I had to introduce a new category of post for this one, because I didn’t think the term “Jamming” was really appropriate for a topic that I think has serious, actual, real-world consequences. The current leader of Newfoundland and Labrador’s New Democratic Party is stepping down from her post. My old friend Chris Bruce is considering running for the leadership. And if he actually files the papers and signs up, I genuinely think he would make an excellent leader.
|Newfoundland and Labrador's next leader of the NDP.
Frankly, the NDP in the province where I was born and grew up needs the kind of shakeup that being led by a quick-witted, intelligent, idealistic activist would deliver. The provincial party is in a shambles, broken for the last two years by the incompetence of its elected parliamentarians.
Lorraine Michael has been leader of Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial NDP since 2006. She has long been an activist for women’s rights and the poor, and stands for the values that continue to animate that political party. In the provincial election of Fall 2011, her party elected five members to Newfoundland’s 48-seat House of Assembly.
One candidate, Gerry Rogers, defeated a cabinet minister, and the election in one south coast rural district came within less than 50 votes of defeating another. The NDP had more members in the House than in its history, and elected Chris Mitchelmore on the northern peninsula, the party’s first victory outside the capitol city of St. John’s. Michael’s own popularity was eclipsing the Conservative premier and the Liberal opposition leader. The NDP’s fortunes had never looked brighter.
But two years later, everything fell to pieces. Dale Kirby, a member of Michael’s caucus who rose through the provincial NDP from a career in the Canadian Federation of Students,* led the other three MHAs to write a letter calling for a leadership review. Michael responded by airing the entire conflict in the news media. Rogers and George Murphy backed down from the letter’s position (Murphy even cried with remorse in his interview on the subject) after they realized that, according to the rules of the provincial party’s constitution, a leadership review would require Michael to step down.
* Former CFS members are the only people in the NDP that I univocally refuse to trust. The CFS exercises tight top-down control of member unions' messaging, bullies opponents, uses legal action to intimidate local student unions who wish to leave, and has a documented history of corrupt practices to ensure that its loyalists occupy positions of power in member unions. I documented many such instances of CFS bullying and corruption in Newfoundland when I worked for The Muse, and this investigation by University of Toronto’s Varsity revealed current Toronto school board trustee Ausma Malik’s role in rigging a student union election.
I always suspected this letter of being a spectacular failure of a leadership bid from Kirby, that it was his attempt to position himself as the next generation of Newfoundland’s New Democratic leadership, 2013 being Michael’s 70th year. A humiliated Kirby soon left the NDP. He and Mitchelmore sat as independents, then eventually joined the Liberal caucus.
Newfoundland’s NDP was trounced in a series of by-elections over the following two years, all of which have favoured the Liberal party. The caucus revolt made every elected NDP member look like a fool. Michael was clumsy enough to air her party’s dirty laundry in public. Kirby didn’t even know how to lead a proper caucus uprising, and Mitchelmore acts like his lapdog. Rogers and Murphy looked as if they didn’t even know the rules of their own party. Yesterday, Michael announced her resignation.
The NDP needs a completely new approach and image, and a smart activist dedicated to the ideals of progressive politics can deliver. These ideals have changed considerably over the last generation, and I know Chris Bruce well enough to say that he won’t be the same old fart peddling outdated ideas of statist socialism that have already been thoroughly undermined by the neo-liberal think tank network and the hypocritical corruption of old leftist leaders.
Progressive politics in social movements
Occupy. Growing income inequality on a social scale is the outcome of both Conservative and Liberal policies that, informed by Canada’s neo-liberal intellectual establishment, have cut taxes on the wealthy, assaulted workers’ rights, undermined workers’ abilities to organize themselves, destroyed government powers to gather workable data about our society, and slashed services that help people out of poverty. The shrinking demand of a poorer population is slowly hobbling our economy.
The last four years have seen a movement of people who demand that the government protect its most economically vulnerable citizens. Our leaders must understand that prosperity for all does not come from protecting the interests of wealthy and powerful businessmen in the name of economic freedom. Progressive politics must fashion a new social contract with this principle at the heart of our government’s obligations to its people.
End War and Surveillance. At the same time, the power of the state to control its citizens must be kept on the shortest possible leash. The War on Terror has seen our government’s powers to spy on citizens grow exponentially. Progressive politics must refashion the state as the servant of the people, not their controller.
The surveillance state is just one aspect of a growing set of police and military powers that have grown beyond acceptable limits for a democracy. The Harper government has expanded Canada’s prison system at a pace that outstrips its growth in the United States. That country already imprisons a higher percentage of its citizens than the Soviet Union’s gulags at their height. Progressive politics must work to end this system of incarcerated slave labour.
“I Can’t Breathe.” Related to the growth of institutional police power to control citizens is its disproportionate employment to harass, imprison, and kill people of colour and indigenous people. Police organizations and conservative media depict even the mildest criticism of police institutions and practices as sedition and incitement to violence. Progressive politics must reconcile our law enforcement institutions with all citizens to protect the public peace.
Idle No More. The ongoing uprising of indigenous peoples across Canada has the potential to transform our state and society into a more just form. Genuinely repairing the historical and ongoing harm that the Canadian state and people have done to indigenous people requires more than apologies. It requires the reorientation of Canadian society from levels of constitutional frameworks and governance to our individual attitudes.
The Harper government is right that indigenous women go missing at a similar frequency as white women in Canada. But when a white woman disappears, there is an amber alert and the mass mobilization of police and citizens to find her. When an indigenous woman disappears, she’s just another drunk fucking Native lost in the snow. Progressive politics must not rest until all people are truly treated equally.
Another aspect of Idle No More that often goes unremarked is that it is also an environmentalist movement. Unchecked natural resource development, especially bitumen and minerals, can do massive harm to our ecosystems, the living systems that maintain so many of the processes that we need to survive and thrive. Progressive politics must also be an ecological politics.
These are how I understand the principles of the modern left, the genuinely progressive edge of social change. And I think my old friend Chris Bruce is the best person to bring these ideas to the forefront of political discourse in Newfoundland and Labrador as leader of that province’s New Democratic Party.