A looming conflict on Canada’s left wing- between the old guard who wishes to hug the centre and the younger, more radical edge enamoured with the populist left politics of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez- will play itself out in a nomination meeting in downtown Toronto this weekend.
The stakes are far higher than just who will carry the NDP banner into October’s federal election. After years of being quieted by heavy-handed central executives and old-guard union bosses, the outsiders might finally have found a way in.
The riding has a well-earned reputation as a political battleground. Impeccable activist credentials and a personal army of hardcore volunteers are a must to get elected. In a country where it’s hard to remember your MP or city councillor’s name, PHP pols Gerard Kennedy, Cheri DiNovo, Peggy Nash and Gord Perks all enjoy their respective cults of personality. Local wars between Liberals and NDPers are the stuff of legend, such as the storied rivalry between Kennedy and Nash.
It is this kind of political crucible that can forge a young, fearless left-wing leader, and despite leaning right myself I say, “About time.”
A resurgent left is good for democracy, and good for the country. Conservatives need to be challenged in a meaningful and substantive way if they are to stay fresh and sharp. Look at Doug Ford’s government, barely a year old and staggering from self-inflicted wounds. But they have no real reason to step up their game unless the NDP gets their act together.
If that sounds like concern trolling, don’t take it from me: Ask the New Democrats who blamed then-federal leader Tom Mulcair’s attempt to eschew socialism and soften his image on the campaign trail when their 2011 Orange Wave turned into an Orange Crush in 2015. Critically, the only NDPer who tried to do something about Mulcair’s persistence as leader besides grumbling was Cheri DiNovo, another Parkdale-High-Park firebrand who was promptly quenched by party loyalists.
Listen (if you dare) to the Alberta Advantage podcast castigate ex-NDP Premier Rachel Notley for talking about pipelines and for displaying an overabundance of caution. Or pop on over to everyone’s favourite East Coast dirtbag left podcast Dog Island and listen to them run down the Third Way mindset that has apparently infected the left out there. And you’re probably not surprised to hear that Sandy Hudson and Nora Loreto think current federal leader Jagmeet Singh risks becoming another casualty of this centrist malaise.
You might well predict the sort of backlash that could occur if you walked up into the sort of place- such as Parkdale-High Park- where this sort of thinking has some currency and defiantly threw down the gauntlet. And that’s exactly the kind of backlash NDP strategist Tom Parkin triggered when he declared his intention to seek the PHP NDP nom.
There couldn’t be a more obvious choice for Team Third Way than the guy who proclaimed Andrea Horwath to be “the new centre of Ontario politics” midway through last year’s provincial election campaign. And so, panicked activists are climbing over each other to support Parkin’s two challengers: Nonprofit superstar Paul M. Taylor and human rights lawyer and upstart Toronto Mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi.
While Taylor has sewn up high-profile endorsements from Paul Lewis and Naomi Klein, and has been talking up a Green New Deal for Canada, Gebresellassi commandeered a debate stage, outshining Jennifer Keesmaat (the victim of yet another thrown-together, centrally planned and terminally timid campaign) by going after Toronto’s police budget and using exactly the kind of language that would trigger the right to do it.
Conservatives should be watching Sunday’s nomination race with interest- and learning.