NDP ELECTIONWATCH 2017: The Indifferent Layperson’s Guide to the New Democratic Party Leadership Race (1/2)

Oh god, what did I do to deserve this???

The Canadian Left is having a rough go of it lately, publicity-wise. The leaderless New Democratic Party is currently wanting for media attention while its two rivals, the Liberals and Conservatives, currently hogging the spotlight due to the formers’ incredibly photogenic and popular leader/prime minister, and the latter’s frighteningly comical flirtations with insanity. Coming off one of the more damaging political defeats in their history and consistently polling at just under 20% of popular support, the NDP has found itself groping wildly for any sort of identity beyond “The Liberals, but angrier”. The good news is that this new identity may be on the way in the form of a new leader to replace the outgoing Tom Mulcair, who will retire from politics after serving as the replacement for party legend Jack Layton.

What’s that? Didn’t you know the NDP was having a leadership election? That’s okay. Neither did 99% of Canadians. It’s hard for a third party to jockey for attention when pretty much all the candidates agree on everything, especially while the two bigger parties are either having their leader fellated in a Rolling Stone article or having their own leadership election in which the main point of contention appears to be “screaming at each other over whether or not brown people are worthy of basic human decency”.

Unfortunately for any interested parties who are just hearing about the voting (which I suspect constitutes most of the interested parties. You would think that those annoying pleas for donations would’ve amounted to something resembling prominent advertising) it’s too late to sign up for party membership, and the leadership election itself has begun, with the first ballot results expected to be revealed on Sunday, October 1 but if you are eligible to vote and plan on doing so, or if you just have some time to kill before soul-crushing reality rears its ugly head again, this handy-dandy two-post guide (because approximately zero people can be arsed to read one 7000+ word post) should prove informative, with the second part coming out sometime tomorrow.  

Part One: What’s an NDP?

Before I get right into this mess, we need a tiny bit of backstory. Those of you unfortunate enough to be less well-versed in the magnificent clusterfuck that is the Canadian political system probably have little to no idea what I’m talking about when I refer to the NDP. Am I talking about Net Domestic Product? The abbreviation for the Norrie Disease Protein linked to the genetic disorder known as the Norrie Disease, which always results in blindness? 

Former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party?

The New Democratic Party (or NDP), is one of the three major political parties on the Canadian political scene, along with the Liberal Party (think the Canadian equivalent of the American Democratic Party or the British Liberal Democratic Party) and the Conservative Party (think the a less unhinged Republican Party or the British Conservative Party).

Originally conceived in 1932 as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a democratic socialist party dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist system, the NDP was formally born in 1961 as an effort to moderate the image of the party. Nowadays, they exemplify the ideology of “social democracy”: attempting to renew the Canadian political system through an adoption of left-wing, socialist principles and reforms, while still conserving the capitalist Social Market economy, albeit with much harsher regulations than either of its rivals. Non-Canadians: Think American progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or most members of the British Labour Party.

In practice, the NDP is a more-or-less united front of moderate progressives, trade unionists, environmentalists, democratic socialists, urban intellectuals, and social justice activists: An alliance that only occasionally tries to blow itself up from the inside out. While New Democrats have had success forming provincial governments in every province and territory besides Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories at some point in their history, they have never won a federal election. They have left their mark on Canada though, mostly through pressuring Liberal minority governments to accept some left-of-centre policy, most famously the adoption of universal health care. Very rarely have they attained more power than the Liberals or Conservatives, but they have always done well enough not to fall into obscurity. Essentially, the NDP are to Canadian federal politics what the 1994-2014 Toronto Blue Jays were to the American League East.

That may be the stupidest fucking sentence ever written.

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Also, this exists.

 

Part Two: How Did We Get Into This Mess???

TL;DR

In the 2011 federal election, something wonderful happened for the NDP. Under the leadership of the charismatic Jack Layton, the New Democrats experienced a surge, jumping from 36 seats to 103, mainly by way of dominating the vote in Quebec, taking 59 of a possible 75 ridings in the province. Passing the beleaguered Liberal Party and the flailing Bloc Québécois, the NDP took second place to Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in the House of Commons, becoming the Official Opposition for the first time in their history. Barring some unforeseen tragedy, it was a brave new world for Canadian politics.

But then, unforeseen tragedy struck, as it usually does when it is foreshadowed like that. Layton, a survivor of prostate cancer, developed a new, unspecified form of cancer. He took a leave of absence from the House of Commons on July 25, 2011, hoping to return in September of that year. John Gilbert “Jack” Layton died in his Toronto home on August 22, 2011. He was 61 years old.

