Alberta Politics
Brian Topp in top form during his 2012 federal NDP leadership run (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Brian Topp, NDP strategist who led Rachel Notley’s 2015 war room, describes what Jagmeet Singh must do this year to win

Posted on January 06, 2019, 12:24 am
8 mins

With a federal election looming this fall, mainstream pundits have already written off the federal New Democratic Party and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, relegating Mr. Singh to history’s discard bin and declaring the party to have already returned to perpetual third-party status.

Maybe they shouldn’t, suggests long-time NDP political strategist and former federal leadership contender Brian Topp in a lengthy article published Friday on social media that so far seems to have been completely ignored by mainstream journalists.

Mr. Topp as chief of staff to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

There is a route to victory for the NDP and Mr. Singh in 2019 just as there was for the party led by Jack Layton in 2011, when New Democrats almost grasped the brass ring, Mr. Topp argues in the 2,800-word draft, which he said he has submitted for publication in an upcoming edition of Policy Magazine.

Despite lack of media interest in Mr. Topp’s formula for NDP success later this year, he deserves to be listened to. After all, he’s worthy of constant scathing attacks by Conservative politicians and their media cheerleaders for his recent service as Premier Rachel Notley’s chief of staff. Surely Mr. Topp then is important enough to warrant respectful attention for his strategic pronouncements!

The Quebec-born Mr. Topp has had a pretty distinguished career as an advisor to such progressive politicians as federal NDP Leaders Ed Broadbent and Mr. Layton, Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, and Toronto Mayor David Miller. He ran the election war room for Ms. Notley’s NDP in the May 2015 Alberta election – a success that should counterbalance the spectacular defeat in 2013 of B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix, in whose campaign Mr. Topp played a similar role.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Describing the federal NDP as “a coalition of progressive-minded pragmatists and romantics,” he argues his party must confront both the collapse of “third-way” social democratic role models in the democracies of the West and the “dangerous successor appeal” of populist neo-fascism to working class voters.

Alas for the NDP, he said, the track record of its romantics is “to unhelpfully agitate to make the NDP politically irrelevant and unelectable, and then to implicitly or explicitly argue for the election of the Liberals, since the Conservatives must be stopped.”

And yet, as Mr. Layton proved in the election less than four months before his death in 2011, “when the New Democratic Party finds a way to weave its pragmatic and romantic threads together into something like a coherent offer it can be surprisingly compelling, just when you least expect it.”

Federal NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011, shortly before his death (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is especially true, Mr. Topp noted, “when the Liberals have earned a stint in the repair shop, and the Conservatives have made the mistake of letting their real faces show.” As is the case today, one could argue, with the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives by Andrew Scheer.

“In a campaign likely to be centred on an ugly and possibly uninspiring slanging match between Prime Minister Trudeau and a coalition of unattractive Trumpian provincial Tory Premiers fronted by their federal errand-boy, Mr. Scheer … perhaps there will be another golden opportunity for the New Democrats,” he wrote.

So how might this work, according to Mr. Topp?

Well, not by pretending to be Conservatives, as former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair did with his deficit policy in 2015. (Mr. Topp, who was defeated by Mr. Mulcair in the 2012 NDP leadership campaign that followed Mr. Layton’s death, did not deign to mention Mr. Mulcair by name.)

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And not by pretending to be Liberals. “If Canadians want Liberal government they will re-elect Prime Minister Trudeau and his team. Social democratic parties who try to go down this road are being crushed all around the democratic world – losing their core working class voters to populist conservatives.”

And not by ignoring Quebec. “Just as Quebecers (briefly) returned to their 2011 vote after seeing Alberta go orange in 2015, so it is true that voters in Ontario and across Canada are much more likely to support a federal NDP that can plausibly present itself as a national project, that brings French- and English-speaking voters together on a common agenda.” (The inverse is also true, Mr. Topp warned. “It is hard to imagine voters … betting on an NDP federal government if they believe the NDP is about to hand back its Quebec breakthrough.”)

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And not by “focusing on the agendas of a kaleidoscope of NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters, however well-meaning.” (Avi Lewis, c’mon down!)

