What’s going on with Canada’s New Democratic Party lately? It seems to me that the NDP has decided to imitate Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, at least when it comes to secrecy. Given that the NDP likes to trumpet that it’s an “open and transparent” political party, ever since Tom Mulcair took over as Leader, it certainly looks as if the NDP is trying to hide a few things from Canadians.
First, with talk of a provincial Quebec election in the air, and the prospect of a separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government, the federal NDP have been going to great lengths to remain silent about their MP’s support for provincial separatists. During the recent student protests in Montreal, NDP MP’s from Quebec were kept in line by the Party. Although many MP’s agreed with the position of the student protesters, including the radical CLASSE student union, MP’s largely failed to speak out or otherwise show support to the students. This was reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s ban on Conservative MP’s supporting the PC or Wildrose Party in the recent Alberta election, only Mulcair proved that when it comes to truly silencing the backbenches, he can teach Harper a thing or two.
On the one hand, the NDP likes to claim to be a champion of the oppressed, but when push came to shove in Montreal, party discipline won out over doing what many NDP Quebec MP’s thought was the right thing to do. And now, with a provincial election on the horizon, it looks like the NDP is going to contort itself into yet another pretzel in order to distance itself from the separatists. They’ll likely be less successful with this exercise, given that there are direct links between the NDP and separatist provincial political parties in Quebec. For example, it’s well-known that former NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel was a member of the socialist Quebec Solidaire even while she was leading the NDP (see: “Turmel: Separatist, communist and who knows what else”, by Sun Media’s Brian Lilley, August 14, 2011)
Turmel herself admitted that former NDP Leader Jack Layton was “well aware” of her ties to Quebec Solidaire and her membership in the federal Bloc Quebecois when she agreed to run for the NDP in the 2011 federal election (see: “NDP credibility under attack after Turmel’s Bloc ties revealed”, the Globe & Mail, August 2, 2011)
Recently, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievere, questioned NDP MP and Labour Critic Alexandre Boulerice in the House about a donation made to Quebec Solidaire earlier this year (2012). As usual, the NDP tried to deflect the question, calling it “old news” and claiming that Boulerice no longer supports separatists. (see: “NDP MP accused of supporting separatists”, Canoe.ca online, Sun Media, June 12 2012). Look, I’m not a fan of Pierre Poilevere by any means, but the question to Boulerice doesn’t appear to me to have been satisfactorily answered. Rather than trying to sweep the answer under the rug, why didn’t the NDP just come clean about their MP’s obvious continuing support for Quebec Solidaire and separatist causes? It’s well past time that the NDP stopped playing these games with the truth.
Look, if some of the NDP’s Members of Parliament continue to support separatist causes, that’s their business. I might think it looks bad, but ultimately those MP's have to answer directly to voters in their home ridings (or at least in the ridings which elected them). What troubles me about the NDP’s flirtation with separatists goes a lot deeper than who their MP’s might have, or continue to, support at the provincial level in Quebec.
I’m much more troubled by the NDP’s Official Party policy on Quebec separation, known as the “Sherbrooke Declaration”, which is essentially a repudiation of an Act of Canada’s parliament. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has refused to acknowledge the primacy of Canadian legislation, known as the “Clarity Act”, when it comes to establishing a threshold regarding a vote for separation, amongst other matters.
The NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration will allow Quebec to separate from Canada with a “50%+1” level of support, in contrast to the Clarity Act, which was based on the government of Canada's earlier "secession reference" to the Supreme Court of Canada, made in 1998. The Supreme Court has a different idea of what democracy means when it comes to the break up of our nation. “Democracy means more than simply ‘majority rule’” wrote the Court. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the federal NDP have established a low-ball threshold for the break-up of Canada – a threshold, by the way, which the NDP doesn’t even use to amend its own Party constitution.
