state that Svend Robinson stood up for when his party foolishly endorsed the Meech Lake Accord, the Mulcair leadership is offering an implied criticism of those who never questioned or spoke out against the ugly expediencies and terrible betrayals of the 90s and 00s. What, he is effectively asking, if being a New Democrat lives not in patronage, lineage or culture; what if it really does live in policy and principles? If that is the case, many of those expressing first-time qualms with the party after a generation of betrayal and capitulation, may actually be turning against Mulcair because, just by running on an old school 1980s social democratic platform, he is implicitly suggesting that maybe it is they who are not the real New Democrats?

4 thoughts on “Mulcair’s Social Democratic Platform Exposes the True NDP Imposters

  1. Hendrik de Pagter says:

    Thanks for this interesting analysis of the divergence of the NDP from its social democratic roots. As a (now retired) social worker, I recall well the oppression visited upon welfare recipients under Glen Clark and his animus toward proportional representation. You seem to be implying Mulcair is different. Is this the NDP being redeemed by a former Liberal provincial cabinet minister?

  2. Mike J. says:

    when 6000 votes make the difference like last election the NDP will need the Far Lefty NDPers to vote for them – I might disagree with a number of  policies but NO other party comes close to non-neo-liberalism than the NDP that means raising corporate tax for eg, supporting social programs creating new ones, only they will go to 15 dollar increase, SO MANY GOOD POLICIES – yes I might disagree with some of what they will do – but if they ONLY Repealed C-51 then that is enough (cause no other party will) – when the Far Left attack the NDP during an election you see what happens Wynne wins easily and then sells off hydro.  If you have to hold your nose but vote NDP. NDP majority.

  3. manifesto2000 says:

    I am in a BC constituency where 308.com says there is a 56% chance of it remaining con, and there is a 3% difference between the con and the NDP. I am intending to vote NDP even though I joined the cons in 1974 and my membership card expires in Nov/2015. I am disillusioned because the cons lied about wanting to get serious about white collar crime – and they said that they would treat deceptive brokerages the way they deal with drug dealers. That was their pandering line in the 2008 to seniors in the Okanagan. Instead, they went on a crash binge of privatizing, self regulating, and de-regulating the brokerage industry from the rule of law. I am hopeful that it might be possible to get some group that is concerned with economic democracy to look at the record of the con ministers and their blindly passing off evidence of deliberate fraudulent misrepresentation of some brokerages – hijacking the savings of seniors – and putting the savings of those contracting for GICs into risky market volatile securities. This is so the brokerage can get  hidden large bonus fee. Unfortunately as of yet, the NDP does not seem to have a way of addressing this problem – and I want to work with the party to make sure that the impunity racket is challenged and stopped. I don’t want to berate the NDP because it hasn’t got to this subject yet. I would advise the NDP that there are a number of mislead seniors in the Okanagan who would dearly love to see a party advocate that the common law of contract and the criminal code be the first regulatory tools governing the investment industry. If the NDP could take a public and forceful stand, possibly there may be 3% more support base toward the NDP and away from the cons… 

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