Politics is unforgiving, as NDP’s vote for a new leader shows.
“A man who is used to acting in one way never changes; he must come to ruin when the times, in changing, no longer are in harmony with his ways.” — Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532
Tom Mulcair went into his New Democratic Party convention on Sunday as a man out of time after the disastrous results of the 2015 federal election — and delegates stunningly punched the clock on his leadership.
Mulcair didn’t make a convincing case that he had changed and learned from his errors, and with the times changing rapidly under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he indeed came to ruin.
Politics is an unforgiving business when one fails, as Mulcair fully knew, but even veteran observers were shocked after numerous pundit predictions that the NDP leader would leave convention either unscathed or mildly wounded.
Instead, Edmonton delegates delivered a politically fatal blow, not willing to take any chances that Mulcair might survive long enough to regroup and regain sufficient support to contest a 2019 rematch with Trudeau.
Despite Mulcair’s acknowledged success grilling former prime minister Stephen Harper in Parliament while Trudeau was busy finding followers on Twitter, he and the NDP discovered too late that it is constant campaigning, and not accumulating House of Commons accolades, that gets you elected.
Fifty-two per cent of New Democrats at convention voted in favour of a leadership vote — a result that, when announced on national television, left delegates in solemn silence.
And just like that, the NDP came to a fork in the road and chose a direction without a clear indication where it will lead, or who will lead it.
A leap in the dark
More obviously, they have taken a leap into the dark — endorsing the Naomi Klein-Avi Lewis led LEAP Manifesto that was vigorously denounced by Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley as detrimental to the economy and jobs but backed by a slim majority at convention, due to environmentalist members.
Notley made an impassioned and impressive speech to delegates Saturday, calling on them to back Alberta as the province whose natural resource revenues have supported Canada for many years in good times.
“We’re not making a choice between the environment and the economy. We are building the economy,” Notley said.
“I’m asking you to leave here more persuaded than perhaps some of us have been, that it is possible for Canada to have a forest industry, to have an agriculture industry, a mining industry, and yes, an energy industry, while being world leaders on the environment.”
And Notley asked NDP delegates to support building pipelines to B.C. to export oil.
“We need to be able to get the best possible world price for the oil we produce here, at the level of production that will be responsibly allowed under a climate change plan. And the way to do that is through pipelines to tidewater,” Notley said.
Not an easy sell — and one that delegates rejected in favour of the LEAP Manifesto’s hard-left politics that call for no energy development “if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard,” no new oil pipelines, cancelling all trade deals that “that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies,” and much more.
Notley was having none of that, preferring real power to pontification.
“We’re acting, really acting, on the basis of a concrete plan that is actually being implemented. That is what you get to do when you move up from manifestos, to the detailed, principled, practical plans you can really implement by winning an election,” Notley told delegates.
But Mulcair himself appeared desperately ready to leap to save his leadership, telling CBC TV he’d “do everything” he could to keep oil in the ground if delegates agreed.
That only alienated his host Albertan New Democrats and private sector unionists who had supported his leadership — at the very convention that decided his fate.
But it again illustrated Mulcair’s fatal failings as a politician — a propensity to make snap decisions without full consideration or consultation, and with disastrous consequences.
Mulcair’s election announcement boasting that the NDP would balance every budget despite a shaky economy, when Canadians weren’t looking for fiscal austerity from a social democratic party, was his campaign’s terrible turning point.
Trudeau pounced on it, promising modest deficits to pay for infrastructure and other spending that Mulcair’s penny-pinching would prohibit — “real change now,” as the Liberals claimed.
But now it’s the NDP that seeks real change — in a new leader for troubled times.
Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at email@example.com or visit his blog.