Mr. Topp concludes: “Victory will be found here: Working class voters, in both official languages and on both sides of the Rockies, want a raise. They want 40 years of the Revenge of the Rentiers to end. They want the benefits of this economy tilted a little more to their benefit, for the first time in a long while. And they would like to know somebody in Ottawa cares about their jobs, their economic security and the future of their children.”

Since Canadian working families are looking for economic and social justice, if the NDP offers it to them it will probably get their support. “If not, the mini-Trumpians … will give them a way to send the comfortable among us a message.”

There’s a lot more to Mr. Topp’s thoughtful argument than this short précis provides. Readers are urged to give it a look.

32 Comments to: Brian Topp, NDP strategist who led Rachel Notley’s 2015 war room, describes what Jagmeet Singh must do this year to win

  1. Genesio Paciocco

    January 6th, 2019

    NDP Jagmeet Singh will become the next NDP MAJORITY GOVERNMENT under the excellent leadership of NDP Jagmeet Singh and both Conservative air head Justin Trudeau and air head Conservative Andrew Scheer WILL ELIMINATE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE & BRING IN US STYLE FOR PROFIT HEALTH CARE so in 2019 we will VOTE FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE = VOTING NDP/NPD

    • J.J.

      January 13th, 2019

      You are an optimist, I’ll give you that much.
      Jagmeet has to win his riding first. That’s a big “IF” he wins.

  2. Jerrymacgp

    January 6th, 2019

    Fascinating read… thanks for the link to Mr Topp’s post. A few observations, if I may:

    – re the new Conservative Party vs the old federal PC party, the former has become much more a “conviction-based” Party, where the latter was clearly an “interests-based”, brokerage party. Tom McMillans (very long) book, Not My Party, explicates this in extreme detail, and is a recommended read—if you can find time for it.

    – the NDP has always been torn between its pragmatic, “we can’t achieve our goals if we’re not in government” wing, and its policy purists, who aren’t willing to compromise to get elected, preferring to exercise influence on government from the Opposition benches. I think that federally, it’s the purists that are currently in the ascendance, and we are likely to see the party relegated to a distant third place in the next Parliament. The voting public simply doesn’t see how voting for the Libs and the Cons is voting against their own best interests, because the NDP has rarely been successful at putting forth that message in a way that speaks to most voters. The policy purists also tend to torpedo our potential success every time we start to look like a breakthrough is possible; think Leap Manifesto, Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein, et al.

  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    January 6th, 2019

    Climenhaga: “And not by ‘focusing on the agendas of a kaleidoscope of NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters, however well-meaning.’ (Avi Lewis, c’mon down!)”

    As pointed out in the comments section under Topp’s essay, “Not one mention of climate change, the biggest issue in Canada and the planet.”

    If Brian Topp and the NDP brain trust think the path to victory lies in ignoring the issue of our time, well, I say, they are sadly deluded.

    NDP voters need to get off the fence. Heed reality or not. Act on the science or not. There is no middle road. No compromise. Either Canada reduces its emissions as dictated by science or it does not. Either we plan for a sustainable future, starting now, or we bet that the world will fail to take necessary action on climate.

    Trudeau, Notley, and Topp are betting on failure. Oilsands expansion and new pipelines are not pragmatic politics — just plain lunacy. It doesn’t matter what your policies are on farm labor, GSAs, childcare, etc. If you’re not progressive on climate, you’re not progressive.

    Don’t expect “reality-based” Canadians to follow lunatic leaders stuck in a 1970s time warp over the climate cliff, no matter their stripe.

    Climate LEADERSHIP demands exactly that. Topp and Notley have shut the door.
    Fine! Out they go!

    • Farmer Brian

      January 6th, 2019

      Geoffrey, after reading Brian Topps essay I would say it was more about politic outlook than specific policies hence why he didn’t specifically mention climate change in my opinion. Your narrow focus on one issue clouds your ability to see the whole picture. But due to your narrow focus I have a question. You obviously envision a future with a very limited use of fossil fuels, from that perspective how do you envision farms and food production in the future?

