Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Considered Wisdom of Gerald Caplan

As one who yearns for a NDP reformation yet supports a different party, I've looked for helpful insights from prominent, 'old school' New Democrats on how the legendary party of Douglas, Lewis and Broadbent was transformed into the party of Layton and Mulcair.

One of these New Democrat rabbis is Gerald Caplan. Presented here are a few of his thoughts from two weeks before the election and in the immediate aftermath. On October 6th, Caplan wrote this in the Globe and Mail:

Where has the NDP’s neoliberal economic platform come from? Certainly not from the NDP policy book or the party’s members who overwhelmingly disagree with the promises about no deficits and balanced budgets.

Besides, can this possibly be the real change the NDP promises?

...Given that Mr. Harper has run one of the most destructive governments in modern Canadian history, why is Mr. Mulcair giving him almost a free ride while attacking Justin Trudeau at every turn? After all, when Mr. Trudeau talks about deficits, inequality, taxing the very rich, he’s talking NDP. And aren’t we going to have to work closely with him after October 19, to keep Mr. Harper out?

...And yet the NDP seems to have decided to go after Mr. Trudeau even harder in a new series of ads. Isn’t it considered madness when you double down on a failed strategy and expect different results. As one of my many correspondents on this matter typically wrote: “I have to say that if the ‘He’s Not Ready’ stuff didn’t work, the ‘He Just Lost My Vote’ stuff certainly won’t. Besides it sounds surly and curmudgeonly. And don’t they understand that it helps Mr. Trudeau? Why are we obsessively targeting the wrong person?” Another good question. The new ads merely draw attention to Mr. Trudeau, reminding Canadians that he’s still flying high. And as usual, they ignore Mr. Harper instead of lambasting his record and demonstrating who the real anti-Harper leader is.

In today's Globe, Caplan laments the loss of so many fine NDP stalwarts - Megan Leslie, Peter Stoffer, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash among others - and they will be missed.

The Trudeau government has its clear priorities, many of them embarrassingly more progressive than the NDP’s platform. The NDP caucus can hardly oppose any of them, but nor can it expect the Government to pay attention to NDP overtures. Why should they? To fight the dreaded Harperman, the Liberals, and specifically their leader, received nothing but abuse during the campaign, often gratuitously personal and always strategically dubious. The Liberals will hardly be grateful for NDP advice about the right way to run Canada.

Now that it can’t seriously pretend to be the government-in-waiting, the NDP must rethink its role in parliament and indeed in the country. For decades the NDP were policy pioneers, promoting social policies especially until the governing party was forced to accept them – old-age pensions, medicare, unemployment insurance, and much more. Where are the equivalent NDP policies of today? Where are the tough but realistic policies that would address Canada’s scandalous inequality?

...And where does it leave the party now? That’s the question that New Democrats must start debating, the sooner the better. The answer is by no means preordained. For me, keeping the new government honest remains a pretty good cause.

Keeping the new government honest, indeed. For decades the NDP paid Canadians invaluable service by working to keep governments honest, by standing as the 'conscience of Parliament.'  Just as Conservatives disdained peacekeeping for warfighting (albeit in vain) during the Harper era, so too did New Democrats jettison their traditional role - and progressivism - for a shot at power during the Layton/Mulcair era.

Why did the NDP squander its credibility "obsessively targeting the wrong person," Justin Trudeau? Because that was what was ordained in the Layton/Mulcair playbook. They were always out to take down the Liberals even at the cost of advancing Harper. Layton helped Harper ascend to power. Layton was instrumental in Harper achieving his disastrous (for Canada) majority. Mulcair sought to play the same game.

It's encouraging that the Caplans and Laxers and others are now speaking out and pointing the way for the New Democrats to rehabilitate their party. I can't see how they'll do that with Mulcair at the helm.


Unknown said...

I can't see them doing that with Mulcair at the helm. either mound. Is there anyone that looks like a potential progressive NDP leader to you?

Kim said...

Nathan Cullen.

Ben Burd said...

"Nathan Cullen."

Oh wasn't he the guy who wanted to cooperate with the Libs before the election? How does that fit with the Laxers and the Caplans Mound?

Incidentally the two front runners for youth and ideas (paul Dewar and Meghan Leslie) got knocked out - thanks to the strategic voters and the herd mantality.

Anonymous said...

I'm typically a Liberal supporter (not member) who voted NDP last time because of Ignatieff. This time I came back into the fold because Trudeau was, while not perfect, so much better than Ignatieff. I'll never understand why the Liberals picked Ignatieff last time. Did you want Harper to get a majority? Any way, that's done. Now we'll see if I regret my vote.

