Friday, May 26, 2006

NDP leadership convention this weekend

This Sunday the social activist, gender equality crusader and community development advocate Lorraine Michael will be handed the weighty responsibility of the NDP leadership. She will be chosen in lieu of perennial candidate for provincial and federal office, writer and social activist Nina Patey.

Like every other political event, this one comes with healthy dose of public hypocrisy and wishful thinking.

This hypocrisy comes in the form of the clear contradiction put forward by the candidates and party officials in their statements about the current state of the party and the outgoing leadership.

On one hand they say "the party needs to grow, needs to organize, needs to be relevant, needs to recruit, needs to do all the things that a political party needs to do in order to entertain political success". Fair enough! Nobody could argue that all these things and more are the very least the party needs to do to avoid irrelevancy.

In the following breath we hear "what a wonderful leader Jack Harris has been".

Kind of makes you wonder what standards were used to come to that conclusion. Particularly since the NDP party, by almost every objective measure (votes, seats, any kind of political influence) has been an unqualified abject failure in provincial terms.

So what has Harris been doing the last 15 years? Now I've already given my thoughts on the Harris political legacy so I don't want to repeat myself but suffice it to say that these accolades for this dearly departing leader can only be explained by the refusal to speak ill of the political dead.

No doubt Jack will shortly go to his appointed reward thanks to the generosity of the Williams administration in gratitude for the uncritical political support he's given on certain hot issues close to the government's heart (Hebron negotiations and the FPI Act amendments). Stay tuned and wait for it.

So where does the wishful thinking come in? It comes in the form of the dream where the NDP party, under the energetic leadership of Lorraine Michael, will supplant the Liberal party as the Official Opposition.

As ready as I am at any given time to make of meal of my words, I will still go out on a limb and conclude that as divided, weak, ineffectual and pathetic an opposition party as the Liberals are right now, the NDP still has no chance to replace them in the foreseeable future.

The reason is simple: the NDP, without substantial internal reform, will remain a novelty party dominated by self-interested labour unions and self-righteous social activists who share an obsession to avoid the political mainstream in favour of lingering in the political margins with their self-satisfaction to keep them warm.

That paradoxical disdain for political power by a political party comes into sharp relief when one sees and hears the cold reception given to successful NDP or NDP-related political luminaries from other jurisdictions. The vitriol of "sell-out" and "traitor" reserved for the likes of Roy Romanow (former NDP premier of Saskatchewan) and Tony Blair (Labour PM of Great Britain) is heard way too frequently from too many corners of the NDP. Just look at the disrespect given Blair by the federal NDP caucus when he spoke to the House of Commons where he gave short-shrift to the anti-globalization movement.

As long as the NDP would rather be right than win, they will stay a party of conscience with no chance of real power.

Will this change under Lorraine Michael? Sadly, from all I've seen so far, it seems not. Ms. Michael seems to come from the same circle of ernest social activists on which the party has always relied for supporters, workers and candidates. Her selection as leader does not reflect any desire for the party to take this opportunity to expand beyond that narrow ideological base.

Experience so far has shown that this narrow ideological base is no foundation on which to gain seats, and therefore power.

The irony is that the leadership of Lorraine Michael will likely represent a further narrowing of the political base from what it was before under Jack Harris. This only underscores the great missed opportunity represented by Harris: that he was smart enough and sufficiently bland and inoffensive (with that glaring exception of that misadvised personal shot during the mayorality race that was harsh enough to engender popular sympathy for even Andy Wells of all people) to form an effective political coalition by adding to the party's political base. And he didn't.

In other words, expect more of the same, and therefore less, than what we've seen from the NDP so far.

Too bad.

I would have preferred to see Peg Norman in there.

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