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        January 7th, 2019

        How do you envision farms and food production in a world of increasing drought, floods, extreme weather, heat waves, soil salinization, etc.? What will rapidly melting glaciers in Western Canada mean for irrigation?

        Currently, industrial farming isn’t remotely sustainable.
        Practices like high tillage, no cover crops, high-intensity chemical farming deplete soil. Farming needs more and more external inputs to keep it going.
        Pollution from over-fertilization and animal waste creates growing marine dead zones.
        Neonicotinoid pesticides kill pollinators and birds. What will farmers do without pollinators?
        California lists glyphosate, the key ingredient in weed killers such as Roundup, as a carcinogen after the Int’l Agency for Research on Cancer determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
        Electric trucks are already here. Why not electric farm vehicles?

        Canada is one of the biggest wasters of food on the planet.
        From farm to table, Canada wastes 396 kg of food annually per capita compared with 415 kg in the U.S. and 249 kg in Mexico. (CP, 2018)
        The average consumer throws out c 170 kg of food annually. (CBC, 2018)
        Food waste is responsible for c 8% of total human-caused GHG emissions — almost as much as road transportation. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

        • Farmer Brian

          January 7th, 2019

          Geoffrey I am fortunate enough to farm in an area that my family has farmed the same land for 112 years. While I realize in the big scheme of things that is a very short period of time. We have used many different methods of farming in that time ranging from horses in the early years to the zero tillage we use today. There is certainly obvious evidence of topsoil depletion due to too much cultivation in the past, which is why we are employing zero tillage as much as possible today to rebuild topsoil. As for the over use of fertilizer we soil test and set yield goals and fertilize to achieve these goals without wasting expensive nutrients. We employ gps directed sectional control to attempt to eliminate overlap and over fertilization. Animal waste is our one source of natural nutrients and is certainly beneficial in rebuilding organic matter in the soil. The use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in my opinion is a much less harmful method of treating pests like flea beatles in canola than a post seeding treatment of spray applied insecticide which would do far more damage to bees. I would also argue that the replacement of soil nutrients with properly formulated fertilizers leads to less depletion of soil nutrients. Farmers are in this to create an environment where our successive generations can continue to farm in the future. Properly manged pastureland is also a very effective carbon sink and beneficial to the land and cattle are very effective way of utilizing marginal erosion prone land which is not suitable for crop production. I do believe that electric farm vehicles will become available once the challenge of powering these vehicles for the 12-14 hour days necessary to get the work done is met. As for glyphosate it has allowed us to eliminate most of our tillage and increase the organic matter in our soil as a result.

          We can certainly agree on the need to reduce food waste, there is no benefit to anyone to throwing away good food. Enjoy your day.

        • Jerrymacgp

          January 8th, 2019

          To Mr Pounder: Your username, if that’s what it is and not your real name, is quite appropriate, as you seem to be always pounding on the same tired point. But I’m afraid you’re stuck in that cognitive error we in the health behaviour change business call “all-or-nothing thinking”, in that if an action is not 100% perfect, it must be 100% wrong. But that isn’t the way the real world works, and addressing climate change is no exception.

          I want to turn the whole idea of “social license” on its head, and discuss social license to take evidence-based climate action in an oil & gas-dominated economy. Of course, in the longer term, Canada needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source. But we can’t do it cold turkey; that simply isn’t the way people succeed with behaviour change. We pick small, achievable, incremental actions, and gradually build on them. So, yes, the current carbon tax might be insufficient at the current rate to rapidly cut energy use. But it may steer people to make small changes, like choosing a more fuel-efficient model for their next vehicle purchase, or paying a bit extra for a high-efficiency furnace, or turning down their setback thermostat a bit further at night & during the work day. Gradually, over time, economy-wide CO2 emissions start to first slow down their rate of increase, and eventually maybe start to decline.