Scotian said...


You got that right. The person I put right behind Jack Layton for the rise to power of Harper is Ignatief, and not just from when he was the leader but how he undermined Dion's leadership and made the party look weak and Dion look weak and the Libs following the continuation of the divided party factionalism from the Chretien/Martin period too. Layton in 2005 not only gave Harper the political cover he needed to pull Martin down at that time (something Dippers hate dealing with is that while they did not have the numerical ability to stop Harper and the BQ plus independents from bring down Martin, Harper was not going to do so with his primary allies being the Separatists, it would have been near political suicide for him to do so and would give Martin a major tool to fight back with, and he knew it, which is why he needed Layton for the political cover, and Layton was too good a politician not to understand this) he stopped denouncing Harper for the right wing extremist he damned well knew Harper was. That stayed the case in both 2008 and 2011 too, because in this Layton and Harper shared a common political goal, the extermination of the Liberal party of Canada as a federal party because the Liberal party was an electoral and ideological threat to both parties and both men knew it.

This is not rocket science, Hells, it is polysci 101 material, yet somehow Dippers seem unable to accept this. It is why I have been so angered about Layton's choices and decisions and held him and the party leadership responsible for Harper's rise to power, because they KNEW what Harper was, and they made a CHOICE to allow him to be PM because it served their narrow electoral political expediency needs to do so. Which since the NDP love to ride the high moral horse into the ground about being against such expediency politics with their holier than thou attitude was exceptionally offensive. This time was when they were most needed to save Canada form the worst right wing threat we had ever seen at the federal level, far worse than anything any Libs ever did, as any HONEST appraisal of the actions of the Harper government versus all prior governments makes brutally clear. Yet the party of principles first...sold out the nation for a chance to form government after Harper.

In 2011 I was still saying the only way I saw to stop Harper required the Libs, that I could not see how the NDP could ever manage to get to even minority government levels let alone a majority, and that even Ignatief with all his many faults, flaws, and negatives was still a far superior choice to Harper, not because Iggy was any good, but because Harper simply was that bad as two terms in minority had already made clear and foretold what he would be like should he ever get to majority. Sadly we found out. At least Justin Trudeau was able to ride in and save us from a second go-round of Harper, and do not kid yourselves people, that was far less far-fetched than it may look at this point. If say Marc Garneau had gotten the Lib leadership instead I expect Harper could have successfully destroyed the Mulcair NDP as a governing option and used the Libs to split the vote on the NDP in reverse of what he did in 2011.

The federal NDP leadership from the last decade has a lot to answer for, and so do too many of its partisans for defending the actions taken by Mulcair that they did, not least in my books was the choice to aid Harper in ducking the Consortium debates and the line of "reasoning" they used to defend it. That showed just how lost to anything remotely resembling principles, ethics, and democratic defenders not just Mulcair but far too many of his NDP followers had become in my books, much as the Grewal fraud showed just how far Harper would truly go in is lust for power.

Anonymous said...

Canadians were ready to throw Harper out last time - we've never really like the guy! Liberals could have won at least a minority with almost any leader other than Ignatieff.

Cathie from Canada said...

Agree. As likeable as Layton was, he cost us national daycare and the Kelowna Accord. He was basically always a Toronto alderman at heart. Mulcair needs to get out of the way because this campaign proved he is not up to the job of leading a national party.

Northern PoV said...

Ben Burd

Lots of analysis showing the dippers holding their base... Trudeau grew the pie - brought out new voters.

So ya, the "blue Libs" and Red-Tories switched from blue to red but their are just not enough dippers.

If Trudeau goes right (hope not) then dippers need to find a Corbyn figure to lead & I might join.

In the meantime celebrate the end of Harper.

Ray Blessin said...

Michael Ignatieff turned Canadian politics into a smoldering ruin!

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Ray Blessin. I think you give Ignatieff far more credit than he deserves. He tanked the Liberals but that's about it. For everyone else he was mainly a waste of time. He did, however, give Layton the opportunity he craved to take the NDP to Official Opposition status even if that meant enabling Harper's majority.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Pam - I've got no idea who should lead the NDP. Perhaps Dewar could come back through the by-election backdoor.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think the Libs were seduced by Ignatieff's intellectual/celebrity persona. They anointed the guy after all. They thought he could overpower Harper the way Pierre eviscerated Tories in his day and they were utterly wrong.