Former Liberal Leader and current MP Stephane Dion (who will be speaking at the Green Party of Canada’s convention later this August) recently wrote a very important piece about the NDP’s dangerous flirtation with Quebec nationalists (see: “NDP’s separatist pandering threatens national unity”, Stephane Dion, the National Post, March 12, 2012). In part, it was Dion’s waving the red flag about the NDP which inspired me to write about this in April (see: "What does Tom Mulcair’s Leadership of the NDP Mean for the Green Party of Canada?”). Back then I indicated that Mulcair was going to have to walk a fine line while trying to convince Canadians that the NDP had all of Canada’s interests at heart. That was written before Mulcair stepped into it on the national stage with what were perceived as divisive comments about Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall being the provincial mouthpieces of the Conservative Party of Canada, when the two premiers chastised Mulcair for otherwise pertinent comments about Canada’s dependency on the oil sector.
With the NDP’s popularity remaining at historic high levels, I can’t help but wonder if Canadians understand the true extent of the threat to national unity posed by the NDP’s policy positions and continued support for Quebec separatist causes. I’m curious as to where Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault and Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle stand on the Sherbrooke Declaration? Do they support NDP policy over an Act of Parliament based on the direction given by our Supreme Court? I think voters in Sudbury and Nickel Belt should get some straight answers from Thibeault and Gravelle on this.
Should the next Quebec provincial election produce a separatist government in the form of the Parti Quebecois, it looks like PQ Leader Pauline Marois is promising to “create a crisis” between Quebec and Ottawa, and use the manufactured crisis as a starting point for an ultimate referendum on separation. If Marois is running Quebec, and Tom Mulcair becomes Canada’s next Prime Minister, it could very well be that Mulcair will also be the last Prime Minister of Canada as we know it given the dangerous game his NDP is playing with Canada’s national unity.
Yet the NDP just doesn’t want to talk about any of this.
And finally, while this doesn’t have to do with national unity, I came across this article in the Toronto Star today regarding the NDP’s refusal to disclose how much money it had returned to Union advertisers in contravention of Election Canada’s rules (see: “NDP stays mum on money returned to unions after advertising fracas”, the Toronto Star, July 31, 2012). The NDP has been very critical of the Conservative Party of Canada with regards to its over-spending in the past several elections. Yet now that it’s come to light that the NDP has also violated Elections Canada rules, it refuses to be transparent with Canadians regarding the extent of the violation. And that’s just very unfortunate, as I’m sure that the NDP’s discretions pale in comparison to those of the Conservative Party. When the matter was brought to the attention of Elections Canada, rather than play hardball like the Cons have done in the past, the NDP admitted to the mistake and corrected itself. Which makes me wonder why the NDP isn’t being completely honest now with regards to the extent of the correction. What does the NDP have to lose by telling Canadians the amount of money it had to give back to its union backers?
The NDP clearly wants to be able to control the conversations with Canadians in which it engages. Whether it’s an MP denying continued financial support for separatist causes, or whether it’s the Leader of the NDP refusing to support an Act of Parliament in preference to party policy, or whether it’s trying to distance itself from it’s continued financial support of labour unions, for the NDP, it looks like talking points triumph over doing what’s right for Canadians.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)
Ahhh…the summertime! Long days spent pushing the stroller through my community. Hot nights spent drinking beer on the front porch. What better time to think / talk politics? Well, maybe if there were an election going on…but there’s not, at least not yet. Certainly, we know that federally, there will be at least two by-elections called in the near future (Durham, where Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda has resigned from parliament; and Calgary Centre, where long-serving Conservative backbencher Lee Richardson has stepped down to pursue a job as Alberta PC Premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary). And, there might be another by-election called in Etobicoke Centre, where defeated Liberal candidate and former MP, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, initiated a court challenge after voting irregularities were identified in that riding. After a lower court ordered a new election, that court’s decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada by Conservative MP Ted Opitz; the Supreme Court’s decision will issue soon.
What happens in Etobicoke Centre really matters to all Canadians, that much is clear. Lawyers for Wrzesnewskyj and Opitz both argued that Canadian’s faith in our electoral system would be shaken if there was no new election, and if there was one. Interestingly, in my opinion, they’re both correct, as our faith in our electoral system has already been shaken, in part due to what’s happened in Etobicoke Centre, and in part due to a lack of action on Elections Canada’s part regarding election-day calls directing voters to incorrect polling stations. And of course, before that, we had the In-and-Out scandal, in which the Conservative Party of Canada was determined to have spent more than it was legally allowed to do so during an election campaign. So sure, voters faith in our system has clearly been shaken, and in some cases, the very legitimacy of our current government is being questioned.
