Tom Mulcair’s Plea for Redemption

by Barry Weisleder

His February 10 open letter has an air of desperation about it. And a touch of remorse. But it is severely lacking in political transparency and the identification of damaged principles.
For New Democrats who consider electoral prospects paramount, it is enough to know that Tom Mulcair will not lead the party to victory in the next federal election to conclude that he must be replaced as Leader a.s.a.p.

But there are other, better reasons that lead inexorably to the same conclusion.

The first is the status of the much-vaunted Interim Report of the Campaign Review Working Group, chaired by party president Rebecca Blaikie. The document remains in the shadows. It is bad enough that the hand-picked Review group included no one to the left of the establishment. Worse is that its findings are not intended for release.

Why were they not attached to Mulcair’s February 10 plaintive written plea for redemption? How can the party ranks properly appreciate the “insights” of the review if it is not unveiled well before the April convention? According to Blaikie, the Report summary will go only to the incoming federal executive and council. So much for transparency and the promises from on-high to improve communication and decision making.

Core social democratic values? It might be good to make a list of these, if only just to see how close they come to meeting human needs. Sadly, the letter does not.

“We fell short.” That admission puts Mulcair in the global derby for understatement of the decade. Yet the “short”comings evidenced were not primarily due to what he cites as faults of “preparation and execution”. The campaign content was dead wrong, and the super-centralized enforcement of its pro-capitalist message was decisively fatal.

Lapses? Cautiousness? Were those really the problems that impeded the vision – or was it the vision itself?

In his public missive, Mulcair asserts that “our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision which saw new government revenues generated through higher taxes for corporations, closing CEO tax loopholes and a crackdown on tax havens.”

No, it was not a matter of overshadowing. It was a case of contradiction. Any attempt to balance the budget with such tiny moves on the revenue side was a prescription for soft austerity — not unlike what social democratic parties have offered or have implemented in Europe for years – and which is why many of them have been superseded by populist forces of the left and right.

And what about new pipelines? Is an NDP that condones, much less favours, the Energy East line compatible with a vision of a rapid shift to green, sustainable, public energy — the last hope of civilization now at the brink?

While socialism is increasingly the watchword in Britain, even in the USA, why does Mulcair try to re-warm the left-over soup of the 2015 campaign, regurgitating the vague “goal of a fairer, more progressive Canada”?

“Respect between the Party and Caucus, and specifically respectful dialogue, will make us stronger.” Now this looks like an opportunity for frankness. Exactly how was this respect lacking? Do tell us, Tom. And what about respect owed by the Leader for adopted policy, and for the right of members to seek to be nominated as a candidate without being censored, blocked or removed for such crimes as quoting Amnesty International on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank?

We’re told “The campaign lacked an over-arching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals.” The truth is that a campaign theme was not lacking. It was clearly present and plainly reactionary. A balanced budget. No major new taxes. Incentives to big business, and a foreign policy to match. Mulcair’s brain trust offered the Trudeau Liberals a bar so low that it was easy for the latter to hurdle it, however disingenuously. Canadians wanted a sharp break with the hated Harper regime. Instead of a LEAP forward, the NDP brass offered a cautious, awkward stagger towards a hazy horizon.

Newly appointed officials in the Leader’s suite, however super-enthusiastic they may be, won’t make a dime’s worth of difference if they are cut from the same cloth as their predecessors.

What’s really needed is policy decided from the bottom up, with plenty of time for debate at convention, and enforced adherence to the policy priorities decided by the mass membership. Really required is a Workers’ Agenda, socialist policies and new leadership. A so-called “strong role for government” just won’t do, up against a violent, wasteful, and irrational system dominated by gargantuan greedy corporations and banks. The problem is capitalism, not mismanagement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The importance of the Leader should not be exaggerated to the detriment of other factors. Let’s keep in mind that big change almost always comes from the bottom up. But in order to open the doors and windows to a more democratic and socialist process, there is no choice now other than to vote for Leadership Review at Edmonton in April.