As the NDP's provincial council meets this weekend, the name on the lips of delegates, unfortunately, will be Buzz Hargrove's. The Ontario party's top decision-making body is faced with either overturning its suspension of the CAW chief, or, more likely, letting the disastrous decision stand and divide the party for years to come.
There's little to be gained from exiling Hargrove. Indeed, all the party has accomplished by its run at him is to turn a political laughingstock into a persecuted dissident.
Only emotion explains why the executive set the wheels in motion at its February 11 meeting to run the king of the auto union out of the party.
For many in the room, the TV moment during the election when the leader of the largest private-sector union in Canada put a CAW jacket on floundering PM Paul Martin was the ultimate among countless acts of disloyalty.
Ontario's New Democrats have a special loathing for Hargrove. It's him they blame for nearly wiping out the provincial party in 1995 by withdrawing his support for the Bob Rae government over the latter's reopening of union contracts. "Nothing,' Hargrove once wrote, "has done more damage to the cause of social democracy in Canada than the Bob Rae government.'
Rae's successor as leader has received almost as much abuse from the CAW boss. Indeed, Howard Hampton's fan club blames a decade of bad-mouthing from Hargrove for sabotaging the tenure of an intelligent and hard-working politician whose watch will be remembered with disappointment.
The rest of the labour leadership has been far kinder to HH, and they're well represented on the party executive. They're used to being on the opposite side from the CAW in the divided house of labour. How sweet it is to nix a nemesis in the name of defending party loyalty.
But revenge is no substitute for strategy, something the exec committee must have sensed when its 20-some members had trouble reaching consensus on the Hargrove suspension.
They chewed it over for nigh on two hours, and when the motion was put to a vote just before lunch, it passed, but not overwhelmingly. It looked to be about 60 per cent for the yeas, attendees say.
Meanwhile, federal leader Jack Layton immediately panned the idea. Ironically, it was only a few years ago that Layton's wife, MP Olivia Chow, was accused of similar disloyalty for supporting independent candidate John Sewell in a provincial election.
"People are really pissed that I was suspended without an opportunity to respond,' says Hargrove, who insists he won't apologize or alter his behaviour. As he sees it, he was punished for carrying out the policy of his union's top decision-making body, the CAW Council.
Defending the executive's move, provincial secretary Diane O'Reggio tells NOW the motion was a response to "several' complaints, although she declines to disclose the exact number. She disputes any suggestion that Hargrove's suspension is a reflection on the CAW. "He went far beyond what the CAW resolution asked for,' she says, "and that was the point of contention.'
But other members of the party see the potential fallout from maintaining the suspension is likely to be labour alienation. One of them is Wayne Gates, an NDP candidate in Niagara Falls in the last election and a CAW member who took on Hargrove at the CAW annual meeting just after the union prez and Martin did their big hug for the campaign cameras on December 2.
Gates thinks the suspension was a grave error that should be fixed on Saturday. "Paul Martin is no friend of working families,' says Gates, who was endorsed by the CAW but figures he would have got more than the 12,000 votes he copped had Hargrove not sown confusion in the minds of voters.
But, rightly or wrongly, he says, CAW delegates supported strategic voting. "The last thing we need to be doing is fighting among ourselves. If I have to choose between my party and my union, I'll stand with my union.'
Marilyn Churley, who ran unsuccessfully in Beaches-East York, feels similarly burned by a card-carrying party member who helped out the competition in her case, Mayor David Miller. Because Miller campaigned with the Liberals' point man on cities, John Godfrey, Layton's successful transformation of the Grit budget from a tax-cutting plan to urban development was lost on her voters.
But Churley doesn't want Miller or Hargrove kicked out of the party, because it won't deal with the underlying challenge the NDP faces. "How do we deal with the fear that leads people to engage in strategic voting? The party would be better off working with those who counsel that approach.'
If the party's lucky, its provincial council will feel similarly inclined on Saturday.