In part, because what happens in Etobicoke Centre matters to Canada, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May last week called on her own party not to run a candidate in that riding, should the Supreme Court uphold the lower court’s decision authorizing a by-election. Not only did May call on the Green Party to sit out a by-election, she also called on the NDP to consider not running a candidate, ostensibly so that Wrzsenewskyj and Opitz can go head-to-head to determine which MP (the former or the current one) gets to represent the riding. However, May’s call is actually in keeping with a much broader desire on the part of May and the Green Party to work with other political parties in the interests of Canadians. Given that May and many in the Green Party view the Conservative Party of Canada as a threat to Canada, the values of Canadians, and our democratic institutions, her call for a Liberal-Conservative head to head makes sense, especially since Green and NDP participation will likely end up working in favour of the Conservatives. Neither the Green Party nor the NDP candidates were contenders in Etobicoke Centre in the last election, and although one should never base future results on past results, the fact is that with fewer candidates running, there is a less of a chance of splitting votes.
I wrote about May’s call for sitting out a hypothetical by-election in Etobicoke Centre last week, in my blogpost, “Greens Doing Politics Differently: A Smart Play by Elizabeth May in Etobicoke Centre”. As a result of last week’s piece, I’ve come under a little friendly fire for what appears to be my own endorsement of strategic voting. Let me be clear: Elizabeth May has not endorsed strategic voting by suggesting that her Party, who has the final say, opt out of a by-election there. In fact, by not running a candidate, there will be no need for strategic voting to happen, which is why, in part, May has also suggested that the NDP sit that by-election out.
Strategic voting arises when voters are faced with making a tough decision, usually based on their dislike of a candidate who they fear will win. As a result, they end up casting their ballot for a candidate whom they think can defeat the candidate they fear, and thus end up voting not for their candidate of choice, but rather against the candidate they fear.
Often, it ends up being strategic for a political Party to opt out of a particular contest, for many reasons. As I indicated in my earlier post, there are certainly problems when this occurs, mostly amongst party supporters at the local level, who may view the Party’s decision not to run a candidate as problematic. Sometimes, the negatives resonate outside of a riding, should the Party itself come under scrutiny by regional or national media, who might publicly wonder why the Party is not running a candidate, and perhaps determine that the Party is having internal issues (personality/economic) which has led to their opting out of a particular contest.
Unfortunately, a political party can’t control the media narrative, and there will always be those in the media who have their own personal pet theories or axes to grind. What a political party can do, however, is attempt to get out in front of a story, tell the facts as they see it, and hope that the public understands why decisions are being made about certain matters. And although the Green Party of Canada has not to my knowledge decided whether to heed May’s advice regarding Etobicoke Centre (and likely they haven’t, because the Supreme Court of Canada has yet to rule), but should the Green Party choose to listen to May, it could very well be that Green supporters in Etobicoke Centre will have a better understanding than any others in Canada have ever had about why their Party is choosing to sit out a particular by-election.
It could even be a possibility that the Green Party takes the extraordinary step of endorsing another Party’s candidate in Etobicoke Centre. I’m not saying that will happen, but it could. And in my opinion, it probably should, if the Party decides to sit out the by-election. As I wrote last week, although I am a rabid Green partisan, the needs of my nation have to outweigh what’s good for my Party. Electing a Conservative in Etobicoke Centre will prove to be a bad thing for Canada. Sure, a Green candidate could repeat the 2011 general election’s result, gathering in almost 1,000 votes, but if ultimately a Conservative is elected there, that’s not a victory by any means for Canada.
When I wrote about Etobicoke Centre last week, I cast around looking for an interesting example where the absence of a political party’s candidate may have led to an unexpected outcome in a particular riding. Of course, we all know that Elizabeth May and then-Liberal Leader Stephane Dion had a no-compete agreement in their respective ridings of Central Nova and Saint Laurent-Cartierville, during the 2008 General Election. Dion won his seat easily; for May, however, the absence of a Liberal candidate did not stop he re-election of Conservative MP Peter McKay. In neither case could the absence of a candidate be said to have influenced the outcome.
