I Stand With Ruth Ellen Brosseau

“It was an accident.” “He didn’t mean it.” “You weren’t hurt.” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

I know a thing or two about assault. And a thing or two about trauma. Allow me to be specific.

One time, I was at a festival in Squamish and I was dogpiled by a half-dozen security guards until one of my arms snapped in half. I calmly explained to them that they had broken my arm and needed to get off me and contact paramedics. They did. The RCMP came as well, and threatened to charge *me* with assault. I laughed at them until they left. The fentanyl administered by the medics helped.

Another time, I was going home from a concert on Granville Street and I was cold-cocked by some idiots while waiting for a street light. When I came to, two men had me pinned down, and were urging a third to take his turn punching me in the face. I laughed, and smiled at him, and spat in his, and told him to get on with it. He did. I was knocked out again, and when I came to it was because a VPD officer had been directed to my location and shaken me awake. Later that morning I had my head stapled together. It was Canada Day. I still had my scheduled barbeque despite having one eye swollen shut.

These events are physically traumatic, by any measure. But to be honest? They don’t bother me. Other things have been far more hurtful. Let me be specific.

One time, I came home from a funeral, to my parents’ house, where I was staying. It was the day before a nomination. I hadn’t eaten all day, I was kind of drunk from the funeral (which I had organized, for a dear friend, who had taken his own life), and there was no food in the house. My sister ordered take out. When it came, I tried to take a slice of pizza. She demanded $10 to let me eat, because she thought I was “freeloading” off the parents. I told her I had a funeral today, and a nomination day tomorrow, and I was tired and had no cash and just wanted to eat one slice of pizza before I went to bed. She said no, and she grabbed the pizza out of my hands. I sighed, and I left the house, and went to stay with a friend.

That was traumatic.

Another time, another friend had died. An old ex reached out, someone I hadn’t heard from for years; he wanted to have dinner, and catch up. I said sure – but I told him exactly what I was going through, and exactly what was *not* going to happen, which was hooking up, because of the space I was in. But that I would enjoy his company and appreciated that someone reached out and wanted to talk. So we went for dinner, and talked, and caught up, and it was good. And then, after he drove me home, as I was getting out of the car, he groped me without my consent. Doing the exact thing I had told him I was completely emotionally unprepared for at the current moment. That. Was. Traumatic.

So. When people dismiss the gravity of being elbowed by the Prime Minister in one’s workspace…. I have no time for it. Sometimes a boxing match is meaningless and the slightest touch is everything. Anyone who has suffered trauma knows this. This debate isn’t fooling anyone.

I stand with Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

What’s In A Date? The Liberal Phobia of June 6th

By June 6, 2016, the Liberal government must pass assisted dying legislation to meet a Supreme Court deadline. If they miss the deadline, assisted dying will become legal, and without federal regulation the Supreme Court ruling and guidelines from physician’s colleges and medical associations will be the only guidance doctors receive in making the determination to assist with the end of a patient’s life. For better or worse.

The looming date has driven the Trudeau-led government into a panic, resulting in the last few weeks of Parliamentary chaos, culminating in Trudeau’s physical altercation – AKA #elbowgate – with the Conservative whip Gord Brown and NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau. And after that began the total derailment of the Liberals’ legislative agenda. And the Liberals’ proposed “Motion 6,” which would have dramatically curtailed opposition powers in Parliament in an unprecedented consolidation of control into ministerial hands, quietly died in the aftermath.

But why the outsized panic from the Liberal leadership? What’s the big deal? To the casual observer, an arbitrary June 6 deadline holds no special significance. But for the Liberal dynasty, it is a date that haunts them.

Exactly sixty years ago, Parliament was also in chaos. Like today, pipelines were also the subject of national debate. Back then, it was whether the proposed TransCanada Pipeline, which would bring Alberta gas to the eastern provinces, would be 100% Canadian or routed through the United States and built by American labour. (Not to be confused by the proposed TransCanada Energy East pipeline in present day 2016.) The Conservatives and CCF were opposed, but the Liberal majority, led by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, were convinced they could ram the necessary parliamentary approval through to meet a deadline to secure financing to being construction on July 1st. The deadline? June 6, 1956.

