NDP Leadership 2003

As the New Democratic Party selects a new leader, capitalism is in crisis. With the economy crumbling, the US is once again preparing for war. The class struggle is increasing everywhere; in the last two years we have seen two general strikes in Portugal, two general strikes in Italy, two general strikes in Greece and one general strike in Spain. The flames of revolution are spreading throughout Latin America. Here in British Columbia, we’ve seen tens of thousands in the streets against the government and the BC Federation of Labour just passed a resolution at their convention that “authorizes the Federation Officers to mobilize support for workplace and community action up to and including job action by sector, region or province-wide and/or general strike”. However, amidst all of this there is no credible left candidate running for the leadership of the NDP.

In Canada, the economy is headed for recession. Though they tell us things are getting better, the lineups at unemployment offices and food banks are getting longer. The unemployment rate in Canada is technically falling, but this is a result of full-time jobs being split into part-time jobs. In BC things are even worse. On the day that I’m righting this, there are 86 new job bank postings for the lower mainland, but there are nearly 200,000 people looking for work in the region

The crisis of capitalism is reflected in the NDP. There is a growing polarization between left and right. At the last convention nearly %40 of the delegates voted in favour of the New Politics Initiative, a motion to dissolve the NDP and form a new left-wing party. Workers are pouring into the NDP on mass, looking for a way out. In the last seven months alone, the membership rose by %41 to over 80,000 members across Canada.

To the surprise of many on the left in the NDP, MP Svend Robinson chose not to run for leader. Svend is widely considered the leader of the left in the NDP, but after years of making radical promises winning the leadership of the party would force him to live up to these expectations. To put it simply Mr. Robinson is afraid of his own supporters. He instead opted to endorse Toronto city councilor, Jack Layton’s as a candidate. Although Layton has the backing of the left, including MP Libby Davies and BC MLA Jenny Kwan, he lacks a solid left platform. When Layton was asked about the fight between the Blairists and the left inside the NDP he said, “I think we have to bridge those differences. … I believe there is a potential there for some bridge building and beginning to work together.” And when asked if he was the candidate of the left, Layton answered that he didn’t believe in those types of labels! But what Mr. Layton does not realize is that there is meaning behind those labels; they are the difference between rich and poor, compromise and courage, reform and revolution.

Besides Jack Layton, there are five other declared candidates, although only two of them stand a chance. The election is widely perceived to be a race between Jack Layton, Bill Blaikie and Lorne

Nystrom (from left to right). Bill Blaikie is a long-time Member of Parliament and former United Church Minister. I searched in vain to find what exactly Blaikie stands for, unfortunately all I could find was, “Passionate. Respected. Ready.” In actuality he is the center-candidate, with no stance on any of the controversial issues. Lorne Nystrom is the candidate of the right. His platform includes, “Increasing the defense budget immediately by $1 billion” and, “A general decline in taxes … done in a way that does not jeopardize … the distribution of wealth.” Does this mean that Mr. Nystrom feels that the distribution of wealth in Canada is fine just the way it is?

The lack of a clear left-candidate will be expressed in a surprisingly large turnout for the fringe candidates (Joe Comartin, Bev Meslo and Pierre Ducasse). Joe Comartin will probably come in fourth when all the ballots are counted, but the interesting point will be exactly how much of the vote he gets. Comartin just may take away a large number of Jack Layton’s votes. In any event, a large turnout for the fringe candidates will represent a growing dissatisfaction within the party.

Over the next few years the NDP will be transformed from top to bottom. The massive influx of workers will play a major role in this. As workers are forced into struggle they will increasingly turn to their traditional party: the NDP. The party is in desperate need of a bold leadership that is ready to fight, a leadership that can take this party beyond the limits of capitalism and into a new world. Unfortunately, this leadership will not be found in any of the credible candidates.

Mike Palecek
Spokesperson, Vancouver Young New Democrats