Yes, there was the interesting case involving the NDP in Saanich-Gulf Islands during the 2008 general election. Julian West, the NDP’s nominated candidate, resigned during the election, but it was too late to remove his name from the ballot. West still ended up with about 3,000 votes. Interestingly, in the days leading up to the election, SGI voters received a robocall from a phone number belonging to the NDP riding association’s President. Bill Graham, the local NDP President, insisted that the calls were not coming from the NDP. More details about the story are offered at, “Automated phone calls urge vote for B.C. candidate who withdrew”, from the Victoria Times Colonist, October 14, 2008, reprinted by Canada.com. What is interesting, however, is the origin of the calls was never determined. And of course, when the RoboCalls voter-suppression scandal involving multiple-ridings in the 2011 general election hit the news, people began to recall what had happened in SGI, and publicly wondered what Elections Canada had found out. The answer, of course, is nothing. Which isn’t very reassuring to Canadians.
But what happened in SGI in 2008 is not a good example of how an election’s outcome might be influenced by the absence of a candidate, for although candidate West had absented himself from the contest, his name still appeared on the ballot. That his name remained on the ballot might have ultimately influenced the election’s outcome, as less than 2,000 votes separated the winning Conservatives from the second-place Liberals.
The Melbourne By-Election, Victoria State
An interesting (and very current) electoral contest was brought to my attention this past weekend, thanks to Nova Scotia’s SkyGods vs. Earthlings blogger, Michael Marshall (who wrote about this by-election in his blogpost, “Greens lead in Australian by-election because Australian socialists are to the right of Stephen Harper”). Apparently, in a by-election held in the Melbourne riding of the Australian State of Victoria this past weekend, the right-wing Liberal Party did not run a candidate, which forced the left-wing Labor Party to court the ultra-right-wing Family First Party (which wants to discriminate against same sex couples, amongst other social conservative policies). What reason could the generally-progressive Labor Party have had for courting socially conservative voters? Well, there were two reasons: one, the Australian electoral system; and two, to prevent the Greens Party from winning.
In Australia, voters cast ballots which include preferences. Unless a candidate gains 50% of the vote outright, second place preferences are counted until the 50% goal is reached. In the Melbourne by-election, the Greens candidate obtained 36.4% of the popular vote, but after “preferences” were added, the Greens were defeated by Labor. Many pundits speculate this was because of Labor aggressively courting the votes of the fourth place finishing Family First Party. And because the Liberal Party did not run a candidate, as Family First voters may have “preferred” the Liberals to Labor. Interestingly, the third-place finishing Sex Party of Australia appears not to have worked with either Labor or the Greens on preferences, although Greens and Sex had worked together in the past.
Now, I don’t share Michael Marshall’s view that the Australian Labor Party is to the right of the Conservative Party of Canada. Instead, it’s clear that Labor’s courting of social conservatives had more to do with playing a political game in an attempt to win the election. That the Greens and Labor are in a coalition of sorts at the federal level in Australia is indicative that the two parties can, and do, work together, and have overlapping policy interests. It’s also fair to say that the Australian Greens may be a little more to the left of Canada’s Green Party, and Labor a little more to the right of Canada’s NDP. But it’s probably best to say neither, as there are significant nuanced differences between Australian and Canadian politics that make direct comparisons quite problematic.
What does appear similar to me, though, is Labor’s desire to do whatever it must in order to win. In that, I see a direct comparison between Australian Labor and Canada’s NDP. And frankly, it disgusts me. When politics becomes about winning at all cost, instead of about advancing good public policy and doing what’s right for people, I have to shake my head. Yet, that’s largely where things are at throughout Canada (and apparently Australia) today.
In Canada, we have the NDP, a party which has recently launched attack ads directed against the Prime Minister, even though an election won’t be held until 2015. Party whips forced two sitting NDP members to remain silent for the better part of a year because they voted against the Party’s preferred position on the long gun registry. And apparently, if comments appended to my earlier blogpost are to be believed, the NDP has an inflexible policy of always running candidates in each and every riding and in every electoral contest. Such a policy clearly goes against any potential for electoral co-operation with other parties, and could be the reason why the NDP has shown so little desire to do so, despite the fact that many of its own supporters have called for a significant degree of co-operation.
