Alberta Politics
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh on a recent visit to Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The stars of the NDP firmament are aligning today for someone in Burnaby South – it remains to be seen if it’s Jagmeet Singh

Posted on February 25, 2019, 12:44 am
6 mins

Even if all the New Democrats vote Liberal and all the Liberals vote NDP in the Burnaby South by-election today, the outcome could be a very close one.

It’s rude of me to mention this just now, of course, but you have to admit something like this could very well happen. After all, only 547 votes separated the two parties in the last federal election, when becoming mayor of Vancouver was still just a twinkle in the eye of the former New Democrat MP for the riding, Kennedy Stewart.

Former NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen, looking remarkably Jack Layton-like (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh has not exactly been a sterling success since Canada’s New Democrats made him their party’s leader in October 2017. His recent positions on several issues have been assailed, not without justice, as nearly incoherent.

Since there is no guarantee the 40-year-old former Ontario MPP and deputy Ontario NDP leader will do any better as a Member of Parliament, New Democrats can be forgiven for growing increasingly fearful about how Mr. Singh might perform in The House of Commons.

If he wins and then doesn’t improve his game, disaster may await the NDP in the fall general election.

Liberals could be forgiven too if they conclude based on Mr. Singh’s performance as party leader over the past 16 months that nothing would be more likely to help their party in the looming federal general election than having him lead the NDP in the House and into the campaign.

The Liberals should have been a deadbolt cinch to win the upcoming election without the requirement for help from Mr. Singh or anyone else.

Environmentalist and maybe, sorta, someday NDP leadership candidate Avi Lewis (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The national economy has been performing well, and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer looks like a lame version of Stephen Harper, who remains a Conservative éminence grise and a negative factor for voters.

The thought of Mr. Harper ruling at one remove is anathema to most rank and file New Democrats and Liberals alike, no matter what kind of long game some NDP strategists may wish to play. So Mr. Scheer shouldn’t have been much of a threat to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even without the sour grapes Tea Party uprising against the Conservative leader led by his former rival Maxime Bernier and his so-called People’s Party of Canada.

But that was before the Prime Minister’s Office bungled the SNC-Lavalin affair and the related demotion and resignation of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould so badly it tossed the hapless Mr. Scheer and his strategic brain trust of ex-Rebel-Media hacks an unexpected lifeline.

Until recently, the PMO’s handling of this ongoing meltdown has been so ham-handed it will probably go down in history as a case study of how not to deal with a political crisis!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As a result, the Liberals are probably lucky their last candidate in Burnaby South, the injudicious Karen Wang, had to be sent packing for what was widely interpreted as a racist comment about Mr. Singh. The Liberal standard bearer in the by-election is now Richard Lee, a former MLA for the B.C. Liberals, who, readers should remember, are really conservatives.

Some political analysts have suggested the Liberal turmoil will help Mr. Singh. But, remember, nearly 40 per cent of the population of the riding is of Chinese origin, and Ms. Wang’s undiplomatic remarks notwithstanding, that may end up being a significant factor today.

If Mr. Singh is declared elected tonight, I imagine we won’t hear for a little while from ambitious high-profile New Democrats with leadership potential.

It seems likely, though, that some of them will nevertheless start making discreet moves behind the scenes in anticipation of Mr. Singh’s performance continuing to be as underwhelming in the House as it has been up to now outside of it.

If Mr. Singh is not elected, we will probably be hearing sooner than later from the likes of Nathan Cullen, who sat out the last NDP leadership race, and the ambitious Avi Lewis, scion of one of the founding families of the NDP, who has been extremely quiet of late. And what is Svend Robinson doing back in the country all of a sudden?

Count on it, the stars in the NDP firmament are moving into alignment for someone. But even if he wins tonight, it may not be Mr. Singh.

6 Comments to: The stars of the NDP firmament are aligning today for someone in Burnaby South – it remains to be seen if it’s Jagmeet Singh

  1. jerrymacgp

    February 25th, 2019

    Sadly, in selecting Mr Singh so overwhelmingly, federal NDP members went for shiny & new instead of tried & true, and the NDP is now becoming increasingly irrelevant in national politics. The roots of the NDP were as a western agrarian populist movement, the CCF, which sought to break the stranglehold of big business on Prairie farmers’ livelihoods during the Great Depression. And yet, its modern successor, the NDP, is trailing far behind the other two legacy parties in the three Prairie provinces. If LEAP co-author Avi Lewis were to become NDP leader, it would probably be shut out of the Prairies altogether.