          Maybe you want faster action; I get that. But how do we bring the everyday Joe & Jane (or Martha & Henry, if you’re nostalgic for the late King Ralph) along, when all they can see is increasing costs to heat their homes and gas up their vehicles? By offering them a trade-off: secure jobs for today, while we work to transition the labour market to cleaner energy sources for tomorrow. So, we support a pipeline intended to get our oil & gas to overseas markets that can offer better prices than we get by selling into the US market—which is as much competitor as customer—and hope to use the revenues from higher prices to support a gradual transformation of the energy sector workforce from one solely focused on oil & gas to one with more renewables. And, we introduce a modest price on carbon, work to phase out coal-fired electricity generation, protect more forests and wildlands from destruction, and use a number of other policy levers to reduce GHG emissions.

          Another aspect of my version of “social license” is the political consequences of trying to do too much too fast. Right now we have a provincial government in Edmonton, and a federal government in Ottawa, that believe climate change is a thing and that we need to address it, even if too slowly & incrementally for some. But the current government in Alberta is in jeopardy, and unlikely to survive the next election unless there is a sea change in voter opinion in the next 3-4 months. Constantly pounding on the idea that all pipelines are bad and that the oil & gas industry—with the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Alberta families it supports—is evil and needs to be shut down, is not going to create that sea change. All it will do is put Jason Kenney and his band of Neanderthals in the same do-nothing choir as Doug Ford, Scott Moe, and Andrew Scheer. That will most certainly not help the situation.

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            January 9th, 2019

            1) Surprised your post (first line) got past the censor. Quite enough juvenile ragging on my name on Postmedia sites. If you have a point, make it. No personal remarks needed or appreciated.
            I’ve seen your comment — the same hodgepodge of factual and logical fallacies — several times before. My response is the same.

            JERRYMACGP wrote: “But we can’t do it cold turkey”
            Straw man. No one suggests shutting down the oil industry overnight.
            But we must start the transition now — not decades from now. Doubling down on fossil fuels and new pipelines takes us in the wrong direction.

            First item: Stop fossil fuel EXPANSION. In conjunction with efforts to reduce demand.
            No “turning off the taps” overnight. A managed decline. Starting today. Start going in the right direction. No more expansion. Stop digging ourselves into a hole. Start reducing emissions today.
            The science dictates a halt to emissions by mid-century. We need to start winding down the industry now, not in 2049.
            Oilsands expansion only makes sense if the world fails to take real action on climate change. Trudeau and Notley are betting that the world will fail.

          • David Climenhaga

            January 9th, 2019

            I thought about it. Decided it was rude, but not defamatory. Perhaps a mistake. DJC

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            January 9th, 2019

            2) JERRYMACGP wrote: “We pick small, achievable, incremental actions, and gradually build on them.”

            Notley’s agenda of rapid oilsands expansion and new pipelines locks AB into a fossil-fuel future for decades.
            AB’s drive for fossil fuel growth is IRREVOCABLE. The AB NDP is throwing billion of dollars in subsidies at the fossil fuel industry. Oilsands infrastructure, including pipelines, takes decades to recoup its costs. There is no redemption. No going back. No path from oilsands expansion to lower emissions and Canada’s climate targets.
            No tweaks of NDP policy can get us to where we need to go.

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            January 9th, 2019

            3) JERRYMACGP wrote: “all-or-nothing thinking”, in that if an action is not 100% perfect, it must be 100% wrong”

            If I reject AB’s NDP govt, it will not be because it’s “less than perfect”.
            Rapid man-made global warming is a disaster.
            So are govts that fail to address it.
            And so are leaders who make it worse.

            Climate change is not one issue among many. Energy, environment, and economy is THE issue. The environment underlies all we do, the economy, and life itself. If you are not progressive on climate change and the environment, don’t call yourself progressive.
            We don’t have time for political games, backroom deals, and compromise. No medals for steering the Titanic halfway across the Atlantic. Climate change is life and death. Evasive action is urgent now, not decades from now.
            Whether you go over the cliff at 100 mph or 50 mph, the result is the same.

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            January 9th, 2019

            4) JERRYMACGP wrote: “when all they can see is increasing costs to heat their homes and gas up their vehicles”
            That’s what rebates are for.
            The idea of a carbon tax is to change behavior, not impoverish the population.