Sure, I’m still bitter about former NDP Leader Jack Layton’s calls for keeping Green Party Leader Elizabeth May from attending the 2008 televised Leader’s debate, despite the Green Party having met the media consortium’s previous threshold for attendance: having a sitting MP in parliament. When the media consortium first decided to exclude May, Layton offered his clear support to the media consortium. It was only an outcry from Canadians (many of whom were NDP supporters) which led Layton to reconsider his position. In 2011, of course, Layton did nothing when the consortium successfully excluded May from participating.
What's Good for Democracy Does Not Always Equal What's Good for the NDP
The NDP may talk a good game when it comes to democracy, but when push comes to shove, it seems that the NDP always puts its own interests ahead of any other interests. Now, it’s true: that’s a prerogative of a political party, and more likely than not, it’s a strategy for political success. But with voters growing increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo, how long will it be now before NDP supporters come to the realization that the NDP offers little substantive change the status quo? Unfortunately, with our media-driven Leadership-based politics, it may yet take a while, as the media seems insistent that the next election will be an epic confrontation between Left vs. Right. In such battles, spin and rhetoric are king, and good public policy has little to do with outcomes.
And I fully expect that there will be efforts to exclude Green Party Leader Elizabeth May from future televised debates as well, as neither the Conservatives or the NDP stand to gain anything from her participation, as Greens votes are drawn from progressives of all political stripes. The Green Party is only a “party of the left” in that our politics are to the left of the Conservative Party’s ultra-right wing oil-based neo-liberal platform.
Moral Voting, Not Strategic Voting
If the Green Party decides to do things a little differently in Etobicoke Centre, I sincerely hope that Green supporters in that riding understand that it’s about doing politics differently, rather than abandoning those supporters for other reasons. Instead of a strategic, political decision being made, should the Green Party opt out of the by-election, the decision could and should be viewed as a moral decision, one which puts the interests of the nation ahead of partisan gain.
I can only hope that NDP supporters are asked by their Party to understand this rationale too, and cast moral ballots rather than strategic ones. But I’m not holding my breath.
(opinions expressed are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)
Yesterday, it was reported by Globe & Mail political columnist Gloria Galloway that Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May would urge her party not to run a candidate in the riding of Etobicoke Centre, should the Supreme Court of Canada determine that a by-election is necessary due to voting irregularities which transpired at certain polling stations on the May 2nd, 2011 general election. May also suggested that, in the spirit of co-operation, the NDP also should refrain from running a candidate, which would essentially create the conditions for a “run off” style vote between Conservative Ted Opitz, who was declared the winner of the riding in 2011, and Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who lost by just 26 votes.
May’s comments appear to have taken many Greens by surprise, including myself. Given that the Supreme Court of Canada has yet to rule on the Etobicoke Centre appeal, it appears to be completely premature to start speculating about how a by-election could shape up, including whether the Green Party should participate or not. On first glance, it seems that maybe May has got too far out in front of an issue which may never become an issue, should the Supreme Court overturn the Ontario Superior Court’s ruling to hold a by-election.
A "Spectacularly Silly Idea"
Certainly Globe & Mail guest political columnist and Liberal partisan Adam Goldenberg took May to task – not for being out in front of the by-election issue, but for proposing a radical, dangerous and “spectacularly silly” idea in Etobicoke Centre: a face-off between the Liberals and Conservatives with other potential players opting to sit out (See: “And now, a dangerous idea from Elizabeth May”, the Globe & Mail, July 19 2012). One might think that Goldenberg and his Liberals would be pleased to see the other parties sit any hypothetical by-election out, as strong Green and/or NDP candidates are probably more likely to hurt the Liberal cause in Etobicoke Centre than they are the Conservatives.
Instead, Goldenberg seemingly wants to take the high ground, argues that elections are about allowing voters to cast ballots for candidates of their choice. In elections, even candidates which have little realistic hope of winning, should not be discouraged from running, as they provide a certain segment of voters with an opportunity to show support. Goldenberg believes that there are no wasted ballots in our first-past-the-post electoral system, as each ballot is an expression of voter desire (although even Goldenberg admits that it would be easier to make the “no wasted vote” argument if we had a system of proportional representation in place).
