I’ve never joined a
political party, never even been to a political convention. Last election, after
being dragged by the hair to the ballot box, I was overcome by a wave of ennui
more acute than the pain suffered by my friends who simply ingested their
Does this mean I’m a
no-brain, knee-jerk anarchist, as many a Globe letter-writer has claimed?
Perhaps. But then why
do I find myself agreeing that we need a new Left political alliance, maybe even
a new party?
What’s clear is that
the Left as it is currently constituted – a weakened NDP, and an endless series
of street protests – is a recipe for fighting like crazy to make things not
quite as bad as they would be otherwise. A revolutionary goal for the Left would
be to actually made things – close your eyes and imagine it – [ital] better
Is the New Politics
Initiative the answer? It could be.
First, the basics. The
NPI, leaked to the press recently, is not a new party trying to overthrow the
NDP and crown Svend Robinson King of the Socialists. It’s a political idea about
what a new party could and should be: more internally democratic, committed to
electoral reform, tied to grassroots movements (www.newpolitics.ca.).
It is not doing what
most people I know have already done – i.e. writing off the NDP entirely.
Instead, it is putting forward a concrete proposal for the NDP to adopt
resolutions at its November convention that would transform the party into this
new entity. Already, some of the most grassroots-minded NDPers have endorsed the
idea, as well as respected activists and authors including Judy Rebick and Jim
And no, I haven’t
decided if I’ll sign yet. The real question for people with itchy, painful party
allergies like mine, is this: what happens in the unlikely event that the NDP
membership actually goes for it? That’s when the idea for a new politics turns
into a living process – and the real test begins.
To those outside the
Labour-NDP axis, all this talk still looks like the usual suspects jockeying for
position. Genuinely new politics would mean bringing together communities that
have nothing to do with the Canadian left as it looks today – either with the
NDP, or the mass street protests like those that took place in Quebec City. This
task doesn’t just requite better "outreach." It requires wiping the slate clean,
systematically identifying the constituencies that are suffering most under the
current economic model – and are already organizing against it most forcefully –
and building a national vision from there.
Who am I talking about?
Here’s a start, by no means complete:
- The burgeoning city
power movements – environmentalists, anti-poverty activists — who finally
have proof that the federal and provincial downloading buck stops with them.
And it comes up considerably short, with not nearly enough to cover basic
human needs like water safety, public transport, and housing.
communities who have always voted Liberal and are now questioning that
allegiance, having just discovered, via the draconian Bill C11, that they are
in this country on a guest pass.
Quebeckers, fed up with the PQ’s endless postponement of action on social
issues, and looking for alternatives.
- First Nations
communities whose prospects for real self-government are once again being
delayed, this time by paternalistic concerns about "governance" and federal
defiance of Supreme Court rulings on resource control.
- Resource communities
– whether Prairie grain producers, West Coast loggers and fishers, or PEI
potato farmers – who have already found out that there is no level, free-trade
playing field when your biggest trading partner writes the rules and breaks
Bringing these, and
other, forces together would draw out deep conflicts between Natives and
non-Natives, unions and environmentalists, urban and rural communities – as well
as between the white face of the Canadian left and the darker face of Canadian
poverty. To overcome these divisions, what is needed is not a new political
party – not yet — but a new political process, one with enough faith in
democracy to let a political mandate emerge.
That could well mean
re-examining some of the traditional left’s most basic ideas about how to
organize a country. After all, the thread that connects municipal rights to
sustainable resource management, as well as Quebec sovereignty to Native
self-government, is not a stronger central state. It is a desire for
self-determination and local control.
Creating this process
would be an arduous long term project. But it would be worth it. Because it is
in the connections between these largely off-the-map issues and communities –
not in the current internal squabbles – that you can detect the rough outlines
of a powerful, truly national Canadian Left-in-waiting.