To achieve this goal, the Liberals used every trick in the book, then as now: closure, time allocation, everything they could to end debates and force votes. Then as now, the opposition parties used every tool at their disposal, like blocking the aisles to prevent members from taking their seats, to delay votes and the Liberal agenda. And then, as now, Canadians were flabbergasted by all this misbehaviour in Parliament. Because then, as now, as most Canadians were not invested in the subject of the disagreement.

The difference was that then, as the acrimony dragged on, Prime Minister St. Laurent sat calmly in his seat, often seen reading a book. He did not intervene. Then.

The result? The passage of the necessary legislation was not completed in time, and total chaos erupted on June 6th. The Speaker attempted to strike the events of the previous day from the record to resume debate on the final legislation, and the opposition parties went wild. The CCF leader, Major Coldwell, stormed the Speaker’s dais. Liberal MP Lorne Macdougall died of stress. Three more MPs were hospitalized. But the legislation was passed, the pipeline financing was obtained, and the project would have gone forward on Canada Day as promised… but the factories in the United States that were to build the pipe went on strike and the deadline turned out to be meaningless after all that.

The Liberal government went down in flames, and in 1957 their 21-year dynasty came to an end.

Whether due to a sharp historical awareness or some unspeakable psychic hangover, it’s impossible to understand the behaviour of the Liberal leadership in the present without understanding the results of the behaviour of the Liberal leadership in the past. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” as they say. And this set of Liberals is determined to break from tradition. Or so they say.

Was Trudeau acting impetuously on the floor of Parliament on Wednesday, May 18th, when he leapt from his seat and charged across the aisle? Or was he consciously attempting to shake the passivity which culminated in tragedy and the collapse of St. Laurent’s government? Are Liberal strategists truly so arrogant and disorganized as to not be able to maintain a legislative schedule despite a huge majority… or are they paralysed by their knowledge of history, and their fear of repeating it?

Does it matter?

Only time will tell. Fingers crossed for June 6th!

May 8, 2016. Happy Mother’s Day.

Yesterday, on the eve of this Mother’s Day, 2016, my beloved husband Tim, father of our five children, asked me if I had any regrets. Yes, I whispered, amid some stifled tears.

No regrets about my choice of a husband, or the considered decision(s) to have any of our cherished five kids. No regrets about our early years, when I stayed home and nurtured each beloved baby, and their older siblings, as I relished in my successive four or five month maternal leaves. No regrets, while I worked part time until our youngest was one. Those were golden years; the best of everything. I was able to maintain my professional credentials while continuing to work part-time in the world of adults, but spend a majority of the week attending to my children’s needs, schedules, and general well-being, as well as my need to be with them.

Enter Super Mom. I had the honour of being offered a full time position that permitted me to embrace career advancement and serve as a role model for women professionals, when our youngest was just one and our oldest, 8. Add to the obvious perks the fact that the salary was three times my take-home; a steady paycheque which offered a stable income for our growing family, not to mention a pension, while my hardworking husband strove to develop his private practice. Of course I took it, rationalizing that I could substitute quality time for quantity time, and make up for my daily commitment to the job by doing things for the kids on my off time.

And, I did things. I made thousands of birthday cupcakes for school classes. I organized almost 100 birthday parties and baked as many birthday cakes. I sewed Halloween costumes: Teenage Ninja Turtle suits, bunny suits, frog suits, cat suits, witch costumes, Pippi Longstocking and caveman suits. I sewed or shopped for dozens of elementary and high school grad and concert shirts and dresses. I assembled sugar cube igloos, baked cabbage rolls and perogies for heritage days, attended field trips, sports days, track and field meets, teacher interviews and conferences. I read to Grade 1 classes; I spoke to Law 12 classes and assemblies. I chaperoned at dances, and with Tim (who coached!) I drove to soccer, little league and softball games and practices; and attended, insanely, every field hockey and softball practice and game the year our four daughters decided they wanted to do both, during seasons that coincided. And I loved every minute of it.

So, why regrets? Supermom wears a mask and performs on command. What Supermom does not do as much as she would like, is just sit down and listen. Superheroes respond to crisis; in fact, they thrive on it. Help, help – here I come! But – what was missing? Great moms don’t just work, drive, bake and sew.