I’ve always been a firm believer in providing voters with an opportunity to cast ballots for a candidate whom voters believe to be their best representative, and whose values may be most in keeping with their own. As a result, I’ve always believed that allowing voters more choice, rather than limiting choices, has been the way to go. I continue to believe this.
As a result, it would seem that Elizabeth May’s call for the Green Party and the NDP to sit out the Etobickoke Centre by-election (if there is to be one) would accomplish the exact opposite of allowing voters an opportunity to cast ballots for a candidate of their choice. That’s certainly Goldenberg’s assertion as well. However, what Goldenberg does not mention, and what may not be apparent to voters is the fact that no political party is required to run candidates in each and every riding in Canada, and in each and every election or by-election. While not running a candidate carries a certain risk for a political party (example: it could upset local supporters), there may be some very good reasons why a political party opts out of a particular race.
Doing What’s Right
One of those reasons might be that it’s more important to do what’s right than to do what it is politically expedient. And that appears to be the thrust of May’s call for the Greens and NDP to sit this one out, should there be a by-election in Etobicoke Centre.
It’s clear that May believes that a direct contest between Opitz and Wrzesnewskyj, between the existing and former MP’s, between the two parties (along with Elections Canada) at the centre of the recent legal proceedings, is the right thing to do. It’s reported that Wrzesnewskyj has spent several hundred thousand dollars of his own money to launch the legal challenge. In the specific circumstance of Etobicoke Centre, May appears to believe that the uniqueness of the unfolding narrative is enough to suggest that it’s right for the Liberals and Cons to go head to head, and to recommend that the Party which she leads opt not to run a candidate (and to call for the NDP to sit it out as well).
In my opinion, the argument isn’t the strongest one which can be made, although I do see May’s point. Certainly former Green and NDP candidates would still have the option to run as Independents if they didn’t agree with a future hypothetical decision of their parties to not field candidates in a future hypothetical by-election. In fact, with proper registration in place, and subject to meeting all legal criteria, just about anyone can run in the by-election. The future hypothetical decision of political parties need not actually deny providing voters with the choice which Goldenberg champions; such decisions would only limit the participation of political parties, and not the potential participation of candidates.
I, for one, don’t believe that co-operation amongst political parties is a dangerous idea at all. In fact, I see it happening every day, all over Canada. While parties may have fundamental differences with regards to numerous policy and process issues, the fact is that most elected MP’s in Canada share similar values which cross party lines. They often work together to better our nation. While co-operation might not be occurring as often as I’d like it, there’s no denying that it often does occur.
Goldenberg, however, criticizes May, calling her a “non-Conservative first, and a Green second”. It’s very clear to me that Goldenberg just doesn’t understand the Green Party of Canada, or Elizabeth May for that matter. May’s desire to work with the other parties, including Mr. Goldenberg, does not make her less of a partisan. It’s only indicative that she belongs to a party which values doing what is right for Canada above politics. Frankly, most of her Party shares these values, including rabid Green partisans like myself. For most of us, that’s why we’re here.
Right now, doing what’s right for Canada means doing everything possible to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – even if that means we must elect a Liberal in Etobicoke Centre. And this is where May’s argument for the Greens and NDP to sit out the by-election starts to make a little more sense. Although the Liberals, NDP and Green parties are not in ideological agreement on many issues, there is enough overlap to suggest to political supporters that any candidate put forward by these three parties would be preferable to electing a Conservative. So why not have the Greens and NDP back off in Etobicoke Centre, which would (in theory) increase the chance of victory for a Liberal?
Why Etobicoke Centre?
Well, isn’t it hypocritical for May to suggest electoral co-operation in Etobicoke Centre, but remain silent on non-hypothetical by-elections in Calgary Centre and Durham? May said nothing about co-operating with other parties there. Why is that?
Well, it’s not hypocritical in the slightest, because the circumstances in which by-elections have come about in Calgary Centre and Durham (as a result of the resignation of sitting MPs) are completely different than Etobicoke Centre (a court-challenge brought about by the losing candidate based on voting irregularities). The uniqueness of the Etobicoke Centre situation is enough to differentiate it from just about every other by-election in the history of Canada, as a by-election has never been ordered by our Supreme Court.