In accordance with Layton’s final wishes, the party held a leadership election in March of 2012 to decide his successor. Candidates included veteran MPs Paul Dewar, Nathan Cullen and Peggy Nash, longtime union man and party consigliere Brian Topp, and a young MP from Churchill named Niki Ashton.

Keep an eye on that last one, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from her later.

In the end, though, the election held no surprises. Former Quebec Liberal Minister of the Environment and current NDP MP for Outremont Tom Mulcair was elected leader, beating Topp on the final ballot. While some within the party worried that Mulcair’s reputation as a political moderate didn’t bode well for the NDP’s reputation as the sole major left-wing voice in parliament, Mulcair turned out to be a fierce Leader of the Opposition and constant thorn in the side of the Harper government, as well as a strong role model for fellow grizzly bears everywhere.

Prove me wrong.

Mulcair’s performances in Question Period, as well as the Liberal Party’s weak presence in the House of Commons under their newly elected leader Justin Trudeau, led to dividends in the polls for the NDP, and by the time the campaign for the 2015 federal election began, the NDP had entered a three-way tie with the Conservatives and Liberals, going so far as to actually take the lead going into the middle of the campaign. October 19 couldn’t come soon enough for ecstatic Canadian lefties eager to welcome their new Kodiak overlord.

Then disaster struck, as is the tradition for New Democrats. In spite of Mulcair’s performances in the House of Commons, his performance on the campaign trail turned out to be less than stellar. It didn’t help that Canadians seemed to perceive him less as the benevolent two-faced sociopath that you want in a prime minister, and more like the gruff, well-intentioned uncle who’s not super great at showing affection. The NDP also failed to capitalize on the collapse in the Harper government’s popular support and distinguish themselves as the logical progressive successor to nine years of Conservative rule. The party ran with a surprisingly centrist platform that was disappointingly toothless for those on the left, and tough to distinguish from the resurgent Liberal Party’s platform, which didn’t help to sway more moderate progressives who were swayed to vote for the Liberals.

A disappointing passivity pervaded the NDP campaign too, with very little being done to dissuade the Liberal-favouring “Anybody But Conservative” campaign. The Conservatives barely gave them any thought, instead focusing all their mental energy on trying to paint 43-year old veteran MP and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as an inexperienced child. A winning strategy, if ever there was one.

Though it did provide possibly the greatest meme in Canadian political history.

When the dust cleared, the Harper Conservatives were defeated, but it was not the NDP and its ursine MP from Outremont sitting on the Beaver Pelt Throne, but a majority Liberal government led by the photogenic son of Pierre Trudeau.  The NDP was once again relegated to a distant third place. Their support in Quebec had mostly migrated to the Liberals, and they went from 103 seats to 44 nationwide. Whether justified or not, the knives were out for Tom Mulcair.

One half-hearted attempt at holding on to power later and the knives found their target at the Party’s convention in Edmonton on April 10, 2016. The delegates to the convention voted to hold a new leadership election in September and October of 2017. Mulcair agreed to stay on as interim leader until then, and we were off to the races. A year and a few months of Liberal government and one Conservative electoral freak show later, and here we are, wondering who’s gonna lead Canada’s third biggest party into an election that they have almost no hope of winning. Also, unfortunately, here I am writing about it. It’s funny the way life works out sometimes. I thought I was gonna be a baseball player ten years ago, but here we are.

I think I’m gonna need another drink or twelve.

Part Three: So, Who Are These People???

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of most of the people that have presented themselves as leadership candidates. Even most vaguely politically-savvy Canadians only have the mental space to remember the names and some superficial details of three or four politicians at a time (the “Guy You Like”, “The Guy You Hate”, “The Guy You Hate Even More” and, for those more knowledgeable than the average, “Elizabeth May”). Even I had to do some research on these nerds, and I spend way more time than is socially acceptable on r/canadapolitics. It’s a good thing my friends and family have cut ties with me. That means I can afford to spend a lot more time yelling at strangers online about why their opinion whether or not the monarchy is obsolete and stupid and wrong. It’s a fulfilling life that I lead.

Did I mention I thought I was gonna be a baseball player?

Anyway, before getting into the people actually in contending, let’s do a quick rundown of some folks who entered the race, but have since dropped out for one reason or another. At the risk of losing the interest of anybody who’s just waiting for me to shut the hell up and get to the people actually running, here they are!!!

Cheri DiNovo- Ontario MPP for Parkdale-High Park (Since 2006)

DiNovo is a member of the Ontario Parliament from the GTA, a minister from the United Church of Canada, and a self-professed democratic socialist, as well as the first candidate to officially register for the race in June 2016. However, she dropped out of the race just two months later after suffering two small strokes. She ended up endorsing Niki Ashton and does not intend to stand for re-election to the Ontario Parliament in 2018 as of right now.

