The NDP Month from Hell

Thomas-Mulcair

NDP Tom Mulcair leader must be wondering what sort of voodoo hex has been cast on him.  This past parliamentary session, he has set the standard in the House of Commons for putting the screws to Harper on any number of political issues, but especially his tour de force performance in the role of crown prosecutor cross-examining the key suspect in the increasingly irrelevant televised legal drama, otherwise known as Question Period.  But the paradox of Mulcair’s obvious eclipsing of the other opposition leaders in the House appears to be that it doesn’t make a difference when it comes to the ultimate bottom line in politics, the polls.

Mulcair and the NDP learned this the hard way last month, in what has to be among their toughest since Tom became leader in 2012.  Things started off badly when the NDP’s provincial wing in Ontario suffered a major setback at the polls.  Then, last week, it was the federal party’s turn to be dealt a major blow from the Liberals in the by-elections results.  Mulcair had been hustling particularly hard for Joe Cressy the NDP candidate in Olivia Chow’s former orange fortress in Trinity-Spadina.  The seat had belonged to the party for the better party of the last 8 years.  But Adam Vaughan, another member of Justin’s rat-pack (unlike the original candidate Christine Innis and the lawsuit against the party that is still pending) along with the help from many of the same organizers and volunteers who helped the OLP steal seats from the ONDP in Toronto in the recent provincial elections, and, of course, JT himself.  To be fair, as a former Toronto city councillor, Vaughan was already a fairly well-recognized name in the riding and a polished politician, who didn’t need much hand-holding from the central party.

Whatever the reason, Vaughan delivered a stunning victory last Monday, that will continue to smart for the NDP until (and if) they manage to take the seat back from the Grits in the 2015 general election.

The fact is, that the Grits got good news not just in the substantial victory for Vaughan (53.7% of the vote), but also in all of the other by-elections held on the 30th.  The victory for Arnold Chang in Agincourt-Scarborough while not really surprising, was nothing to scoff at either with an impressive 59% versus an ugly 8.5% for the Dipper candidate.  And then there’s JT’s support for the pending Keystone XL pipeline project to ship Alberta’s tar sand’s oil to the US, which is evidently winning him some support in previously impenetrable Alberta, where the Grits finished  2nd   (with a respectable 35.3 % of vote share in Fort-Mac) to the Tories in both ridings. Having said this, given the severely low levels of voter turnout in both of these, I hesitate to make any predictions on what this means for the LPC in Alberta come 2015.

But the political gods were not done punishing the federal NDP.  Last Thursday, the NDP’s 700 staffers on Parliament Hill (the NDP remains the only political party in North America that has a unionized political staff) announced that they were abandoning their union Unifor, partly in protest for the super labour organization’s decision not to unconditionally support the NDP in the provincial Ontario election and their leader Andrea Horwath.  A regional council meeting of the union had opted to advise their 300,000 membership to vote for anyone but the fiercely anti-union Ontario Progressive Conservatives and their ill-fated leader Tim Hudak.

At first glance, this may not seem like terrible news, after all unions can’t force their membership to vote a certain way (no matter how much critics try to accuse them of being in bed with the NDP and ruling over their constituents with an iron fist) and it wouldn’t be the first time that the NDP had a falling out with a major union over a political campaign (remember when Buzz “Judas” Hargrove, then head of CAW, put the knife in the NDP during the 2006 federal election by endorsing Paul Martin for Prime Minister).  Also, Jerry Dias (President of Unifor) hasn’t ruled out endorsing the NDP in the next federal election.

But when you consider that Dias is keeping his options open and has already compared Harper to Hudak (fair comparison, I would say) the size of the organization (Unifor is the largest union in Canada by far) and the possible loss to the organizational capacity of the NDP in terms of experienced volunteers, organisers and resources , this could be trouble with a capital T.  Not to mention, undermining at least symbolically the NDP’s claim of being the party of organized labour in Canada.  It’s just as well that this June from Hell is finally over for New Democrats.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

New Bloc leader Mario Beaulieu will drive party into the ground
Bedford 2: This time it’s personal!
Supreme Court Chief latest victim of the Harper shoot-the-messenger policy
Chickens coming home to roost on “open nominations” promise
What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt

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