None of this means that May wouldn’t be open to the idea of electoral co-operation in Calgary Centre or Durham. It’s just that she’s not called for it, and she probably won’t. At least not until the other parties, particularly the NDP, shows it hand.
The NDP: In Whose Interests?
And this is yet another piece of May’s argument. Many NDP members and supporters have long called for some form of electoral co-operation amongst the centre-left political parties. Recently, NDP MP Nathan Cullen ran for the leadership of his party in part on the platform of having negotiating with the Liberals and Greens to have joint nomination contests at the riding level in Conservative-held ridings, so as to better be able to defeat Conservatives.
Look, this all comes down to the idea that the interests of Canada must outweigh the interests of any one political party. Many NDP supporters know this. And maybe the Liberals are starting to catch on too. Organizations like LeadNow are growing in numbers every day, because we all understand that unless the Conservatives are defeated, the Canada that we know and love will be transformed beyond our recognition should the Cons win another general election.
Yet the NDP’s new Leader, Thomas Mulcair, has unequivocally said that there will not be any co-operation between the NDP and the other political parties. Mulcair is more than willing to roll the dice and shoot for an outright NDP victory than to work with others to bring the Conservatives down. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae described Mulcair as a “mini-Harper” when Mulcair was elected NDP Leader. There certainly appears to be a lot of truth to that, as the NDP has really emerged as the left-wing equivalent to the Conservatives, at least from a tactics point of view. I can’t understand why NDP supporters feel that their party is right to engage in negative attack ads, name-calling, and engaging in the politics of division, all in the name of achieving power.
Yet, it’s been my opinion that the NDP has really turned itself into a fierce electoral machine, obsessed only with achieving power, whatever the cost. The election of Mulcair as the new Party Leader only reinforced my opinion. I don’t think most NDP supporters realize this yet, but as the years go by, it’s likely going to become evident that the NDP’s interest in obtaining power will always outweigh their interest in Canada. In short, the NDP will continue to put partisan political gain ahead of doing what’s right.
And I’m sorry, but a political party obsessed with power (getting it and keeping it) is not going to help create the Canada that we should be building for our children.
So, will the NDP play ball in Etobicoke Centre? Probably not. Their candidate had a decent showing in the last election (7,000+ to Conservative Opitz 21,000+), and under Tom Mulcair, the NDP has found a new sort of hubris to accompany their quest for power. That they will not win Etobicoke Centre does not matter. That they be seen to be an active part of the political game is more important. That they may play foil to the Liberals by siphoning votes away from Wrzesnewskyj would also be seen as a benefit to the NDP, as the NDP stands to gain just as much (or more) through the destruction of the Liberal Party than the Conservatives do.
Really, for the NDP, as a political party, running a candidate in a riding which they won’t win is appears to be a no-brainer, once you understand that the NDP values its own success over Canada’s.
That’s a bold statement, but I’m still waiting for the NDP to prove me wrong. And as Elizabeth May points out, the unique circumstances of an Etobicoke Centre by-election are an excellent place for the NDP to start doing so. I just don’t think that they will.
Taking the High Road
Which brings me to my last reason regarding why Elizabeth May is calling for the Greens and NDP to sit out the by-election. Look, I’m a Green Party partisan, that’s pretty clear. But I also like to talk as straight as I can about what I see going on around me. Clearly, there’s a partisan motive at play for May and the Greens here too.
The fact is, the Green Party likely would not be competitive in Etobicoke Centre anyway, so really, there’s little to lose by sitting a by-election out. While by-elections do offer exposure for candidates, both locally and more broadly through the media, the fact of the matter is that the Etobicoke Centre by-election is going to play itself out as a clash of the titans between Opitz and Wrzesnewskyj, and any Green candidate will be lucky to receive a mention in the news media (do we really need more news articles whose last lines are “Also running for the Green Party is [insert mis-spelled name here]?)
Further, by-elections cost money. Sometimes, they cost even more money than a general election would in the same riding, because a party figures that more than just local eyes are watching by-elections (and that’s a good assumption to make). Normally, a by-election in a media-rich Toronto riding like Etobicoke Centre would be a gift for a smaller party like the Green Party, because any media exposure is going to be seen by a wider audience. For example, the Toronto Star is more likely to report on a by-election in Etobicoke Centre than they would be to provide coverage of this one riding in a general election.
