Hard Truths for the Canadian Left, Advocate, 12/04/2016

I think this week is going to consist pretty much entirely of blogs about the future of Canada’s New Democratic Party. It’s pretty easy for a guy with a blog to talk about issues of national politics. In most cases, bloggers just kind of blow smoke out their asses about it.

Unless we’re published on fairly well-trafficked forums like HuffPo, VICE, Brietbart, the Atlantic, or something of that ilk. Then at least we’re pressured to have done some research before blowing smoke out of our asses.

But when it comes to the future of Canada’s official social democratic political party, I actually have some skin in the game and a little minor influence. I am the Vice-President of a district association, after all. Not exactly a major leadership position – but I have a little institutional grease along my wheels.*

* That sounds really dirty for some reason.

I see two issues that are going to cause some major splits and problems for the NDP and for Canadian progressive social movements more broadly. I’ll talk about the most obvious one first, the one that the two actually important speeches at last weekend’s convention threw into sharp relief.

Rachel Notley threw down the gauntlet regarding the LEAP
Manifesto, dismissing its calls for a petroleum-free
economy and industry an utter disaster of naïveté. The
NDP won't literally split as an organization over this,
because it will never literally adopt LEAP, only use it
as a launching point to build a more ambitious
environmentalism platform. But we're already in
danger from some problematic optics simply for
talking about it.
Workers vs The World

For quite a few years, I had a feeling this fight would appear among Canadian progressives for a while. It’s a tension that exists in all alliances generally called left-wing. The NDP is now in open conflict between its commitments to workers’ rights and the environment.

Everyone is talking about how Rachel Notley slammed the LEAP Manifesto as nonsense that’s purposely designed – at least in part – to destroy the entire economy of Alberta. As Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis would say, they’re worried about Earth, which is both bigger than and includes Alberta.

But the best quote of the whole affair so far goes to Alberta labour activist Gil McGowan, who the CBC is so glad to have caught on air. “These downtown Toronto political dilettantes come to Alberta and track their garbage across our front lawn.”

Other sources have spent more time analyzing this split already, and I’m sure it’ll be a major part of the philosophical debates that will energize the NDP over the next two years. 

It even has the angle of each side’s leading spokespeople including members of New Democrat political dynasties: Rachel Notley, daughter of Grant, who carries the prestige of having won government in Alberta; and Avi Lewis, son of Stephen and grandson of David.** Starting their dustup at a convention moderated by Rebecca Blaikie, daughter of Bill.

** And great-grandson of Moishe, who pre-dated the NDP’s existence. I mean, holy shit, this family of activism goes back a ways.

Avi Lewis, youngest heir of a four-generation dynasty
of political activism from Russia to Canada, with his
wife Naomi Klein, who is a much better writer and
philosopher than he is.
Icelandic sagas aside, this fight expresses a tension that has always existed in the Western left since its modern social movement started. Environmentalism is fundamentally about the radical transformation of industry so that it doesn’t produce pollution or irreversible planetary damage anymore. And a lot of workers’ jobs and livelihoods depend on industry staying just the way it is.

Now this tension has exploded all over the Edmonton convention, and we can finally get it all sorted out in the open. Providing we’re actually creative enough.

We Need to Talk About Quebec

As I said yesterday, Tom Mulcair’s central role in organizing the NDP’s massive victory in Quebec in 2011 gave him the political capital to lead and win the race for the federal party’s leadership. Well, it was the loss of two-thirds of those Quebecois NDP seats that helped send him packing out of the leadership last weekend.

And we should be clear about why. There was one central issue that crippled the NDP’s and Mulcair’s support in Quebec last year: whether women can wear a niqab in their citizenship ceremonies. 

There were only two places where this really had traction: the Conservative party’s own base of hardcore nationalist supporters, as expected, and among the general population of Quebec, especially outside Montreal, as was terrifying. 

If you thought racist nationalism in Quebec was on the way out just because the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois were humiliatingly defeated over the last few years, you were dead wrong. 

Racist incidents against Muslims and Jews has risen in Quebec recently. This is a dangerous social problem that Canadians have to face as an important aspect of preserving and improving our institutional and social unity and ethics. 

Blatantly anti-Semitic graffiti discovered earlier this
month
in the Montreal suburb of Laval.
We cannot let racism remain part of mainstream culture in any part of Canada. Quebec must be a central vector for anti-racist activism from the NDP and all other related movements in the future.

Let’s be clear about the main causes of the 2011 NDP Quebec victory: Tom Mulcair’s ground game organizing throughout the province, and the public love of Jack Layton after his appearance on Tout le Monde en Parle

We can now add one important condition: nobody talked about the NDP’s commitment to multiculturalism, diversity, and cultural-ethnic integration to the point of miscegenation. Indeed, its embrace of miscegenation, with inter-ethnic marriages and relationships being utterly normal and a point of pride in modern Canada. 

Inter-ethnic marriages like Jack Layton’s with Chinese-Canadian Olivia Chow and Tom Mulcair’s with Sephardic Jew Catherine Pinhas. 

The NDP achieved something amazing in Quebec, helping break the dominance that nationalist separatist political parties have held on that province’s politics for two decades. 

The good news is that, even though the NDP lost many seats in Quebec last year, no one political party dominated its representation. Many NDP seats remained, and while the BQ won several more, the Liberals and Conservatives also made gains. Quebec’s time of mass-scale political allegiance seems finally over.

The bad news is that virulent, violent racism remains quite popular in Quebec. At least a sizeable minority of Quebecois are disgusted at the prospect of integrating their society with non-white ethnicities and (despite widespread secularism and contempt for the Catholic Church) non-Christian cultures. This hatred must be fought.

The NDP must be on the vanguard of anti-racist activism in Quebec. In purely mercenary terms, NDP support will grow with the end of racism in Quebec. In ethical and moral terms, racism must end. Full stop.

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