I did lots of things to demonstrate my love for my children. But what I didn’t do, sometimes, was just listen. Sometimes when a child sought my attention I would say, “Sure, sweetie, just let me finish this thing that I am doing, and then I am all ears!” Or worse, “Not right now, I am busy (doing this thing).” Later, I might remember and ask, “Hey, babe, what did you want to talk about?” – “Oh, nothing.” The moment had just passed. What a chance I had missed!

I had read books on parenting. I recognized the importance of attentive listening and the value of one on one time for each individual child. I vowed to be an attentive parent. But the hustle and bustle of life as a busy parent and professional weakened my resolve, and in time, my ability, to always be fully present for my children. Some people are better at this than others, but I believe most parents struggle at times with attentiveness, and perhaps more these days with the challenge of mobile devices. Sometimes I see them pushing strollers or sitting on benches at the park, busy on their devices, missing opportunities.

A reading from the New Testament speaks to this: Luke 10: 38-42. As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I wish that more often, instead of working, baking, sewing, or doing the dishes as Martha did, I had stopped and given my children, each one of them, my full attention, whenever they offered to receive it. Someone once said, no one wants their epitaph to read, “I wish I had spent more time in the office (or kitchen).” Maybe truly great moms miss a few deadlines, or bake fewer cupcakes.

To all my fellow moms out there:

Take the time. Cherish the moment.

Happy Mother’s Day

Now Is The Time: Canada Must Face Its Energy Future

A month ago, I was in Edmonton, with 2000 fellow delegates of the federal NDP, to discuss our party’s future. I’m proud to say that after calm and considered deliberation, we made some rather dramatic decisions. At the time, it was impossible to know what it all meant. A month changes a lot.

On a windy Saturday afternoon, two political titans of the Canadian left began a rhetorical battle for the ages. On the one side, Rachel Notley, defending an incrementalist approach to climate change mitigation; on the other, Stephen Lewis, arguing for a radical break, both from our industrial past, and potentially our party’s. As other commentators have noted, it was very much a replay of a debate the NDP had engaged in over 40 years prior. A Trudeau was even in government. Plus ça change.

But this time it did change. But this time the other side won. The unions lost, the incumbents lost, the leader lost, the only sitting provincial government lost. The result was decisive: the party must change, and the leader must go. It was time to seriously consider the Leap Manifesto, and discuss Canada’s energy future. It was time to renew.

I didn’t know what to make of it all then. But recent events have proven our decisions correct. Re-watching Rachel Notley’s barn-burner of a speech is poignant if not ironic now that the “economic engine” of Alberta she vociferously defended, Fort McMurray, has by an act of God ground to a halt. (The result of 800 000 bbl/day ceasing production overnight? A global spike in oil prices, of course. Good news for the global economy. At Canada’s expense.) And this is, by any measure, a massive humanitarian and environmental disaster. And as I write, it only continues to get worse.

But it’s also an opportunity. In his speech in Edmonton, Stephen Lewis called for a green “Marshall Plan,” a massive government investment in new energy alternatives, providing jobs, prosperity, and a renewed environment for the people of Alberta, Canada, and the globe. And guess who really needs a Marshall Plan now? The people of Fort McMurray.

And guess who can afford it? Us. We are one of the richest countries in the world. “The envy of our G7 partners,” as the Conservatives used to like to say. But as our partners leap forward on renewable energy, we are falling behind.

So let us mourn the past, help our neighbours, and begin to heal. But let’s also have the courage to seize this opportunity, and change the course of our country. We have a choice: we can double down on an old and dying industry, or we can work together to build a new and better future. We always have a choice.

But I think this discussion must happen now. Our Prime Minister, and our Premiers, are actively engaged in the task of approving the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, including but not limited to: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. They were hoping they could get away with it without much scrutiny.

Let’s prove them wrong.

What was it that guy used to say? Oh, right. “Courage, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to build a better world.”

On continue.

Yes, It’s Okay To Talk About Climate Change Right Now

With the largest evacuation in the history of the province of Alberta displacing nearly 100 000 people as large sections of Fort McMurray burn to the ground in the middle of a spring heat wave, it’s only natural for people affected to ask “why?” Why is this happening? What was the cause, and how were we not prepared?

