Victory in defeat

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at a capaign event in Parksville Beach, BC. Photo by Wayne Polk (Flickr).

When the news broke that the Liberals had won every riding in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) during this federal election, my heart sunk. While it was good that the Liberals—and not the Conservatives—had secured a minority, I was devastated that great candidates like Min Sook Lee and Paul Taylor lost despite organizing some of the most energetic campaigns I had seen in years.

The next morning I woke up a little depressed. Yet, when Mary Wiens, a producer for CBC Radio One’s local morning program in Toronto, called to ask my opinion, I answered it was the best NDP campaign I could remember. I also told her that I had never felt better about an NDP leader than I did about Jagmeet Singh. Mary was surprised. After all, I had been the spokesperson for the group of 34 who had written a letter to NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that leaked during the 2014 Ontario election, criticizing the party for running a campaign to the right of the Liberals under Kathleen Wynn.

While it is true that the federal NDP lost seats during this election, it also ran a successful campaign. How is this so?

Under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership, the NDP became a shadow of its former self. It lost the vibrant energy once experienced by many local riding associations and the support of key unions like Unifor which opted instead to back the Liberals under the guise of strategic voting. It was a long slide that started under the leadership of my good friend Jack Layton who professionalized the party and moved it to the right despite a promising activist start.

Jagmeet Singh moved the party back to the left where it belongs; with a left populist platform that came across loud and clear.

More than that, Singh was the first person of colour to ever lead a federal political party, and his very presence brought to the surface the systemic racism that pervades our society. He dealt with Trudeau’s blackface shame with grace, and showed compassion for those who were hurt by seeing their prime minister mock them.

He confronted casual racism on the campaign trail with courage and love. In the debates, he was strong, intelligent, coherent and mostly stuck to the issues, rather than squabbling with the top contenders.

Singh went from being written off completely by the mainstream media—due in no small part to tacit racism and the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’—to being the person many Canadians believed would make the best prime minister. This is no easy task, particularly for a brown man with a turban in a country where the majority believe the federal government should limit or reduce the number of immigrants it accepts.

Singh has also revitalized the NDP by bringing in a diverse cast of newcomer MPs. Many of them, like Nunavut’s Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Hamilton Centre’s Matthew Green, promise to galvanize and inspire the party’s federal caucus with bold ideas for youthful change.

My major criticism of the campaign is that the NDP did not embrace a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a transformative framework for major changes in society based on climate justice. It can include many of the party’s other priorities like universal pharmacare, affordable housing and progressive taxation, but it provides a vision for a different and better future. Regrettably, the NDP made climate one of a series of issues, and failed to sufficiently address the crisis that is mobilizing millions around the world.

Despite the media hysteria about Alberta, the province voted the way it usually does: Conservative. The real news was the sudden resurgence of the Bloc Québecois. No one seems to be interpreting it as a rise of “separatism”, another sign of change to this veteran activist who has lived through two referendums.

It is time we break from voting out of fear. During the 2015 election, I didn’t agree with strategic voting, but I understood the overwhelming desire to get rid of Harper. This year was worse. The vicious stupidity of Premier Doug Ford (or Drug Fraud as playwright Brad Fraser calls him) frightens many, but a Liberal minority government won’t change that. A growing movement of resistance to Ford has already forced him to back away from some of his most egregious cuts to education and public services. What’s more, the federal Tories did not need any more help in losing thanks to a lackluster leader, an empty program and barely an acknowledgement that climate change even exists.

A strong NDP caucus pushing the Liberal minority government to the left and putting forward a different vision just might move us forward. The three non-Conservative parties share a lot of policies in common even though they may not want to work together.

Fundamentally, though, the NDP has a much stronger position than the Liberals on climate and other issues like corporate crime and taxation. Singh must move now to counter the pressure coming from the media for the Liberals to move right to avoid Wexit or at least some form of Western alienation. The NDP in general and Singh in particular could play a leading role in organizing such a united front in parliament. After all, the planet is facing an unprecedented crisis that requires politics to be done differently.

In the longer term, let’s hope the NDP can build on the energy created during this election campaign. The best way to do that is to work with social movements. Singh should be speaking at climate marches where he can, and NDP ridings should organize support for actions. The environmental movement is gaining serious momentum, and the NDP must do everything in its power to reflect this powerful appetite for change inside of parliament.

Judy Rebick is a Canadian writer, journalist, political activist, and feminist. In 2001 she helped launch rabble.ca, a multi-media independent news and discussion site, with Mark Surman and Judy MacDonald, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Rebick was publisher of rabble.ca from 2001 until 2005.

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