The Mound of Sound said...

As Gerald Caplan so plainly put it, Trudeau defeated Harper not with the help of Mulcair but despite Mulcair's incessant attacks. Mulcair was following Layton's playbook of always attacking the Liberals no matter how that played into Harper's designs. For his part, Trudeau ignored Mulcair and just kept hammering away at Harper and the public understood what they were seeing and chose the guy they wanted, Justin Trudeau.

The Liberal majority win leaves the New Dems in a terrible position, stuck on the centre-right exactly where Layton and Mulcair steered them. Their credibility is in tatters. There is a way back but that means returning to the party of Douglas, Lewis and Broadbent.

the salamander said...

.. gotta love the story of Ken Boessenkool and his two public relations partners in all this. The three of them cover all bases politically.. floating like remoras.. Right Wing Boessenkook was seconded by Harper out west to help Christie Clark pave the way for pipelines.. but having screwed up & not spending enought time with his family.. retreated to Calgary. Zap.. oh he's back as Senior troll to herr Harper.. but having formed a company to thrive off the fruits of politics, his partners are advising Mulcair or Trudeau.. Pardon Me ? Boessenkool of course is signatory to The Alberta Firewall Declaration with Harper and Tom Flanagan (remember him?) and of course Stockwell Day is pimping away as the great Reformative Libtard he is for uh.. Christy Clark.. who is filling in for the current Ambassador to Britain who signed away BC's rights to Independant Environmental Review of Energy Projects like - uh - pipelines, supertankers.. fracking.. and hey how about some extirpation of First Nations Treaties ! The rot runs deep Mound.. it runs very very deep...

Owen Gray said...

When you take a wrong turn, Mound, it can take a long time to find your way out of the wilderness.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Hey, Sal, and a sunny morning to you. Remoras, indeed. Great choice of words. Yes, the rot runs deep and it's nearly institutional - but not quite. Still there are spots that will have to be attacked with a mallet and chisel.

Speaking of remoras, did you notice the twisty path taken by a self-styled Liberal pundit over the course of this campaign? He appeared bitter when he wasn't taken aboard Team Trudeau and bemoaned Justin's decision that he wasn't particularly welcome to run in one of his area ridings. After that it was weeks of back-biting, snidely pointing out every supposed gaffe and misjudgment Team Trudeau made as if our Liberal pundit was stacking cordwood.

Then, toward the end, the Liberal Loudmouth's tune changed. Suddenly he wrote how he had "misjudged" Trudeau but, then again, who didn't? All the nasty shots were just as suddenly forgotten, paved over, to be shoved down the memory hole, erased.

I suppose it's a tad awkward when you're a supposed top 'Liberal operative' on the outside looking in having scorched, if not completely burned, so many bridges.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Owen - yes, I expect you're right. There are a lot of New Dems wrestling with how they went from their greatest victory to their greatest defeat in back-to-back elections. As Laxer pointed out these are the folks who jettisoned principle for the promise of electoral triumph and, in the result, received their just rewards.

You and I, Owen, are old enough to remember so many decades of their self-righteous howling at centrism. These people told us how deeply they despised all things Liberal. Then, when Layton and Mulcair dangled the shiny lure before their eyes, they lunged at it and took it deep.

The Harper era erased any doubt in my mind that most Canadians choose their political party just as they choose their favourite hockey team. They truly are a facile, shallow lot. Then there are the camp followers who ride the baggage train looking for handouts and patronage. Finally there is a minority that embraces the pith and substance, a few who are equally capable of criticizing their own party's missteps as they are the opposition's.

crf said...

The NDP needs to focus on its provincial parties during the next 4 years. That is where it has had the most success in the past. The style and competence of Provincial governments also gives an idea to voters on how any party might govern federally.

If Trudeau manages electoral reform, the next federal election is going to be unpredictable. So not much time ought to be spent by any losing party trying to glean insights from their recent federal defeats. There ought to be no real hurry trying to build a set of federal policies. Let that come from the provinces.

Of course, electoral reform might not happen. But we'll probably know well before the next election whether that is the case.

Northern PoV said...

"a self-styled Liberal pundit "
cloak and dagger ref to (shhh warren the k) ??

I think the Lib campaign team read him daily and did the opposite of what he advised.
A washed-up, petulant pundit.
I think he blocked me as my comments just ...... d sap ear on his si

The Mound of Sound said...

@ NPoV - I suspect there's some truth to that. They had to fend him off with sticks. Smart move.