Pat Stogran (Veteran’s Ombudsman- 2007-10)

This was kind of a bizarre one. Stogran is a retired colonel of the Canadian Armed Forces, and a veteran of the conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. After his service, he was appointed Canada’s first Veteran Ombudsman (essentially, a federally-funded advocate for veterans’ causes), and was a relentless critic of the Harper government, to the point where Veterans Affairs Canada decided not to renew his appointment. Stogran came out of retirement to run for leader of the NDP, campaigning under the generically populist message of getting rid of “Politics Incorporated”. He gave a flustered, if entertaining, performance in one debate, before promptly leaving the race and bad-mouthing the “party insiders” on the way out for not wanting a non-politician to take over a party in a precarious situation.

Then, he joined party insider Charlie Angus’ campaign as a consultant on military and veterans issues. Politics are confusing.

Peter Julian- Federal MP for New Westminster-Burnaby (Since 2004). Former Shadow Minister for Industry (2011). Former Shadow Minister for Natural Resources (2012-14)

The veteran MP from New Westminster was the second candidate to throw his hat in the ring, running on a surprisingly left-wing platform of environmental sustainability, presenting himself as the most vocally anti-pipeline of the candidates. He also advocated free tuition, and the elimination of tax havens and social inequality. However, it simply wasn’t to be, as poor fundraising results forced him out of the race, much to my dismay. He later endorsed Jagmeet Singh, also much to my dismay.

Seriously, Stop Stalling. Who Are The Actual Candidates?

Alright, sheesh. So pushy.

Charlie Angus

Full Name: Charles Joseph Angus

Current Position: Federal MP for Timmins-James Bay (Ontario) since 2004.

Former Positions: NDP Caucus Chair (2016), NDP Critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs (2015-16), Shadow Minister for Ethics (2011-15), Shadow Minister for Access to Information (2011-13), Shadow Minister for Copyright (2011-12), Shadow Minister for Privacy (2011-13), a metric shit-ton of other positions that I could spend days typing out if I had even less of a social life than I do right now.

Pre-Politics Occupations: Musician, community activist, writer.

Campaign website: charlieangusndp.ca

Campaign slogan: “Got Your Back.”/ “Comptez sur moi.”

How’s his French!: Honestly, pretty terrible. He can hold a conversation, and he’s gotten incrementally better since the beginning of the campaign, but he makes Stephen Harper look good in this respect.

Fun Facts:

  • When Angus was a teenager growing up in Toronto amidst the chaos of the War of 1812, he formed a punk band called “L’Étranger” (A reference to the book by Albert Camus, which I have read, making me better than you) with childhood friend Andrew Cash. L’Étranger can be best described as a poor man’s Canadian version of Combat Rock-era Clash, with Cash playing guitar and singing, and Angus handling bass guitar and backup vocals. Their phenomenally 80’s friendly anti-apartheid single “One People” had one of the first independent music videos to get significant play on MuchMusic, which can be best described as a poor man’s Canadian version of MTV (which nonetheless manages to be just as creatively stagnant). L’Étranger  disbanded in 1986, with Angus going on to form Grievous Angels, and Cash working as a solo artist. The two of them would later reunite in the House of Commons, with Cash representing the Toronto-area Davenport electoral riding from 2011 to 2015.
  • Angus’ second band, country/folk group Grievous Angels, attained national airplay, even getting nominated for a couple of Juno Awards, which can be best described as the poor man’s Canadian Grammys (or as the only awards show at which one could find the bizarre hosting combination of Russell Peters and Bryan Adams). Grievous Angels disbanded upon Angus’ election to Parliament in 2004, but re-formed in 2008, and has been sporadically active ever since.
  • As a community activist in Toronto and Northern Ontario in the 80’s and 90’s, Angus and his wife, Brit Griffin, established a Catholic Worker house, a men’s homeless shelter, and a lifestyle magazine centred around Northern Ontario. He has also written an autobiography of Toronto Maple Leafs left wing turned Catholic priest Les Costello.
  • A lifelong Catholic, Angus was excommunicated by his own priest in 2005 for his vote in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Niki Ashton

Full Name: Niki Christina Ashton

Current Position: Federal MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski (Manitoba) since 2008.

Former Positions: NDP Critic for Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development (2015-17). Shadow Minister for Status of Women (2012-15), Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (2015).

Pre-Politics Occupations: Instructor, lecturer.

