Out in Left Field

NDP critics offer same old ideas ­-- why start a new partY for this?


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when judy rebick saw a now re-porter in the audience at the Rebuilding The Left drone-fest at OISE a couple of weeks ago, she was a little taken aback. She didn’t expect any media to be there when she dropped her bombshell about how she and a number of other prominent lefties had hatched a plan to have the NDP wind itself down and relaunch itself as something bigger and better.Don’t run anything until we launch, she begged. But there was already a Web site, we protested, and the members of one NDP email list were already talking about her New Politics Initiative. But, Rebick explained, there had been a generational disagreement. The veteran members of the group wanted to keep everything under wraps and make a big media splash. And the younger members were uncomfortable with secrecy.

The forced debut of the New Politics came even sooner than she expected — on the front page of that Wednesday’s Globe and Mail.

Ordinarily, political activists wanting to whip up a little political fervour would do anything to get on the front page of Canada’s national newspaper, but the story and the resulting fallout set back the fledgling effort rather than increasing its chance of success.

Even those who support the New Politics Initiative were cringing when the Globe story came out. “Rebels Aim To Dissolve NDP, Form New Party,” the headline screamed, and there in the fourth graf was Svend Robinson.

“This is disastrous,” one supporter of the NDP makeover plan sighed. “When Svend’s name is attached to it, the party establishment can dismiss it as just Svend Robinson wanting to take over the leadership.” Which is exactly what McDonough did.

Many of the Initiative’s missteps can be blamed on the same generation gap its detractors accuse the NDP of suffering from. It’s not only the confusion about whether they’re public or not. (In the future, it might be wise to assume that once the grand project is announced on a Web site, it’s public.)

A more serious problem is what’s on the site. The URL is newpolitics.ca, but the ideas and the vocabulary are pretty old for a group that presumes to be cutting-edge. For all the verbosity, there’s very little in the statement that’s not current NDP policy. It’s the same old shopping list — proportional representation good, NAFTA bad, and maybe we could nationalize some banks. Hardly worth starting a new party over.

Perhaps fearing the wrath of a mouthy monarchist who once ran for the NDP, the radicals even pull their punches on the royal family: “We should seriously consider abandoning our continued formal constitutional links to the British monarchy,” the document states carefully.

The hack tone is an embarrassment for some associated with the project. There are the “kangaroo courts of the WTO and NAFTA” and Canada “aping” U.S. foreign policy (please tell me I’m not at a meeting of some left-wing grouplet), but the biggest groan is the righteous outrage over the “hypocritical moral panics over rave dances and other youth activities.” The only people who say “youth” are those who aren’t.

A sure sign that the authors weren’t born yesterday is the poverty of language. Thankfully, today’s politics are performance art — if it isn’t fun, it’s not worth doing. But there’s no poetry here, no word versions of papier mâché butterflies. Instead, “struggle” is repeated 20 times. Sigh.

Of course, the people behind the New Politics Initiative deserve points for trying to maintain a progressive party in Canada. Who knows how that’s to be done? It’s one thing to rope in those who think of themselves as left-wing. It’s quite another to win ridings at election time. If all the confirmed socialists in Trinity-Spadina voted for you, would you win? Probably not.

According to pollster Marc Zwelling, who outlined the electoral lay of the land for attendees at last month’s conference on the future of social democracy at McGill University, most people want political parties to answer the question, what will you do to make my life better? That’s how Mike Harris got the union vote and became premier.

Instead, we have the talking points for a conversation directed not at winning over more people to a progressive vision, but at reassuring the hardy souls who will be part of the struggle anyway.

Meanwhile, we’re left waiting for the political fusion that will pique the interest both of those who were in Quebec City and those who go to St. Lawrence Market on Saturday morning to buy their Gruyère.

Maybe that will be in draft two of the vision statement.

glennw@nowtoronto.com

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