            5) JERRYMACGP wrote: “So, we support a pipeline intended to get our oil & gas to overseas markets that can offer better prices than we get by selling into the US market—which is as much competitor as customer”

            Both these points are unsupported by evidence and probably myth.
            A vast amount of commentary, including this blog, has debunked this talking point.
            E.g., “The Myth of The Asian Market for Alberta’s Oil” (The Narwhal)

            Notley and Trudeau have provided not a jot of evidence that overseas refiners are willing to pay more for AB dilbit than U.S. Gulf Coast refineries do.
            AB oil already reaches tidewater through the port of Vancouver as well as the U.S. Gulf coast. Overseas shipments remain few and far between.
            Much of Canada’s U.S. crude exports are insulated from heavy discounts.

            With the highest concentration of heavy-oil refineries in the world, the U.S. remains our best customer.
            Gulf coast heavy-oil refineries have invested billions of dollars in the high-conversion capacity required to realize optimal value from heavy oil. They are not processing or seeking light sweet crude. The U.S. is now exporting increasing volumes of its light sweet crude.

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            January 9th, 2019

            6) JERRYMACGP wrote: “All it will do is put Jason Kenney and his band of Neanderthals”

            Sadly inevitable. Mathematically, the NDP have no chance against a united conservative party.
            On energy and climate, Notley and Kenney are on the same page. Doubling down on fossil fuels in face of climate change is insanity. It was up to the NDP to chart a course for a sustainable AB in the 21st century. Instead, they’re taking us over the climate cliff.
            On the issue of our time, Notley & Co. are an abysmal failure. If other nations follow our example, it’s game over.

            R. Notley has dug her own political grave.
            No one has done more than Notley to prop up the oil industry and sabotage Canada’s climate efforts.
            No one has done more to fuel pipeline hysteria than Notley. The same hysteria that’s going to sweep the NDP away in 2019.

            Whether we vote for Notley or Kenney, we’re screwed on climate.
            Scientific reality is non-negotiable. Either you accept the science and respond accordingly, or you don’t.
            Political parties who ignore scientific reality do not deserve the votes of responsible citizens.

        • Jerrymacgp

          January 9th, 2019

          “…I thought about it. Decided it was rude, but not defamatory. Perhaps a mistake. DJC… “ If Pounder is actually your real name, Sir, and not a screen name, then I apologize for making fun of it. As for the rest, I guess we will continue to disagree.

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        January 7th, 2019

        2) Farmer Brian wrote: “Your narrow focus on one issue clouds your ability to see the whole picture.”
        The economy is a subsidiary of the environment. The environment underlies all we do, the economy, and life itself. No healthy environment, no healthy population, no healthy consumers, no healthy workforce, no healthy economy.
        The World Health Organization (WHO) calls climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”

        Heat waves make outdoor work lethal to farm laborers in the tropics.
        “As temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent, for instance, women in some countries who are traditionally tasked with fetching water face more problems, including sexual violence. According to the UN, women in Africa and Asia walk an average of 6 km to get water but the distance can be much longer with droughts.”
        “Too much mansplaining in climate conversations?” (National Observer)

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        January 7th, 2019

        3) Farmer Brian wrote: “You obviously envision a future with a very limited use of fossil fuels.”
        So, do scientists. I’m in good company.

        Small is beautiful. Is a world of 7+ billion people sustainable? What if it isn’t?
        “Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than 1% of the total weight of mammals on the planet. Since then, humans have grown to represent 35% of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5%!” (William E. Rees.)
        “What, Me Worry? Humans Are Blind to Imminent Environmental Collapse” (The Tyee)

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        January 7th, 2019

        4) Brian Topp does his best not to mention climate change despite frequent climate change allusions:
        “In its latest guise the Conservatives seem focused on implementing the Trump playbook, which is about appealing to the darker angels of their core older white male demographic, and to voters with education levels similar to those of current Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a high school drop-out.
        “… the deeply regrettable divisions in western Canada over resource development and market access.
        “… And finally, victory for the NDP will not be found in focusing on the agendas of a kaleidoscope of NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters, however well-meaning…
        “… And they would like to know somebody in Ottawa cares about their jobs, their economic security and the future of their children.
        “In short, in Canada as across the democratic world, working families are looking for economic and social justice — for themselves and for their families.”