When tragedy strikes we try to make sense of it. What’s happening now is, undeniably, a tragedy. Thousands of Canadians are losing everything they own. People’s lives are at risk. Life as normal has ceased for a significant portion of the people of Alberta. And while I could point out that this wildfire coincides with record-shattering temperatures across Western Canada, the likes of which we have literally never seen before in recorded history, and join in helping others draw the natural conclusions (or at least, what seem to me to be natural conclusions) about how climate change and natural disasters are causally linked, I will decline. Other people are better equipped to lead that conversation. People like Alberta’s First Nations, like climate justice activists across the country, students and organizers and grandparents and children.

No, what I do want to do, is defend our right to have that critical, and arguably existential, discussion. What I want to zero in on are the usual chorus of people, who turn up reliably after every school shooting in the United States, for example, and shout down everyone.

“Not now.” “It’s not the time.” “You’re being insensitive.” “People are in crisis, they don’t need a lecture.” “Don’t politicize this tragedy.”

But of course every tragedy is political. Every crisis is a contested site. It’s not insensitive to for people to actively and publicly struggle to make sense of this: on the contrary it is precisely an act of sensitivity. People are allowing themselves to be affected by events, and this is good. It would be (and is) insensitive to demand people remain deaf, mute, and numb to what’s happening all around them. And for decades, that has been the precise demand levelled at much of Alberta, Canada, and the globe. What it boils down to is: “Shut up.”

So don’t let those bastards get you down. Keep talking, to your friends, your families, your neighbours. If this sounds like a wake up call to you, it probably is.

Good morning, Fort McMurray. Stay safe out there.

Forgive These Bastards: Towards a Theory of our Democratic Emancipation

I was waxing philosophical with a co-worker this evening, and describing to him the ways how various political parties understand themselves as groups, how they actually operate, and the humorous differences between the two. So bear with me for a minute.

First we have the responsible, autonomous, disciplined Conservatives and their preoccupation with personal freedom, but particularly the “freedom” to impose their quasi-religious values upon others with the full force of the state. Then the Liberals, with their sense of conviction that they are the natural governing party of Canada, always on a mission to “restore” the colonial government to its former middling glory. (Yes, they’re self-identified “progressives” totally convinced of the fundamental goodness of the Canadian status quo.) The NDP, my dear NDP, the party of idealism and social progress, somehow always choosing to re-enact a militant past – a past that never really existed in the first place – instead of actually embracing social change and maybe occasionally winning elections. (Why ruin a good ideological purity contest by actually campaigning to win? It’s not like the pure of heart can win, right? …right?) And then there’s the Greens… oh, the Greens. The “party of science” run by an apocalyptic church minister convinced that humans are doomed because they are stupid… and are content with this, as long as the Eschaton arrives in short order so they can say, with absolute sincerity, that they told us so.

Of course it’s not exactly a secret that politicians of every stripe tend to say one thing, and then do another. The error, in my view, is that we’ve always blamed this behaviour on politicians being a uniquely morally dubious class of persons willing to lie, cheat, and steal to advance their own self-interest. They’re not like us, we tell ourselves. They’re not regular people.

But what if they are?

Let’s do something radical here and give our politicians the benefit of the doubt. What if the contradiction between how our politicians understand themselves and how our political parties actually operate, both inside and outside of government, is due to structural, rather than moral failings? In that case, wouldn’t the problem become slightly less intractable? Wouldn’t we then no longer require divine intervention to rescue democracy from itself?

Consider the failings of each party-form. The Conservatives, torn between economic libertarianism and religious conservatism, find themselves in this position because they’re dependent on the business class for fundraising but retired xenophobes at the ballot box.  The Liberals, those progressive aristocrats, want to “open up” the party at every available opportunity, but are dependent on an institutional memory of Canadian government which inheres in an unbroken dynastic chain of proud and wealthy Ontarians. (As a result, the latest destabilization of their political culture has triggered a push for a series of reforms that will open up voting to non-members, while rendering much of this voting almost purely symbolic. Simultaneously, the party leadership is moving to eliminate almost all remaining forms of internal party democracy beyond nominations.)

