Updated below (x2).
For the last few weeks, Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP have been campaigning hard to drive the party to the right, placate big business, and show people that they are serious about balancing budgets. In the process, they have predictably alienated many longtime supporters and drawn criticism from some of their allies in the media (and, of course, some non-allies). While many on the left have been shocked and dismayed by the austerity-friendly direction the party has been going (and have even been publicly reprimanded for saying so), the leadership has nonetheless also picked up support from highly unusual places.
That includes people like Warren Kinsella, a longtime Liberal consultant, former Chrétien ally and Sun News commentator (who, as it happens, opposed Kathleen Wynne’s bid for the Ontario leadership). On Monday, Kinsella played slightly against type, with a column titled “Who needs friends when you’ve got foes?” In it, he quotes Robin Sears, former chief-of-staff for former Ontario NDP Premier-turned-federal-Liberal-leader-turned-wise-elder Bob Rae, who has praised Andrea Horwath’s strategy while mocking the critics who think she’s taken the party too far to the right:
Horwath, knowing most of the votes are found in the political centre, has been aiming the NDP ship in that direction for many months, talking up balanced budgets and the need to make life less expensive for the average Ontarian. She’s been rewarded with a four-point boost in an Ipsos poll in the past week, while her opponents have either dropped or stalled.
But that’s not enough for Caplan et al., apparently. As Sears put it, they’re Presbyterian about their politics; they think salvation only lies in pain. They don’t wish to see their principles ever, you know, sullied by actual power.
Aside from that Ipsos poll, which has not been duplicated and appears to be anomalous, these arguments are just laughably incoherent, and hypocritical, on their face. Given that the election was forced by Horwath et al. over the very question of ethics and principles in the face of Liberal corruption, how can anyone defend or support them in abandoning their own principles, and attacking their supporters, in a naked bid for power? And all that while wasting an opportunity to promote, never mind achieve, meaningful social change with their campaign.
Such logic is ignored not only by people like Kinsella and Sears, but also (unsurprisingly) members-in-good-standing of the NDP establishment. For example, Kathleen Monk, who tweeted “Bang on” in response to the Kinsella column, and praised the Sears column he quotes from:
— Kathleen Monk (@kathleenmonk) May 27, 2014
— Kathleen Monk (@kathleenmonk) May 27, 2014
Kathleen Monk is herself the consummate professional party operative, and a symbol of much that is wrong with Today’s NDP™. A communications strategist for Jack Layton, she was the founding director of the Broadbent Institute after Layton died in 2011, where she helped to plan inaugural events for BI that featured high profile pro-war politicos from the US and Australia, as well as former Conservative Prime Ministers and prominent right-wing & bank economists, to rally the spirits of Canadian “progressives”. Monk has also been one of the most visible media pundits for the NDP, appearing regularly on CBC’s The National “Insiders” panel, where she drones on nauseatingly with other parties’ insiders about their own insipid day-to-day striving for power.
Sears, on the other hand, was the president of the Empire Club of Canada (the name really says it all) from 2012-13. In 2008, he worked as a lobbyist for former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney while the latter faced a Parliamentary Ethics Committee investigation, with which Mulroney refused to cooperate, over his illicit relationship with a notorious arms dear. And in 2009, Sears apparently threatened members of the media for supposedly making his boss Mulroney cry (no, really), by allegedly giggling, at an inquiry hearing (Thanks to Jay Watts for uncovering these wonderful details). Meanwhile, Sears’ list of corporate clients would make even the most avaricious lobbyist drool. The 2014 ONDP, brought to you by… DeBeer’s, McDonald’s…
— Gerard Di Trolio (@GerardDiTrolio) May 27, 2014
The Kinsella article is incoherent for other reasons, too. It leads with a quotation from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once made a famous rhetorical appeal to be judged not by how many friends he made, but by the quality of his enemies. It is indeed a provocative statement. However, the profound irony in echoing this statement, which Kinsella and Monk both seem to miss, is that in his “Portland Speech,” FDR was actually railing against the big American power utilities, who were, not surprisingly, opposed to Roosevelt’s campaign to nationalize them.
In other words, the “enemies” he was speaking of are exactly the kind of business people on Bay Street with whom Horwath (and seemingly, some at the Broadbent Institute), have lately been trying to make friends, or at the very least, placate—by promising to cut government spending, keep corporate taxes and the minimum wage at historically low levels; and by abandoning historic social democratic demands for structural economic change, a climate change plan, or even any new social programs. FDR’s “enemies” were most definitely not the grassroots party activists that are the target of NDP (and now Liberal and Conservative) establishment derision.
Haven’t we had enough of this so-called “progressive” arrogance, which exhibits its obvious ignorance of progressive history, and contempt for party democracy, at every turn? As another commenter remarked (I’ve misplaced the reference, unfortunately), Horwath is constantly invoking Tommy Douglas on her campaign… but how would people like Monk and others react if he had also been on the list of her critics (hardly a stretch of the imagination)? Would he get the same callous dismissals that they have received, in the interest of winning a slightly larger share of the popular vote?
UPDATE (May 28):
Chris Lawson has written a thoughtful post on Sears’ piece, here. He also reveals the rather incredible nickname that Sears earned while working for Bob Rae: “Boy Stalin.” Whoa.
Robin Sears, who earned his nickname “Boy Stalin” as then NDP premier Bob Rae’s chief of staff [apparently it happened even earlier – CW] wrote this stunner of a commentary trashing the people who signed that open letter against Andrea Horwath’s current campaign plan/platform. I now understand much better where the moniker comes from.
He calls the letter writers “embittered NDP pensioners,” “yesterday’s losers” and the “aging commentariat.”
Yes, people are going to lose friends over this.
I don’t know about Lawson, but for the record, I’m both aging, day by day, and much younger than Robin Sears.
UPDATE 2 (May 29):
At Rabble, Michael Laxer has issued a devastating rebuke to those defending the ONDP betrayal of poor people, and the recent attacks on those who want the party of “progressives” to work in solidarity with them:
When did minimum wage workers and people living in poverty stop mattering?
When did we stop caring about those who most need our solidarity?
Lost in the media coverage of the letter by former ONDP stalwarts and the letter from Gerry Caplan, an activist who has literally been a member of the NDP since day one, lost in the inanity of the Hudak call for further punishing those on already cruel social assistance rates, forgotten in the wake of the idiocy of the typical Liberal silliness of sending plants to “protest” the NDP, the fact remains that minimum-wage workers and people living in poverty are not getting our solidarity.
Despite the fact that we as a society, as a left movement, as people working in activist communities, as people fighting for a vast array of human rights, demand and rightfully expect the left and “progressive” politicians to stand up and be counted on any number of social issues, we seem to often during elections be silent about the devastating reality that is poverty and that is working full or part time, often in multiple jobs, for what everyone knows are poverty wages.
In the ongoing farce that is the Ontario election none of the parties have a plan that would do anything to eliminate poverty or to lift minimum-wage workers out of poverty. None.
They have a great many plans about a great many things, and they all trot out their talking points about the “middle class,” “affordability,” “fiscal responsibility” and the like, but there is no mention, at all, of an actual plan to bring people on social assistance or people making the minimum wage out of poverty.
It is as if they simply do not exist.