Campaign website: nikiashton2017.ca

Campaign slogan: “Building a Movement, Together.” / “Lançons un Mouvement, Ensemble.”

How’s her French?: Good. I would even go so far as to say VERY good. She also speaks fluent Spanish and Greek (her mother is of Greek descent) and has studied Mandarin, Turkish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Cree.

Fun Facts:

  • Ashton is the daughter of Steve Ashton, who served as an NDP member and cabinet minister in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba from 1981 to 2016 and is currently running for Leader of the Manitoba NDP.
  • She served as a coordinator and volunteer at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, assisting the Canadian and Chinese teams.
  • She first ran for NDP leadership at age 29 in 2012, hoping to replace Jack Layton. She ended up being the first one eliminated from the ballot, finishing seventh out of seven candidates.
  • If elected leader, she would become the youngest leader of the Big Three parties, at age 35 (Justin Trudeau is 45, and Andrew Scheer is 38). She would also become the youngest federal leader of the NDP ever, barely beating out Ed Broadbent, who was 39 when he took over in 1975.
  • If elected Prime Minister, she would become the first woman elected to the position, and the second female Prime Minister after the ill-fated Kim Campbell premiership.
  • She is currently pregnant and expects to give birth in November. She intends to carry on her campaign, as well as her potential leadership, uninterrupted. Upon hearing this, my mother rolled her eyes and muttered, “Good luck”.  
  • She is a Beyonce fan and used “To the Left” as a tongue-in-cheek campaign slogan in the very early stages of the campaign. Apparently, this was the worst thing a politician has ever done, because people got mad at her for it, and she apologized.

Guy Caron

Full Name: Guy Caron

Current Position: Federal MP for Rimouski-Neigette-Temiscouata-Les Basques (Quebec) since 2011.

Former Positions: NDP Finance Critic (2015-17), NDP Quebec Caucus Chair (2011-17), Shadow Minister for Industry (2011-12), Shadow Minister for Natural Resources (2015)

Pre-Politics Occupations: National President of the Canadian Federation of Students, Economist, Public Relations officer, Journalist.

Campaign website: en.guycaron.ca

Campaign slogan: “Let’s Build a Progressive and Sustainable Economy.”/ “Construisons une économie progressiste et durable.”

How’s his French?: He’s from Quebec. He’s only been fluent his whole life or so.

Fine, dick. How’s his English?: It’s fine, but you can definitely notice when he gets tripped up. I don’t see that as much of a problem anywhere outside of places that were probably never gonna vote NDP in the first place.

Fun Facts:

  • If elected, Caron will be the third consecutive NDP leader either born in Quebec, or with their home riding in Quebec (after Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair).
  • At age 49, he would also become the oldest of the Big Three leaders.
  • At the risk of revealing my bias, he’s an absolute delight, and I want him to be my French, wonkish Jiminy Cricket.

Jagmeet Singh

*swoon*

Full Name: Jagmeet Singh Jimmy Dhaliwal

Current position: Member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament for Bramalea-Gore-Malton since 2011.

Former position: Deputy Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (2015-17)

Pre-politics occupation: Criminal defence lawyer.

Campaign website: jagmeetsingh.ca

Campaign slogan: “With Love and Courage.” / “Avec coeur et courage.”

How’s his French: Very good, if somewhat noticeably accented. Singh also speaks Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi.

Fun Facts:

  • Born in Scarborough, Ontario to Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India, Singh grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Windsor, Ontario and Beverly Hills, Michigan.
  • He received his law degree from York University in 2005 and started practising criminal defence law in the Greater Toronto Area, eventually setting up a private practice with his brother, Gurratan.
  • Singh’s first campaign for elected office occurred during the 2011 federal election, during which he ran as the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. He ended up being narrowly defeated by Conservative candidate Bal Gosal. He ran as a provincial candidate later that year and was elected, becoming the first turban-wearing member of the Ontario Parliament.
  • During the federal election campaign, Singh stopped using his surname, Dhaliwal, which apparently has connections to the caste system in India. He ended up using the more common “Singh” (which translates to “Lion”), a name much more evocative of egalitarianism and social justice in the Sikh tradition.
  • Singh is a practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, making him the candidate most likely to beat the shit out of you in a bar fight.
  • Say what you will about his politics, but the dude’s got style, dammit.
  • If elected leader of the NDP, Singh would become the first Person of Colour and, being a Sikh (shocking, I know), would also become the first open non-Christian to lead one of the Big Three political parties. Like Ashton, he would also become the youngest Big Three leader and youngest leader of the federal NDP ever.

To be continued tomorrow…

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