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Posted: April 16, 2016

Behold the NDP lost, leaderless in the wilderness

Gerry WarnerPerceptions by Gerry Warner

Whither goest the NDP? How about purgatory for starters. At least in purgatory, there will be company around for Canada’s tired socialists. There’re precious few fellow-travellers around the party now and Tommy Douglas must be rolling in his grave.

And that’s a shame because Canada would be a lesser country today if it wasn’t for the party that wears its social conscience on its sleeve as opposed to the gun-totting, mean spirited, Empire on our southern border. Who wants that? Not many Canadians, I believe.

But how can we keep that from happening with the only left wing party in Canada clearly on life support and a young, charismatic, left-leaning leader firmly ensconced at 22 Sussex Drive for the next four years and maybe more? Ironically, the NDP, the party that’s supposed to put people first and people before profits was soundly rejected by the “people” in the federal election last year and now they’ve done the same thing to their own leader only in a crueller, more devastating way. And they did it without an heir apparent in sight. Does the word scapegoat come to mind? How about vindictive? And even though I truly hate to say this, what about stupid?

Remember we’re talking about Tom Mulcair, the first politician to cut Stephen Harper down to size in Parliament and he deserves as much credit for defeating the harsh Conservative interregnum as does Justin Trudeau. That’s why Mulcair went into the momentous campaign with the dizzying possibility of being the first socialist prime minister of Canada. But politics is a cruel world as the former NDP leader found out quickly when the longest campaign in recent Canadian history heated up. At that point, Mulcair made two fatal mistakes that sealed his doom. Ironically there were good reasons for both mistakes, but good reason turned out to be bad strategy.

First there was the balanced budget promise. Why not a balanced budget? Right wing parties have been winning on that promise for years. No less a socialist icon than Douglas himself brought in balanced budgets as Saskatchewan premier. What better way to counter the false criticism of socialist governments everywhere that they can’t balance the books. They can and they do. But on this occasion the timing was wrong. Oil markets had collapsed. Canada’s economy was sagging, making Mulcair’s promise appear bogus and he paid the price, especially when Trudeau came in with a deficit-driven promise to spend billions on infrastructure and job creation.

And then there was the niqab! Who can deny that Mulcair’s defense of Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab was principled? It was principled to a fault. But in a country deeply uneasy about the symbolism of the black face covering and nervous about terrorism, defending the niqab was a bridge too far. And Trudeau cynically seized on this by keeping his mouth shut on the subject even though his own party shared the NDP’s stand.

So it was a case of two strikes and you’re out. Politics isn’t like baseball where it takes three strikes to remove you from the game. But what has the NDP accomplished by tossing Mulcair out so unceremoniously? I would say nothing!

Worse than that, they’ve once again shot themselves in the foot. Or maybe in the head, depending on your point of view.

First, they should have let Mulcair go on his own terms instead of humiliating him the way they did on live TV. He was a good man who gave his best for public life and he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. Secondly they made him an instant lame duck with no replacement in sight. That’s plain dumb politics.

But the worst thing the NDP did with its knife between Mulcair’s shoulder blades was to expose the ugly, ideological chasm in NDP ranks between moderate social democrats and the hardline ideologues who want to bring capitalism to its knees in favour of Big Brother government and use all its muscle to shutter pipeline producers as outlined in the unrealistic Leap Manifesto in vain hope it will cure all of society’s ills, social, environmental and financial.

Oh, how I wish it could! But anyone with insight into human nature knows that ordinary people are led into revolutionary change by inspired leadership, not by the heavy hand of government force or socialist purity. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley knows this and it wouldn’t surprise me if she tore up her card and formed a new version of the NDP that would be more practical and less antediluvian.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who distrusts any politician with magic solutions.

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