        The “Trump playbook” includes climate change denial.
        “Resource development and market access”. The elephant in the room is climate change.
        “NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters”: E.g., Leap Manifesto: “We call for a Canada based on caring for each other and the planet, MOVING SWIFTLY TO A POST-CARBON FUTURE, upholding Indigenous rights, and pursuing economic justice for all.”
        Leap Manifesto: “The 15 Demands” Items 2 – 9 and 14 refer to climate change.
        “Economic security and the future of their children”: What is their future in a world ravaged by climate change?
        No “economic and social justice” without environmental justice.

  4. Andy Marshall

    January 6th, 2019

    Brian Topp may have some sensible points to make here, but does he gloss over the essentially treacherous and debilitating backstabbing of the federal leader Jagmeet Singh by Party members and/or other malevolent forces? The rather ludicrous social media campaign to resurrect Tom Mulcair, just as Singh faces the challenge of his life in a byelection, supposedly planned for February, is just one aspect of current Party divisions. With an election next fall, these divisions give the NDP as much hope of exceeding 10 seats as, say, the Oilers making it to the Stanley Cup final.

    The NDP has a sorry mess in its lap, and whistling past the graveyard — even with sensible strategies — isn’t an answer (to mix metaphors). Singh is leader until, through due process, members decide to vote no confidence and boot him out as unceremoniously as they did with Mulcair. But, Singh is the leader today and should warrant our respect and support. The bring-back-Mulcair campaign and other anti-Singh rhetoric is divisive to the point it will help bring the federal NDP to its lowest standing in decades in the approaching federal election.

  5. brett

    January 6th, 2019

    Despite Mr. Topp’s projections, this is one voter who would not even consider voting for the current Federal NDP crowd.

    They may appear to be the champions of the working classes however they also have their heads firmly in the sand when it comes to the realities of Canada. I believe the Leap manifesto is rubbish.

    What is it about the Federal NDP that they have such a penchant for eating their young?

  6. Derek

    January 6th, 2019

    The NDP should focus on the working class and farmers. We need them to bring in a nationalized pharmacy plan. We need them stop with all the extreme issues that people don’t care about. People care about having a good job and being healthy. They should also stop trying to disarm Canadians.

  7. Pogo

    January 6th, 2019

    “To unhelpfully agitate to make the NDP politically irrelevant and unelectable, and then to implicitly or explicitly argue for the election of the Liberals, since the Conservatives must be stopped.” While I whole heartedly agree with the dynamic this sentimental quote outlines, I must say that if you applied it in Alberta, you would end up with another term for the NDP. Now being a none purest and mainly in it for the grand fulfillment of my ass kicked for no cash by the agents of Mordor for the last twenty!!!! FFS!!! Twenty years! You’re going to waste even a post on Brian Topp and Jagneet Singh? Are you…[email protected]#$%^&*()_+? A whole papered over Wild Rose constituency defects and you’re talking this mook’s winning path? His brain trust? Jebus daddeo! I’m not happy!

  8. David Bridger

    January 7th, 2019

    In 2014, I wrote to Tom advising him to not pretend to be a liberal because if the voters want liberals they will vote for the real thing every time. (Indeed that is what happened.) And not to try to appeal to conservative minded people for the same reason.

    In 2015, Mulcair tacked right promising to balance the budget and leaving the left for the ever opportunistic liberals.

    In 2015 after the election was called Mulcair replied to thank me for my letter while not mentioning any of the points I wrote to him about. In short my letter was ignored completely.

    Now Brian Topp is advising what I advised in 2014. I hope the party leader this time at least considers Topp’s ideas.

