Frank A. Pelaschuk
“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman
What does it mean when a party attempts to rebrand itself? The NDP did that over the weekend (April 12-14) making a few changes to the preamble of its constitution. In doing so, the NDP has set out to distance itself from its Socialist roots. For those lifelong supporters, some of it must have hurt. They had been told, more or less, that the ideas they had brought to the party and the ideas they had fought for were now old and tired. Or course there is denial that that is so. Said Mulcair of the changes, “it’s a way of communicating the modernization of the party.” He further stated that it was not a move to the centre but a way of “bringing the centre to the party” (Citizen, April 15, 2013). That is one way of looking at it. It’s also a crock.
For good or ill, the NDP has, from its CCF days, been a distinct voice. It has never governed the country, but its influence has been enormous and we are a better nation for it. However, over the years, something has happened to the party. There were some working from the inside that were not content that the NDP be relegated to the sidelines while Conservatives and Liberals often stole and took credit for their ideas. Perhaps most galling was the thought that the public might actually believe the party was “fringe” (i.e., unelectable as a governing party). So, today, we have a slightly different NDP. Having reached official opposition status, having smelled power without tasting it, it is heady stuff indeed and leaves the party and its supporters wanting more. In fact, they want it all. Therein lies the problem for the “government in waiting”. So close to achieving its goals, perhaps forgetting or simply in denial that the present NDP success was largely the success of one man, the late, much loved Jack Layton, NDPers appear to actually believe they will form the next government. In initiating the changes, they will claim they are continuing the work of Layton. I do not doubt they believe that. But why should it necessitate turning its back on its Socialist roots? Must ideas and ideals play second fiddle to the more ambitious goal of winning?
Socialism is neither a dirty word nor a dirty idea. Free market lovers like Harper and his thugs will tell you otherwise throwing up a trail of fairy dust lies that are meant to confuse and frighten. They will tell you that Socialism is to be feared, that it is Communism, that it is godless, that it advocates murder through abortion, that it will lead to dictatorship, that it’s anti-market, that it means confiscation of property and the privatization of everything, that it will lead to the end to individualism, that it cares more for criminals and pedophiles than victims, and that it leads to laziness and welfare bums living high off the State. Too many of us are buying it. It’s nonsense, a big lie. Of course, those Harper free enterprisers would have us ignore those corporate welfare bums to whom they are so beholden, those leeches with their ceaseless demands for lower taxes, increased tax deferments, and even more gifts of public funding even as they hypocritically demand that governments not interfere in the market. They would have us ignore that those same bums demand, and get, public funds to set up business and hire workers with the implicit threat of pulling stakes if they don’t get their way. And the likes of Harper and gang would have us ignore that in times of crisis, as in 2008, those corporate blackmailers, those unpunished pieces of garbage who created the crisis in the first place and ruined the lives of millions, would have the public bail them out with billions of taxpayer monies in the full, smug certainty of knowing that they are “too big to fail.” Yet calls for regulation is labelled “Socialistic” and “Communistic”.
Still, the suckers vote for Harper and gang, swallowing the bilge that they are superb money managers, that they know what’s good for the country. Capitalism is the answer; what’s good for Business is good for Canada. Tell that to Canadian workers displaced by foreign temps or whose jobs are outsourced by CEOs who make millions off the backs of cheap labour and Canadian taxpayers. All of this happening with the help of Harper and thugs.
So why do voters keep buying that old Conservative line when the gap between the wealthy and the poor keeps widening, when the wages of workers has the same purchasing power of the 70s? For such as those, the words of Irene Peter would appear to fit: “Ignorance is no excuse — it’s the real thing.” The thing is, for those willing to listen and understand and be persuaded, ignorance is not necessarily a permanent state. It is, alas, for others, those individuals who refuse to listen or will not be persuaded, preferring the blindness of darkness to the wisdom of light: that’s stupidity and for stupidity there is no remedy. So why is it that even the NDP seems bent on buying, if even only a little, into the myth of Harper Conservatism. Well, it could be it helps win votes.
It is not that the NDP is jumping whole hog into the swill. Rather, it’s tepidly inching its way into the barrel. It is not totally denouncing its Socialist roots, its simply muting its voice, as if ashamed. Mulcair and the NDP have bought into the lie that Socialism is a bugaboo word and, in doing so, have all but guaranteed they will never be the governing party of Canada. How can any party be taken seriously when it turns its back on its own pioneer people and their core beliefs? Mulcair says nothing has changed, that the NDP is, at the core, the same party. But how can that be? How can the party still be a party of conscience and principle when it has decided those beliefs and values of the past are not quite good enough for today’s politics?
The changes to the NDP constitution preamble may seem harmless and insignificant. They have been initiated to soften the NDP image, to make the party appear less threatening, less “radical”, more “business friendly”. It may work in today’s world, appealing only to the young or the ignorant, the know-nothings, the kind of people who haven’t a clue and swallow everything that the likes of Harper have to offer. Ignoring evidence and science, Harper appeals to the basest instincts in us preying on our fears and ignorance when it comes to crime and panders to the worst in us when he attacks the unemployed, the mentally ill, and refugee claimants as abusers of Canadian generosity. And it may work for those who turn on a dime to a famous name and a younger more attractive package. For the bubble-headed know-nothings, it’s glitz and noise that’s important, not what the package has to offer or to say. Appealing to such may be good for votes but not much else. Those voters are thoughtless and reckless and cannot be relied upon. The NDP would do better to seek the thoughtful constituent, the voter who wants to be informed, who is willing to try something new provided he is given enough reason to do so. Appealing to the lowest in us may get you elected, but don’t we already have enough of that with Harper and anti-Democratic crowd.
There is nothing wrong with the NDP or any party reaching out in hopes of attracting more supporters. What is wrong is a party that sells itself short to do so. It is dishonest and disrespectful of members. It also does little to respect those thoughtful supporters it hopes to gain. Instead of distancing itself from its Socialist roots, the party should embrace and celebrate it and set about educating the public about what it means to be a New Democrat and a Socialist.
It’s a mug’s game to pretend to be what you are not. It only works for the ignorant and uninformed or truly stupid. This “do-anything-to-win” attitude belongs to the likes of Harper and his fellow snake oil salesmen. For him and his gang, no dirty trick is too dirty, too low, or too vile not to be used. A day after Justin Trudeau was elected as Liberal leader we were treated to an example of this with attack ads on the young man. One of the ads was simply silly and reveals a Conservative party that is unimaginative and desperate. But the other was far, far more serious because the ad was a complete and utter lie of the same vile tripe used against Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. It was from an old file depicting a young Justin Trudeau speaking on something his father had said. It was offensive and it was an absolute distortion. And it was deliberate. But that is how Harper and his gang of knaves work. He believes in the market and he is convinced that voters are really, really stupid. Thus far, on the last, the voters have proven him right.
Eventually, the electorate will have enough of Harper and gang and will throw them into the garbage bin of history where they belong. But where will the NDP end?
Why would anyone now vote for it? Moving to the centre may earn it more votes, but it is a diminished party, a party that has compromised itself. It appears the NDP no longer wishes to stand fast with its old supporters. For years, the NDP accomplished much without getting elected. No doubt it could accomplish more if it became the governing party. But what price should it pay for that end? For years, the NDP had drifted more and more to the right. For this writer, it has become increasingly more difficult to vote for it. Now, it is almost impossible. Holding one’s nose is hardly satisfactory.