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THE NDP AND JAGMEET SINGH: THE PARTY THAT FAILED ME

A fraudulent intent, however carefully concealed at the outset, will generally, in the end, betray itself. — Livy

Since a politician never believes what he says, he is always astonished when other do. – Charles de Gaulle

Frank A. Pelaschuk

I have been a lifelong supporter of the NDP. Take my word for it, that’s a lot of years as a voter, sometime paid member, occasional volunteer worker, and donor. There have been times that I have wavered, unhappy with the direction of the party as when Ed Broadbent refused to step up with the majority of Canadians in opposition to free trade during the 1988 election. Even so, the NDP gained the most seats in its history up to that moment and the Conservatives, who favoured free trade, won notwithstanding the declared voter antipathy to “free” trade. I liked Broadbent as did many Canadians but as an individual rather than a leader. I believed him, and still do, decent, well-meaning but too middle of the road, definitely no Tommy Douglas.

But Broadbent seemed part of a trend as exemplified by British Columbia’s Mike Harcourt who had become provincial leader of the NDP in 1986 and Premier in 1991. It was Harcourt’s appearance on, I believe, CBC’s Crosscountry Checkup, that convinced me the NDP was heading in a direction that may have begun with Ontario’s Bob Rae in the early 70s that I found difficult to reconcile. When asked by the host if he was a “democratic socialist”, Harcourt offered the telling response, “I’m a democrat.” When the host repeat the question, he offered the same response. I found it shocking that a leader of a party based on democratic socialist principles, my party, would, publicly and on air, refuse to acknowledge the party’s socialist roots. Enraged, I immediately wrote him a letter and mailed it to NDP headquarters. A few weeks later, I received a phone call. It was Harcourt wanting to address my concerns. We spoke for close to thirty minutes and my remembrance of the conversation is that it was pleasant but unsatisfactory. I was surprised and pleased that he had taken time from his schedule to respond but I was dismayed that my party leader (I was a member then) would disavow his “socialist” roots. I don’t mean to suggest I believe Broadbent is of the same stripe, nor was he then; if asked the same question, he would have answered. But, unless called to, I suspect he and the party preferred not to draw attention the the “socialist” aspect. I realize now, that, as with Ujjal Dosangh and Bob Rae, the “roots”, if existent, were certainly not deep.

The Harcourt appearance on CBC not only exposed my naïveté, it also woke me up somewhat. The ground had shifted. It wasn’t belief, principles, ideas or ideals that really mattered to some; it was all about the main chance: What’s in it for me.

The idea of the NDP as the “conscience” of the nation had gone by the wayside; the party and its inner circle were, it seemed and still seems to me, less interested in seeing implemented the goals so long hungered for and fought for by grassroots members than snatching victory by compromise and capitulation as Mulcair sought to do in the last election when the NDP, incredulous at its good fortune, truly began to believe victory was within its grasp; for the jaded stalwarts there was hope and excitement, yes, but also wariness, they’ve been down this road before and were used at most to occasionally holding the balance of power in minority governments which allowed opportunity for a real way of leveraging a path towards accomplishing some of their important goals; it was better than nothing. But if satisfying, perhaps not satisfying enough.

It was a long, gradual road of decline, I guess: too many losses, weak leaders, weak platforms. And then Jack. Jack. Jack.

Oh, what might have been! What if…what if…

But Layton, decent, vigorous, dogged… and middle of the road… was gone and there was Mulcair and there was the NDP doing so well, thanks to Layton’s legacy, and all but certain fall of the Harper conservatives. And then, and then…god no! A bolt of lightening, the clap of thunder and THE HANDSOME PRINCE.

Even so, there was a real shot of winning. Better programs, better ideas, better…well, okay, the NDP had no HANDSOME PRINCE but a solid performer in the House and a good grasp of his politics in Mulcair…god it smelled so good, you could almost taste it, feel it…victory! So tantalizing, so alluring, so insidious and corruptive. Mulcair knew it was his for the taking that brass ring, it was just there, just so, so close. He and his handlers wanted it to happen, wanted to ensure it would happen so they came up with a plan: Just promise Canadians what they claim is one of the most important items they want from government. Easy! So he and party did, not only veering right and ceding to the liberals what was generally considered NDP territory, he resoundingly snatched defeat from the jaws of an all but certain victory by promising balanced budgets during a slumping economy. Trudeau, sitting on god’s lap, shrewdly and ecstatically, seized the opportunity to declare he would run deficits to help Canadians recover from the depredations of the Harper regime. For me, the Mulcair declaration was stunning; for the NDP, that capitulation would prove mind-numbingly catastrophic.