Then there’s the NDP. Our little band of merry and nostalgic proto-revolutionaries. Revolutionaries that are structurally dependent on working-class and student volunteers during election time, but on a national network of retirement clubs in all other seasons. The result is a constant tension between the “lifers,” tightly-knit social groups convinced they know how things ought to be done, and the volunteers and staffers, a large group of strangers, usually new to the party, who emerge from the woodwork for nominations and campaigns, and actually need to get things done.  As these very disparate groups attempt to work together, as they must in order to succeed as an electoral operation, we constantly confront paternalism, alienation, paranoia and hostility, and sometimes even violence.

And the Greens, well, they’re a radical grassroots movement that’s also a personality cult with no formal internal hierarchy that extends beyond the leader’s dinner table. Next.

Within the context of these formal structures, is it any surprise our politicians rapidly lose their minds? Or at least, appear to lose hold of their principles? The contradictions are unmanageable. Unmanageable, that is, for those within these systems. The result is a uniform chaos which proceeds as the strange anti-history of Canada.

There is a hegemonic character in how party members think about party structures: “well, this is just how things are done” is a natural and technically true way of thinking about a party’s procedures and constitution. But it isn’t a sufficient to understand how these systems produce the wacky results they do, as they operate on subjects specifically, and through them, on the general historical situation. These structures are arbitrary and formalized, but they didn’t come from nowhere. They are designed by humans (as all technologies are). Like any technology, design choices early on later shape the users’ own decisions, and ultimately over time, mold their values. An ideology (or often many conflicting ideologies, built up over time) are buried within the system. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t aware of them. If you’re in the system, they are shaping you. For better or worse.

So what does that all mean for those of us who want to confront problems as they arise within our political processes and actually *solve* some of them? Maybe even enough to produce a better world for a majority of people? Well, while the situation I outline is admittedly dismal, I’d argue it’s substantially less dismal than the typical conspiracy theories which leftists tend to raise as the cause of the present situation, and as insurmountable obstacles to the achievement of a truly democratic social movement. Instead of blaming external factors for our failures, things are now decidedly within our control.

Some of these problems seem pretty big, I admit, but they’re not the cartoonish supervillains we’re used to. They are still major challenges. Organizational renewal is going to be challenging for any of these parties. It will mean confronting our own assumptions, our traditional values, and challenging ourselves to change the way we have learned to think about ourselves, our party, our community, and our government. But the problems I’ve outlined above are not intractable. And in the case of the NDP, I think they have the clearest path to resolve the contradictions inherent in the party structure. Demographics are on our side. Material conditions are, too.

But we’ll need to face our demons. And believe me, we have demons. If we were perfect, we’d have been elected by now.

So instead of blaming our politicians, let’s consider that maybe, our politicians might need our help. Maybe they need to be rescued from the madness of tradition. And if we can emancipate democracy from tradition, democracy can emancipate us in turn.

This isn’t an impossible work – not for my party, not for any party. Political consensus is a fragile thing. Just ask Stephen Harper. Or Rachel Notley. Or Thomas Mulcair.

I hope I’ve given something for you to think about. While I can try my best to name some problems I’ve seen, I don’t pretend, or hope to pretend, to have all the solutions.

Nobody does. That’s why we organize together.

On continue.

Getting to “Yes” – My Thoughts On Some Tactics Of Renewal

A great deal has already been written about the historical consequences of the Renewal and Leap movements within the New Democratic Party of Canada, so instead, I will focus on the strategy and tactics of the “loony” leftist insurgency of which I am some small part.

I will focus on Renewal, as I was only a member of that group. This brings me to tactic number one: singularity of purpose. To reach the goals that both movements set for themselves in Edmonton, both movements consciously maintained their separation. The questions came to the floor as discrete ones before the membership and the debate was left to entirely different players. This was critical to our success: if it was apparent that Mulcair was associated with LEAP, LEAPers may have voted to keep him. And if Mulcair was associated with its opposition, delegates from Alberta and the Maritimes may have voted to keep him. Tom exacerbated this problem by his unwillingness to take a position for or against the document in the lead-up to the convention or his speech to delegates. The compromise motion to make LEAP acceptable to delegates from Ontario and BC, that ultimately achieved its passing, ironically may have made the “Yes” question more acceptable to delegates from Alberta and the Maritimes. Our opponents did not recognize the importance of tactic #1.

