Morgan Wheeldon seems like the ideal NDP candidate. Young, energetic with a good mix of the thoughtful and the practical—just the kind of person the party needs if it wants to connect to the younger generation of activists in Canada. His life experience as part of the growing ‘precariat’ of young Canadian workers makes Morgan a good advocate for challenging the apolitical apathy in youth culture which is so detrimental to NDP fortunes. So why did the party throw their candidate for Kings Hants under the bus with the 2015 campaign just a few days old? There are a number of potential possibilities none of them pretty.
The facts are straight forward enough. About a year ago Morgan got into a debate on his Facebook page about the rights and wrongs of Israeli policy in the Middle East. At that point he had no thought of running for the NDP. In the course of the discussion he posted something like “It could be argued that the Israelis are committed to the ethnic cleansing of the territory they control.” A year later his private account was somehow breached and his words picked up by a Conservative attack website called ‘Meet the NDP’.
When the news reached Mulcair Headquarters in Ottawa one of the NDP backroom boys called Morgan Wheeldon and gave him half an hour to resign as the candidate or be publicly thrown out. Wheeldon asked for more time to consider and consult but was denied it. In the end to maintain his good relations with his progressive community, Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, and beyond he decided to withdraw. But he did not do it in the way the party functionaries wanted ‘for personal reasons’ but told the truth about the Conservative dirty tricks smear and the NDP’s weak-kneed (my wording) response. The local NDP riding association expressed its deep regrets and support for Morgan. NDP Ottawa strategist Brad Lavigne publicly maintained that Wheeldon had left of his own free will so as not to be a ‘distraction’ in the campaign.
So what’s the big deal? A candidate in a riding he was unlikely to win any way forced out for being a loose cannon. It’s an ends and means thing and we need to get rid of Harper at all costs. Don’t we? The big deal has to do with two main issues. 1) The nature of democracy in a system dominated by hierarchical political parties; 2) The way in which any meaningful and balanced discussion of Israel/Palestine is blocked and dissident views policed in mainstream Canadian political culture. While not the same thing these issues anti-democracy and uncritical support of Israel intersect and re-enforce each other.
By forcing out Morgan Wheeldon the Mulcair New Democrats look weak and defensive. By refusing to stand up for their candidates they open up the possibility of Conservative smear tactics being used to pick off more NDP candidates for past and future transgressions. Instead they could have taken the high ground and proudly proclaimed that unlike the autocratic Harper they allow a diversity of views in the party although all in the end rally around the platform. Instead they come out looking like an autocratic mirror image of Harperism.
In the end Wheeldon agrees with NDP’s advocacy of the two state solution for Israel/Palestine. But the two state solution has become a rather meaningless policy unless re-enforced with active intervention to promote it by opposing settlements and other aggressions. After all everyone claims to believe in the two state solution – the Palestinian Authority, Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak Obama, even Stephen Harper. So the NDP wants to either duck on the issue (by their silence such as witnessed during the one-sided slaughter in Gaza) or they believe in the words of Tom Mulcair’s harsh judgement of the BDS movement that “To say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable”. The BDS movement that Mulcair condemns has proved one of the most effective ways of bringing pressure to bear on the Israeli political class. As in all too much of Canadian politics, despite much noise about difference, the distance that separate the views of Harper and Mulcair on the Middle East are more ones of stridency than substance.
Beyond the NDP the fate of Morgan Wheeldon raises the question about how much space our vaunted democracy allows for honesty and truth telling in elections. Truth be told we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground if we want to stop climate degradation. Truth be told we need to increase effective taxation of wealth to be able to create a healthy society with adequately funded services and live within our economic and ecological means. Truth be told we need to reverse the cult of austerity that is creating wrenching inequality in the life opportunities of Canadians. And truth be told the Israeli state needs to be pressured to withdraw from the illegally-occupied Palestinian territories if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East. The problem is truth is seldom told in election campaigns built around posturing and risk management.
Morgan Weldon understands this. Although no expert on the Palestine/Israel he is well-informed on the region with balanced nuanced views. He understands also that his modest reference to ethnic cleansing is not at all controversial in much of Europe and is regularly debated in the pages of Israeli newspapers like the quality daily Haaretz. He remains a supporter of the NDP and is concerned that the party as a whole not be tarnished by the heavy-handed calculations of a few Ottawa insiders. He remains unapologetic for his views and worries for a Canadian political culture so dominated by slurs and innuendo.
Richard Swift is a freelance journalist and activist based in Montreal. He is a founding member of Between the Lines and worked for many years as an editor for the Oxford-based New Internationalist magazine. He is the author of a number of books including SOS: Alternatives to Capitalism.