Still, even then, I saw hopes of an NDP recovery because, while willing to give Trudeau a chance, I really did not believe he would go through with the electoral reform and many other of his grandiose promises uttered in the manner of a smug brat crossing his arms and puffing out his chest declaring: Look at me! Aren’t I the clever boy?

It wouldn’t take long, I believed, for disillusioned soft liberals and new democrats who bought the split vote nonsense to realize the errors of their ways and return to their usual state of torpor. When he proved himself willing to flaunt conflict of interests regulations time and time again I figured that was it, Trudeau would be toast. How much of the venal, opportunistic, cynical, and cloying phony would Canadians endure?

A lot, evidently.

The NDP fall has been swift and graceless. Mulcair was unceremoniously dumped as leader and replaced by Trudeau-lite Jagmeet Singh. I don’t like the real phony and had no issue with the facsimile except for the fact he was a facsimile. Is this what the NDP had fallen to, pinning hopes on the schmoozing Trudeau bandwagon of youth, looks and apparent charisma oozing, simply oozing charm of cloying sincerity proving himself a feminist, human rights, man-of-the-people of every colour, stripe, need, want, and self-identifying label crusader? Since I don’t buy the Trudeau brand of phony, feel-good hypocrisy why should I Singh’s? But, okay, give the man a chance, he deserves that at least.

Was the NDP membership seeking to offer in a turban-wearing Sikh proof of it’s progressiveness? Good, go with that. But what I also want is a leader who is effective, honest, and non-equivocal and loaded with ideas more than I want the charm à la Trudeau. Well, I haven’t heard much from Singh regarding ideas, programs, his stand on poverty, healthcare, pharmacare, education, homelessness, seniors, veterans. Hell, he is not even an elected member of parliament. If he hadn’t made headlines for reasons that cause me to really doubt the NDP choice to lead the party let alone the country, the NDP and Singh would be all but invisible.

Of particular concern to me are two issues. The first of these was a result of his appearance for an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics by Terry Milewski acting as guest host. When asked, four times, “Is it acceptable for Talwinder Singh Parmar to be held up as a martyr and have posters of him displayed in a positive manner?” (CBC, Power & Politics, Dec. 6, 2017) Singh refused to answer the question except in the vaguest of terms. The astonishing thing that came from this, apart from his non answer, was the blowback from the politically correct for Milewski with suggestions he was a racist. To the PCs, it was immaterial that Singh could not and would not respond to the question, Milewski was a racist. Then the Globe and Mail (March 13, 2018) reported that Singh had attended a San Francisco rally honouring Sikh separatist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who, depending on which side of the line one stands, is or is not, a terrorist. Singh did not answer questions from the Globe and Mail regarding why he attended. Vague answers to direct questions, poor judgement in whom he supports: these are not hallmarks of a leader let alone a merely adequate leader.

When I saw that interview with Milewski, I fired off an email to Singh making plain my unhappiness with his failure to respond to a fair question.

No response from Singh or the NDP.

The other episode which deeply troubles me is Jagmeet Singh’s mishandling, and that’s what it is, of the allegations of harassment of staffers laid against NDP MP Erin Weir by a third party, fellow MP Christine Moore. What the actual accusations are remain unclear but Weir was immediately suspended from caucus and a third-party investigation by University of Ottawa law professor Michelle Flaherty. Weir apparently welcomed the investigations but denied the allegations claiming them “trumped up” because of his stand in 2016 regarding carbon pricing. Until Weir spoke, there were signs he would be welcomed back to the fold but that changed. Weir was no longer suspended but expelled. Said Singh following those comments, and this may provide a hint of the real reason for his expulsion:“Yesterday, he challenged the findings of the investigation and attacked a person who came forward with the complaint. He also revealed details that could identify the complainant. So for that reason, I cannot be confident in his ability to be rehabilitated (Global News, May 3, 2018).”

Weir was booted from caucus found to have failed to pick up on “social cues”. He accepts that may have happened. While the investigation found evidence of one count of harassment and three of sexual harassment based on hearsay and, from some accounts, misunderstandings, none seem to suggest sexual harassment the way I see it: sexual overtures, groping, touching, suggestive gestures and the like; Weir is a big man and evidently intimidating in appearance. He admits to being socially awkward and did apologize to those he may have discomfited. He agreed to attend remedial treatment with the understanding he would be allowed to return to caucus. He did and from reports, his trainer cleared him saying Weir “gets it”. If there is evidence of inappropriate behaviour, not just “heated” arguments over NDP policy, they must be made public. What is indecent is the public lynching of a man for unspecified crimes open to broad interpretations by anonymous accusers working through a third party. Weir deserves better and Singh and the NDP should have done better beginning with a formal complaint.

Since his expulsion, Weir has sought to be reinstated in the NDP caucus only to be informed by Jagmeet Singh on Sept. 6, 2018 that that would not happen. Not only was there no fair hearing or procedure applied, evidently there is no redemption as far as Singh and the NDP is concerned.