    However, Topp completely ignores the most important issue of climate change. Possibly he thinks the NDP should do what the other parties do which is to avoid any specific policies that might offend a voter, but we need a party that clearly sets out its platform and works ceaselessly to have that platform implemented.

    Give us something real to vote for!

    • pogo

      January 8th, 2019

      Hey David! Did you hear the one about two NDP supporters walk into a bar? No? Well, in they walk and after a few rounds they get down to strategy. Says the one: “who can lead us?” the other: “the one we choose!” the one: “so it’s Rachel then?” the other: “why, only a fool would ignore such an opportunity!” I only put this here in jest. But hey! Wouldn’t you love to Jason in a national election up against a decent opponent? I bashed Rachel before she bit the bullet. I am a believer. Even I now have to bow to the personality component of our tragic species. Hope? That’s all people like me have!

  9. camjournal

    January 8th, 2019

    David, I finally got around to reading Brian Topp’s piece. I have much trouble taking seriously anyone who bases their arguments on the hopeless pollsters but he makes some good points. Surely the situation is more nuanced than the NDP just being “a coalition of progressive-minded pragmatists and romantics” but that’s a good model to work with and Mr. Topps description of Tommy Douglas is right on (I especially like the flinty-eyed part) – Jack carried some of that and Rachel Notley has it all in spades.

    I don’t think Mr. Topp only meant Mulcair when he wrote about “pretending to be conservatives” just the general idea. Thomas Mulcair did an effective job and should have scooped up all the environmental votes – he gave Stephen Harper a hell of a time in and out of parliament and actually visited the Oil Sands to confront the issue. He has pretty sound environmental cred but his reward was to be run over in the election. So much for “the biggest issue in Canada and the planet.”

    Provincial politics matter in that voters start to see the NDP actually governing and making the tough decisions. John Horgan is doing a pretty good job in BC except he’s decided to fight with the best example of NDP leadership in the country and it’s going to cost him somewhat. Mr. Topp is right when he says victory will be found with the working class voters, but the federal or provincial leader I see supporting working people the strongest and in the most effective way is Rachel Notley. So the federal NDP sides up against her – so much for “hope, common purpose and a sense of possibility to the whole country.”

    This post is getting too long, stop now or go over 300 words – oops too late…

    • David Climenhaga

      January 9th, 2019

      Cam: The 300-word limit only applies to gun nuts and Alberta fake yellow vests arguing about truck blockades. You may write as much as you like. DJC

      • camjournal

        January 9th, 2019

        Yeah I knew there isn’t really a limit, I just try not to carry on too much. I also think Geoffrey is living up to the name – and I don’t mean that as criticism, just light hearted comment.

        Have no doubt that when the only choice is a job = a paycheque for the rent = necessities for their family vs warnings of climate disaster from “a kaleidoscope of NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters” working people will vote for the job. Anyone who claims the converse is being deceptive or delusional. Whether this is right or wrong doesn’t matter, this has to be understood.

        I’m glad you didn’t censor any of Mr. MACGP’s post, it is excellent.

        • Geoffrey Pounder

          January 10th, 2019

          By all means, let’s talk about jobs.
          Tens of thousands of Albertans recently lost their jobs because of the latest global oil price crash. (Wait till the next one!) Overdependence on one industry punches holes in govt budgets and forces services cuts. Time to get off the oilsands rollercoaster.
          Notley isn’t doing “working people” any favors by propping up the industry. AB’s current trajectory leads to economic collapse when the oilsands industry crashes.
          If the world takes real action on climate change, Canada’s low-quality heavy sour barrels far from global markets will be among the first to be sidelined. Stranding billions of dollars in fossil fuel infrastructure. The ultimate oil crash will make the last one seem tiny.

          No evidence that doubling down on fossil fuel infrastructure in an age of rapid climate change will improve the lives of “working people”. On the contrary, it makes Alberta more vulnerable, less diversified, more at risk, and unprepared for the future.

          “Working people” in other industries are already suffering huge losses due to climate change. So did the residents of Fort Mac back in 2016’s wildfire.
          How about “working people” in First Nations’ communities in the oilsands region? Already paying bigtime with their health and loss of culture. What will be left for them when the oilsands industry collapses?