    In the early 1960s, the CCF hitched its wagon to the Canadian labour movement, forging the modern NDP. And, for years, it was not only the “conscience of Parliament”, but saw many of its key priorities implemented by various minority Liberal governments, and even the occasional majority—remember the Canada Health Act—led by Mike Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. But now, it has lost its way and has virtually no traction amongst working Canadians. It has failed to communicate to ordinary working Canadians that voting for the chameleons of Canadian politics—aka the Liberals—or the increasingly doctrinaire Conservatives, is counter to their own best interests. Instead, it has embraced the ultimate expression of NIMBY-ism, known as BANANA-ism: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, even though building stuff puts people to work.

    So, where are moderately progressive, pro-worker voters to turn? There are the pseudo-progressive Liberals, who are just kinder, gentler Tories who perhaps don’t have white hoods stashed in their closets, but are really no different on fundamental policy from the old-style PCs; there are the neo-fascist Conservatives, who are so far removed from their PC forebears that Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, et. al. should sue them for trademark infringement; there are the Greens, who appeal to such a narrow tranche of voters they will never form a national government; and there is the NDP, who have lost sight of the fact that in order to get your way on policy you first have to get elected. It’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out.

    • St Albertan

      February 25th, 2019

      Not to make your hair loss worse, but I would say your characterization of the prairies populism, post WW1 is a bit thin! My family were homesteaders’ at the turn of the century, and several were communists on up to the sixties. The last being a grand matriarch, who claimed and demanded that the “Co-op” was “the store”! Of course that was at the expense of my father who opened an independent and lit the fuse of a bloodless revolution in my family! I to this day, respect communists. Not because I am one, or want to be one, but because I admire the reality that they conveyed in their purest expression of decency and common good! So did my parents and many others when we supported “Healthcare”! It’s okay! We don’t expect any thanks!

  2. An Aggrieved Angel

    February 25th, 2019

    Jagmeet Singh has appeared clueless so many times, he’s an embarrassment.
    I hope he loses badly so Charlie Angus can step up.

    • Death and Gravity

      February 25th, 2019

      Charlie was certainly my choice. But, what, were you in the band?

  3. Parliament Funkadelic

    February 25th, 2019

    I think you should invite reporters, journalists, and party insiders to post regarding a list of world, national, and regional topics you decide (under ever changing nommes des plume) on Saturdays. You vet, we deride! Lol! It’ll be blast! Plus, as a fellow retieree? I gotta give you props! Ok. Times two!!

  4. Scotty on Denman

    February 25th, 2019

    First, let’s not confuse the federal and provincial New Democratic parties; yes, they are ‘federated’ but there’s one big difference: because the federal party has little chance of becoming government, it naturally takes on the more idealistic position —the “conscience” of Canadian politcs as which it has always punched much higher than its weight. If LEAP is to ever have any influence it is in the Commons, not provincial legislatures which, being viable contenders for power, eschew LEAP explicitly in no uncertain terms.

    You corrected your notion that the NDP is rooted in Prairie socialism that married Great Depression humanitarianism with agrarian cooperatives —in church, nota bene; the federated NDP is, as you note, is a cooperative amalgam of ethical Christian socialial activism with the trade union movement which is concentrated in the manufactories of the East and resource mills across non-agrarian regions of the nation. When led from the economic centre, Lewis, Broadbent and Layton won the NDP to its greatest successes; in contrast, the party languished to the point of schism when led from the peripheries (it might be mere happenstance that those doldrums coincided with ‘affirmative action’ leadership, a laudable policy and one which could be said to have inspired more women to run for every party—the conscience of Canadian federal politics striking again). Farmers in the agrarian regions, in contrast, only get as close to unionism as grain marketing boards and wheat pools. Yet it’s instructive to note the distinction between federal and provincial NDP in this respect: there has hardly been a time during the past eight decades when one of the Prairie provinces wasn’t governed by a typically provincial NDP party. We might emphasize that, in spite of the federal NDP’s electoral disappointment in the most recent contest, two Western provinces subsequently elected NDP governments—one for the first time. Neither does the right have a lock on Saskatchewan and Manitoba, both having had important NDP regimes—indeed, even iconic—in the not-so-distant past.

    Let us admit that, again, the two levels of our split loyalty are remarkably distinct, brand-name and federality notwithstanding: When the federal NDP convention (which includes provincial parties) entertained the LEAP manifesto, it wasn’t but a few hours before BC Premier Horgan denounced it categorically.<> We hardly need guess what Alberta’s NDP government thinks of LEAP.