And that’s why our very able candidate, Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu, had such a public profile in the March by-election in Toronto Danforth, Jack Layton’s old riding. Although that by-election was often portrayed as a straight contest between the NDP and Liberals, it was important for the Greens to show up and wave the flag. Doing so, however, cost money. A smaller party like the Green Party can only spend so much of our scarce resources in unwinnable ridings, just to wave the flag (and to get a little media coverage).
Etobicoke Centre would be another such riding. What would the Green Party lose if we sat this one out? Very little. We may upset some local supporters, and potentially a few active Greens who might have been toying with the idea of seeking the Party’s nomination to run, but even they might be able to see the greater good in opting out.
What’s to gain? Plenty. The Green Party is seen nationally as the Party that puts the interests of Canada ahead of partisan gain. By not running a candidate, the Party saves money and looks good doing it. And gains national media attention beyond what we could ever hope to achieve in a by-election. Now, when the press reports on the by-elections, there’s a greater chance that the Green Party’s decision to sit out Etobicoke Centre will continue to be mentioned. And no doubt some pundits will recall that Elizabeth May challenged Tom Mulcair and the NDP to sit it out as well, and they chose not to follow good advice, in the name of partisan gain.
I very much like the idea of educating NDP supporters about their party’s pursuit of power at all costs, even when it’s not in the interests of Canadians. Maybe I’ll be surprised by Tom Mulcair and the NDP, and watch as the NDP decides to sit out the by-election in Etobicoke Centre, or actually begin talking with the other parties about some sort of electoral co-operation for the upcoming general election. But I’m not holding my breath that organizations such as LeadNow are going to find much traction with the Mulcair’s NDP, even though those organizations tend to attract many partisan NDP supporters.
The Green Party: Doing Politics Differently
A couple of last items are worthy of note here. First, if you’re not a Green, you may find it interesting that May is calling on her own Party not to run a candidate in Etobicoke Centre. You may think that May could easily “make it so” by laying down the law “thou shalt not run”. Well, it doesn’t work that way in the Green Party of Canada, unlike in the other parties. While it’s true that May ultimately must sign the nomination papers of any would-be candidate (and withholding a signature would ultimately deny a candidate the ability to run as a Green), it’s actually the Party’s Federal Council which recommends a candidate to May, through the Nominations Committee. May would put herself at loggerheads with our member-elected Federal Council if she refused to sign the nomination papers of a candidate they had recommended. And although May also sits on Fed Council as Party Leader, she only has one vote. Ultimately, the decision to run a candidate in a by-election needs to be made by Fed Council, hopefully in consultation with a local electoral district association, if one exists.
The second point is that the Green Party members recently voted on two proposals regarding electoral co-operation with the NDP and Liberals (motions authorizing our Fed Council to negotiate with those two parties should the opportunity arise). Greens are thinking ahead about realistic and plausible opportunities for real electoral co-operation in advance of the 2015 general election. Again, we grassroots members are driving this process. The fact that Greens were casting ballots about electoral co-operation couldn’t have been far from May’s mind when she made her comments to the Globe & Mail about Etobicoke Centre. I am optimistic that one or both of the resolutions will be adopted by the Party at our upcoming General Meeting in Sidney, B.C. later in August. Interestingly, Liberal MP Stephane Dion, and former NDP MP (now Independent) Bruce Hyer, will be giving speeches at the BGM (I was about to write “will be joining Greens at the BGM”, but thought maybe that language was either too ambiguous, or just wishful thinking on my part!).
Note to Adam Goldenberg (and to other pundits who can’t help but view the world through blue-, red- or orange-coloured glasses), it’s time you try to make an effort and understand what being a Green is like. Maybe if a few more of you asked Greens how we think, you wouldn’t find yourself tied up in a pretzel, expounding about things like May’s call for electoral co-operation in Etobicoke Centre. We Greens value our party, but we inhabit an existence which is about so much more than mere politics. Adapting to the future is paramount, beyond obtaining power. If we can accomplish our desired outcomes through influence, education and co-operation, that’s all the power we need.
Smart play, Elizabeth May.
(opinions expressed are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)