        • Geoffrey Pounder

          January 10th, 2019

          The “romantics” are accused of ignoring “the economic reality of working people”.
          No jobs on a dead planet.

          Around the world, communities have been devastated by wildfires and floods.
          Desperate farmers look out on parched fields.
          Mountain pine beetles and wildfires devastate forests and lumber mills close down.
          Heat waves make outdoor work lethal to farm laborers in the tropics.
          Desertification and drought force sub-Saharan farmers to abandon their lands and flee.
          Pacific fishermen return empty-handed when the coral reef dies due to bleaching and lower seawater pH.
          Sea level rise, flooding, and soil salinization ruin agriculture in Bangladesh.
          Coastal cities will be inundated and abandoned due to sea level rise.
          Farmers will face crop losses due to loss of pollinators.
          Millions of climate refugees on the move.

          • camjournal

            January 10th, 2019

            Thx for illustrating my point.

  10. Scotty on Denman

    January 9th, 2019

    True, the NDP is divided between pragmatists and “romantics”—or, as I would say, ideologues of the left—the important point being that the division is skewed: the member-administrators and -volunteers who manage the party’s affairs during the relatively quiet times between election campaigns are, in the main, the more ideological of the two. NDP voters, on the other hand, are not members of a political party. Both are absolutely essential but this skew has been a problem: the mostly-ideological keepers of the flame between elections feel entitled, are rewarded, or otherwise inherit the management of the intense, warlike period of a general campaign, but they’re often the least suited for this engagement; the NDP voter is most important to electoral success and isn’t as entertained by idealism, and surely not by academic prescription. They want something to meet the strategic occasion: concerted attack replete with paeans a few black eyes to confirm.

    Of course these two estates of Dipperdom serve each other outside their usual domaines. Politics— its largest application, though underappreciated, happening between campaigns— succeeds by developing policies useful to the voting base, while at the same time ideology must shore up support among busy workers and to build, at their convenience, commitment for ‘the day of battle.’ The sheildwall ranks are too often supposed to define pragmatism, but it only goes so far, and only on the field. Ideology similarly conceived doesn’t necessarily define ideas between battles.

    “Work, not homework!” the voter shouts. “An informed electorate, not an unruly mob,” the flame keepers manage. The party exists because each side must, even begrudgingly, admit both are philosophers.

    Brian Topp managed the BC NDP’s 2013 election when the new leader proclaimed the party would run a “positive politcs” campaign that went so far as to forbid NDP candidates from criticizing the incumbent BC Liberal government’s record because that would be, according to the ideal, too aggressive, “too negative”—even though the BC Liberal record was almost completely stained by wreckless neo-right ideology, cronyism and corruption that were (as it remains even after its 2017 defeat) unrefutably negative for BC. Practical campaigning tactics were, in this case, fettered by ideology’s most extreme form, idealism.

    The NDP’s 20-point lead going into that campaign was somehow taken to mean there was enough spare political capital to afford the “positive politics” strategy. Maybe the new leader was as yet insecure about the loyalty of party insiders, the ones he was most familiar with; maybe he thought they’d appreciate a good slug of distilled ideology while wounds from the recent schism which ousted his predecessor were still tender. But the strategy totally flummoxed NDP supporters who’d been pounding wardrums in vengeful anticipation of turfing the BC Liberals. Because protest had been so exquistically and loudly articulated for over a dozen years, the official contradiction tended to illustrate how the Dippers were too idealistic to govern, that handy, old charge anti-socialist have cultivated for decades. The BC Liberal Premier gleefully punched the pricinpled pacifist, limp dukes dutifully hanging at his sides, when- and wherever she liked with total impunity.

    The result was—or should have been—predictable: Christy looked like the last man standing. The principled, “positive politics” strategy had had repelled her BC Liberals’ most potent enemies. Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt publicly tore up his Dipper membership card in frustration.

    Mr Topp should be forgiven all that against his remarkable success in Alberta, but it’s great to see him acknowledge that the NDP dichotomy should be respected in general.


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