    It’s important to note that the official NDP government opposition to TMX, protecting BC’s inside waters from dilbit spills is being pressed at the very same time Horgan and JT (ostensible TMX enemies) gleefully shake hands on the largest fossil-fuel resource investment deal in Canadian history, the massive LNG export facility in Kitimat, proposed terminus for the failed Northern Gateway dilbit pipeline. This seeming contradiction not only refutes your characterization of NIMBY-“BANANA-ism,” but it is the central political circumstance bedeviling every polity these day, and especially the NDP.

    Global ecological degradation and wealth disparity (and, in many nations, probably-resultant racism, manifest in Canada mainly by the experiences of Aboriginal nations) are challenging every polity. Three decade-old neoliberal usurpation of moribund traditional conservatism has been revealed responsible for much of this global dilemma, and now resorts to extremism in its own discreditation (encapsulated as climate-change denial and racism); Canadian Liberal parties, partly stung by this Geckoid neoliberalism and influenced by refugees from increasingly extreme conservative parties they have accommodated have moved markedly to the right. Electoral frustration in addition to increasing environmental anxieties and dwindling prosperity are being increasingly availed by the Greens whose legitimacy increases regardless the reason voters vote for them, whether for bona fide environmental concerns or incidental, ‘none-of-the-above’ protest votes. Thus, where there appears to be room for the NDP to shoehorn itself into this spectrum, it also finds the ‘paradigm shift’ as trying and divisive as any other party. As Mulcair found out, the party membership rather interprets any drift to the right, even on the general politcal ice-floe moving every party, as cutting its nose off to spite its highly ideological face. At the same time, defending its traditional worker base, a significant part of which works in resource development, seems to have resulted in significant traditional support eroding to the Greens. BC’s NDP is a case in point: to stem some of this trend, it was forced to promise an electoral reform referendum to blunt the BC Greens’ main campaign platform—even though proportional representation would have provided itself little advantage; as it was, the Greens tripled their seats to three and secured the balance of power in the resulting NDP minority government, despite serious policy differences with respect resource development (the Greens may be said to be the NIMBY cats, not the NDP. And pro-rep was convincingly rejected at Referendum). Long mischaracterized as the teleological ‘extreme left’ by its rivals, the NDP is most assuredly, if uncomfortably, bookended by its ideological rivals.

    Today’s question is almost entirely tactical for the NDP: depending on the by-election outcome, the NDP may be forced to consider its longterm strategy, but it will continue to be buffeted by global circumstances like all the other parties. Remind that Avi Lewis’ LEAP is highly contentious within the party—but only at the federal, ‘conscience-of-parliament’ level (it’s been mooted as an issue provincially); as well, the old, scarred warhorse Svend Robinson cut at least some of his teeth on the NPI (New Politics Initiative) he and a small party cabal fomented during a raucous national convention under Alexa Mcdonough’s Leadership, the most serious potential schism since the Waffel. These divisive personalities might work dangerously upon the circumstantial fissure the NDP is already struggling with. In the event Jagmeet loses today’s by-election, the potential for a real mess exists if Mulcair’s ouster is any indication: personally, I’m afraid of what might happen. I was disgusted how the party treated the man who led it to the second highest number of seats in party history, who maintained a significant beachhead in Quebec without which the NDP—like any party—has absolutely no hope of federal success, who whipped Harper’s ass every day in the Commons and who made the NDP the most popular party in the nation for the first time ever. The effectively leadersless party also made an embarrassing hash of the ill-fated electoral reform committee (the NDP contingent headed by the petulant Nathan Cullen whose maudlin tantrums drove polling numbers downward until the committee’s work was done and they began to slowly recover—that is, after he’d been thus shut up). And then members churlishly rebuffed Charlie Angus—easily the most qualified leadership contender—for the shiny, new and painfully novice Mr Singh.

    I remain a member—somewhat begrudgingly (because of some of our BC governmet’s policies)—but understand the difference between federal and provincial parties. The real struggle is always at the provincial level where sovereignty over resources is at and the NDP is a viable contender for government. At the federal level, no matter what happens, I do not expect the NDP to become government: I expect it to be the conscience of parliament and continue to force progressive policy upon the bigger parties. The only way it could ever be different, in my view, is if the Cons self-destructed entirely. But I’m not a dreamer like Harper or many of my party comrades. I see a real future for the NDP.


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