So what is really going on? What was hinted at in Singh’s comments above, seems to be fully developed by Sheila Malcolmson, NDP Women’s Equality Critic, in an appearance on CBC’s Power & Politics on the same day Weir’s expulsion was made final. On the program, she says that Weir, in originally speaking out against the expulsion May 1st, shortly after the allegations became public, had said “some outrageous things about our caucus leaders and the complainants”. In doing so he had sealed his own fate. In other words, you don’t criticize the leadership of the party (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/jagmeet-singh-ndp-erin-weir-1.4812955). And that’s what likely did Weir in.

Over the span of this sordid affair, I have written to Singh and the NDP voicing my concern over the lack of due process accorded Erin Weir. There wasn’t even a formal complaint put forth! I have received no response. That seems to be the standard with the NDP these days.

Christine Moore, the third party who had brought all this about, was herself faced with a sexual harassment allegation by ex-soldier Glen Kirkland who met Moore when testifying at hearing in which she was a member. She was suspended, cleared, though admitting to a sexual encounter. Different outcome. The records are sealed. The finding was the encounter was consensual. That’s good for Moore. But what of Weir who was cleared as “getting it” and, as far as is known, only crime seems to have been of being a big man standing too close to people who may have felt uncomfortable. That’s no justification for the public character assassination and lynching that took place.

I make no claim to knowing the whole story, but I know this: I am very unhappy with the way Jagmeet Singh handled this. If there is more to it, make it public. If not, for decency’s sake, bring an end to Weir’s misery. What I don’t understand is this: After all that Singh, Moore, the NDP leadership has put him through, why would Weir wish to rejoin the NDP? To me, the leadership seem to live by a double standard that is hypocritical and unworthy of a party that I have long supported.

Singh has not only succumbed to the allure of political correctness; he and the party have followed a grossly unfair process in handling sexual harassment claims. Weir may be socially awkward. He may have made mistakes. He admitted to them. He may even be guilty of terrible things. But we don’t know. There is a veil of secrecy that serves neither the NDP, the accusers and certainly not Weir. My knowledge of him is that he has been a decent, hardworking member of the party since he was thirteen years of age. His appearances on TV suggest a young, intelligent, sincere, and earnest individual. The fact that a letter signed by 68 NDP members demanding he be reinstated surely must indicate something of his character and the NDP process they believe flawed.

If that letter receives the same response as mine have over the last nine months, the signatories can expect zero response. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

As long as Singh, Sheila Malcolmson and all the others behind the public lynching of Erin Weir remain, I am through with the NDP.

The party has lost its way. In fact, I feel that no party or politician speaks to me or for me; the conservatives are just mean and the liberals, well, they are just like everyone else I guess, out for the main chance. I am saddened that my party is losing money and that next election at least seven MPs will not run including, David Christopherson, Helené Laverdière, Roméo Saganash, Linday Duncan, and Irene Mathyssen. Is it all on Singh? I think not. Party strategists must be held accountable. One has to wonder about a leader who removes party stalwart David Christopherson for voting against Trudeau’s initiative requiring those applying for funding for Canada Summer Jobs program to disavow their opposition to abortion on religious grounds. Christopherson, a pro-choice proponent, clearly believes one should not be punished on matters of conscience. Phony, feel-good politically correct push-button issues may be for Trudeau and Trudeau-lite but what about integrity, respecting those who actually understand what it means to stand on principle?

The next time a politician or a party asks for your input or ideas, see what happens when you take them up on it. It’s not ideas or input they want. What they want is your gullibility, your vote and your dollars.

Well, those days of giving are over for me. I am tired of being conned, lied to, and treated as a sucker by all parties. I am not surprised that liberals and conservatives treat voters that way; I am that the NDP has joined them.

I am not leaving the party; the party has abandoned me. I am not fearful of the word “socialism” as in “democratic socialism”. Cowards and snobs turn their backs on their roots. And I am not shamed by the thought of a party with a conscience, that believes in decency. Under Singh and today’s NDP leadership, even fairness has taken a beating. That’s just not right.

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But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

2 responses

  1. A very interesting posting Frank. I have come to the conclusion that all political parties in Canada have embraced neliberalism. All 3 parties share this agenda. Socialism is now a dirty word. The only socialists in Canada are the Canadian people themselves.They are yet to realize though, that their government, no matter from which party, is dismantling their welfare state. Not any of the parties are supporting policies that are of interest to Canadians. We’re on own.

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    • Absolutely right, Pamela. I am very pleased you are posting more articles. I not only look forward to reading them but I’m looking for cues on how to parse what I write to 800 words. When that happens, I might break down and have a glass of milk. Thanks again and let me know when you post more articles.

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