Singularity of purpose was challenged occasionally internally, and I did argue against it with success. At several points people wanted Renewal to associate the request for a “Yes” vote on leadership review with a particular (usually socialist) set of policy proposals that implicitly the party had failed to champion (for whatever reason) under Mulcair. I hope it is now clear what a bad idea this would have been for the purposes of achieving the majority vote we did, but I welcome further argument on the subject, if necessary.

Tactic two was politeness. Politeness is, of course, that most fundamentally Canadian characteristic, and it was clear to early Renewal organizers (and I thank them for anticipating the necessity of this) that the movement had to be structurally encouraging of a respect for the service and integrity of the leadership. If you observe any spokesperson of Renewal in the media, or read any of the materials that were distributed, you will see throughout a consistency: we thank Mulcair for his service and distance the question of his continued leadership from him as a person. The existence of the vote, and the right of delegates to vote Yes or No, was not constructed (as it has been in the past) a formality, but instead as part of the terms of employment he accepted. So even while we invited delegates to consider a “Yes” vote to trigger a new convention, we thanked Tom for his service and will continue to do so. We also invited (and still invite) him to seek the leadership again, if he believes he can earn another mandate through the convention process.

The third and final tactic I would like to propose made the difference was simply: boldness. It is my opinion, and I suspect it is a shared opinion, that a great deal of what goes wrong in our fair society here in Canada is a result of a toxic version of tactic #2, politeness. Simply put, sometimes we hold too fast to our culture of politeness, and lead ourselves into situations where sometimes we all know a terrible thing is happening, yet are afraid to speak out. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is the maxim of this cowardice. The willingness of delegates to speak out about the need for renewal, when nobody else would; to speak truthfully about their beliefs about the present and the future of the NDP; and to show, with buttons, with new lanyards, with pamphlets and with smiles on their faces, what they believed; and to say that they were not afraid to see this problem, to say what they thought about it, and to do the work to solve it; this boldness encouraged the delegates that a “Yes” vote was not only politically thinkable, but meaningful, principled, and ultimately, correct.

We stood up for what we believed in, while our opponents remained hidden. And as a result, every hour our numbers surged; every hour another candidate, another volunteer, another former staffer came forward with another confession; every hour we learned another truth that emboldened us further.

And then we won.

Going forward, I don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know who our next leader will or should or could be. I don’t know what the result of our Leap manifesto discussions at the riding level will be, and I don’t care to hazard guesses on any of these subjects. I do hope my fellow New Democrats learn to process, and enact, the simple advice Grand Chief Stewart Phillip gave me last year. Advice I already knew, frequently repeat, and can always stand to be heard again. “Speak from the heart, and you will never go wrong.”

You really won’t. I promise.

On continue,

Nick

Why I’m Going To Edmonton To Vote For New NDP Leadership

The personal is always political, and the political is always personal. Instead of attempting to make a detached and intellectual argument for a leadership convention, I am simply going to explain why I have come to the decision I have. I trust other delegates will reach their own conclusions.

Many people in the NDP today joined because they were inspired by the leadership of Jack Layton; many met him personally. Many ran in 2015 to continue his legacy. I never met him myself. I took a different path.

I was not involved in federal politics until I met Tom Mulcair in late 2012, shortly after he won the NDP leadership. Like many Canadians, I tuned out through the series of minority governments that saw the Liberals and Conservatives became increasingly indistinguishable. It was only after the earthquake result in 2011 that I began paying attention.

That chance meeting with Mr. Mulcair changed the course of my life, for better or worse, and I took many people along for the ride, with no regrets. At the time I had no idea who he was, other than holding the lofty title of Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. I knew nothing about the internal workings of the NDP. I was not a member and had no involvement in the leadership convention that elected him after Layton had passed. No matter. I was caught up in the ripple effect of that decision by no choice of my own; and it brought me to my place in the present.

So obviously, deciding to vote against his continued leadership was not easy for me. But I have decided to do that.

My decision was not the result of any particular event or ideological dispute. I always liked and continue to like Tom; he’s brilliant and quick-witted and a master of policy and argument. That’s what struck me when we met, at a stakeholders meeting on environmental management issues in Surrey, British Columbia. I was working for a nonprofit that conducted interpretive tours in the Delta Nature Reserve, which made me a stakeholder. We were joined by (now former) MPs Jinny Sims and Jasbir Sandhu, Sims’ constituency assistant Laurie MacLean, former Green Party candidate Liz Walker, my boss Eliza Olsen, outgoing BCNDP MLA Guy Gentner, and a handful of others. There, I met a man who seemed less a politician than a thinker, and as a fellow thinker, I was encouraged. I became more politically active.

That snowballed quickly. I ended up working for the BCNDP in 2013, for OneCity in Vancouver in 2014, for the Alberta NDP in 2015, and for many nomination candidates in the 2015 federal election, including but not limited to the honourable Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East, former provincial chief judge Carol Baird Ellan (a.k.a. mom), and Okanagan College department chair Norah Bowman. After the writ dropped in August, I worked full-time as the riding organizer for Kelowna – Lake Country. I did all of this because I thought (and still think) Tom Mulcair was our best choice for Prime Minister to replace Stephen Harper and reverse his disastrous legacy. I believed (and still believe) the federal NDP were ready to govern. I still think that. But voters make their own choices. Which is a good thing.

And so do I.

I have no interest in re-fighting the last fight. I look toward 2019, and what we need to do as a party to ensure that, like 2015, the election is a step forward for Canada, not a step back. I believe it is no longer enough for us to simply prosecute the incumbent. We must build a convincing case that the New Democrats are the best choice at the ballot box for a majority of Canadians.

To date, we have not done that convincingly. We have not differentiated ourselves sufficiently from the Liberals. And if we go to voters in 2019 with a message of “Anybody But Trudeau,” the consequences will be disastrous. We may gain some seats, but at what cost to the country? Another four years of Conservative rule? This is unacceptable to me.

So that’s why I am voting for a leadership convention.

To be clear, I am not voting against Tom Mulcair; I am voting to allow us as a party an opportunity to continue to build on his accomplishments as the membership sees fit. Tom is welcome to run again for the leadership and I encourage him to do so. And if re-elected it will be he that carries out that new mandate.

For now, I can say that he did the job the party elected him to do in 2012, which was to “Stop Harper” and hold the Conservatives to account. It’s doubtful anyone could have done better. But that is no longer enough. That job is done.

It’s time to restructure ourselves and begin the next phase of our party. And after consulting with dozens of NDP candidates, with current and former MPs, with thousands of voters, and with members, volunteers, and donors, I am confident my opinion is not unrepresentative.

As someone a little older and wiser than me once said, we are gathering together to make a decision. It will have consequences. There will be a ripple effect. We can’t put it off to another date; it needs to be made now. And while I can tell you how I think you ought to vote, ultimately that is not going to make a big difference on what you decide. It is your decision to make, and yours alone.

So make it for the right reasons, and it will be right.

See you in Edmonton.

With love, hope, and optimism,
Nick

Where Do We Go From Here?

Thursday, after work, I took a little time to listen in to the NDP’s West Coast post-election debriefing conference call, hosted by president Rebecca Blaikie. It was enlightening. But it left me – and probably a lot of us – with far more questions than answers.

The first caller was a man from Mayne Island who made some very specific suggestions about voting reform. “Oh great, a Green to start us off,” I said out loud. This had the whiff of inevitability about it. But with that odd policy interlude out of the way, the kvetching began.

People were careful to preface their remarks with acknowledgements of the hard work of Tom Mulcair as leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, but the message was consistent. When it came to articulating a vision of what would come after Stephen Harper, the party had fallen flat. “I’ve been a New Democrat for over 50 years,” one caller said. “But I don’t even know who we are any more.”

“Where is the vision?” another asked. “We had good policy planks, but there was no vision tying it all together.” No direction. No idea where we would take the country if we were elected.

And then another member called in – Donna from Vancouver. Could it be my Donna from Vancouver? And it was.

I met Donna through a candidate seeking the party’s nomination in Vancouver Granville. The candidate she supported was eventually asked to step down by movers-and-shakers to make room for Mira Oreck, who came with the support of Vancouver’s Vision party and all their machinery. He was one of many people whose names never made it to a nomination floor. (Mira ended up coming in third.) But I was glad to meet them, and Donna became a close friend. On the day of the nomination in Burnaby North – Seymour, she came out to help, and while I was directing the GOTV effort I entrusted her with the most important task of all: getting the candidate to the meeting floor in once piece. And she did!

Today she had called in with a simple piece of advice. She pointed out that Mulcair was a great leader until the election was underway, but that man hadn’t turned up on the campaign trail. The fire was gone, replaced with a fake smile (which was the subject of more than a little ridicule in post-debate discussions). His handlers had directed him to change his image, she speculated. But that’s not what New Democrats do. We are who we are, and if we aren’t, then… who are we?

Instead of a solution to this riddle, I have two anecdotes for you.

One: Last June, I was travelling back from a trip to Roberts Point, and taking the Canada Line to North Van. A older woman saw my odd choice of footwear, complimented me on my “mocs” (they were Vibrams) and began talking to me about just about everything. She was from Quebec, and just back from a visit to Mayne Island, where she’d been kayaking. “Lovely place. But they’re afraid of their own shadow out there.” (Indeed. But it turns out they are fascinated with the mathematics of various methods of electoral reform.)

Two: Last December, I’d settled in to my new job in the private sector, as all recovering organizers do. Sales was a quick adjustment, and I was already doing pretty well. My supervisor described his best sale of the day: “I knocked on a guy’s door and he was about to tell me to fuck off when he saw my Patriots toque. He was from New England, it turns out. He invited me in. Easy deal. I know I’d get more sales overall with a Seahawks toque out here… but I’m a Patriots fan. And it’s important to be true to oneself.”

I nodded. “Yes, people respond positively when you’re honest and genuine, even if they disagree with you.”

“Exactly! Stick to your principles, Jersey.” (My name is Jersey now. Don’t ask.)

To conclude: the spectacle of watching the failed leadership of the current incarnation of the NDP attempt to re-invent itself again, to become some kind of faux-Bernie socialish crusaders-against-inequality-sans-tax-hikes, churns my stomach. At the same time as these intellectual contortions are underway, party loyalists simultaneously demand the membership stick with our leader… to demonstrate… commitment and continuity?

So here’s what we know about the current leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada: they are content to fabricate a new politics out of thin air, as needed, whenever the last version of what they think is best for the country tests poorly at the ballot box, but utterly inflexible when it comes to the question of leadership. Where did the last campaign’s all-but-abandoned ideas come from? Where will the next?

On August 1, 2015, the day before the writ dropped, Tom Mulcair published an autobiography, titled “Strength of Conviction.”

If only.

 

One Year On

On the one year anniversary of this odd little project, I just wanted to say a quick word of thanks. Thanks to everyone who has reached out and become a friend over the past year. It has been a privilege getting to know so many people over the course of 2015. I can’t even count how many new people I’ve met this year.

Never before have I experienced such glorious tumult. I even switched careers (three times?) and moved to Kelowna (twice). When I started this little project 365 days ago I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Someone said to me just the other day “I’m sad I only got to know you this year. What were you like before?” I laughed. I was boring, to be honest. But people change. To all my new friends in 2015, I hope the year brought you some change, too.

[But there is a bittersweet element, here: every now and then an old friend resurfaces and complains that they miss the “old me.” To those precious few addicted to a memory: I politely request you bury it. In exchange for all I’ve given you, give me that small thing in return. Thanks.]

Change is never easy, of course. But it is necessary, and rewarding. And well within our grasp. If there’s one thing 2015 taught me: all you have to do is ask. I have been blown away by the enormous contributions of labour, love, time and money that so many have given. Take some well-earned rest, all. Because we’ll be back at it before you know it. (I implore myself as much as anyone else, here.)

Another friend, way back in February, told me: “You know Nick, you really need to run for public office someday. But clean yourself up first.” Again, I laughed.

“Maybe in a decade.”

“How about five years?”

How did she know, right at the start, that I had a five year plan? Oh well, I’m an open book. And you’re welcome to it.

Thanks, everyone. For all the little things. For every email, every phone call, every dollar, every doorknock. Thanks for the ride to Penticton, Scott and Justine. Thanks for the bunk on March 21st, Marcy. Thanks for all the coffee, Maria. Thanks for the beer, Amir. And thanks for the cachaça, Norah! And thanks for the stories, Jacqui. And for everything.

Thanks for running for office, all 338 of you. Thanks for defeating the Conservatives, and thank you in advance four years from now for burying them for good.

Merry Christmas, all.

And happy 44th birthday, Justin Trudeau.