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Lessons in hope and disillusionment

Mulcair’s conformity hurt the NDP and its supporters

Last week, we emerged from the longest Canadian federal election campaign in recent history. The New Democratic Party (NDP) finds itself with 44 seats, only seven more than it had back before 2011’s ‘Orange Wave’ propelled the party to a record 103 seats. It’s not an overstatement to say that its momentum has been lost. If anything, it seems to have reversed, throwing the party back to its third-party status that the Layton-era NDP had escaped.

This is where an opportunistic shift to the right leads you, Thomas Mulcair.

Ironically, your attempt to appeal to a larger number of citizens may have been what made you appeal to fewer. Under your leadership, the party removed all mentions of socialism from its constitution. You tried to portray the NDP as a credible substitute for the Conservatives, taking a hardline anti-deficit stance. You shifted the NDP’s position on the Israeli­-Palestinian conflict toward full support of Israel, purging candidates that held other views. You watered down the package. In a nutshell, you tried to align with positions that had been crucial components of the policy of previous Canadian governments, all of which were either Liberal or Conservative (or those parties’ predecessors). You jumped in head first in your attempt to replace the Liberals as ‘Canada’s Democrats,’ and it cost you.

Don’t worry, though. Even before your takeover, the NDP was far from looking like a party of radical socialists. At best, it came across as one of well-intentioned third-way North American social ­democrats – relatively harmless to those for whom socialism is a scary word. But it appears that you somehow felt another layer of conformity was needed. Let’s be fair and say that you gave the game a chance; you played the mainstream card and thought it would work. You thought it would solidify what had led the NDP to become the official opposition for the very first time in its history. As if better marketing and a new, milder brand would grant you the throne.

I was fooled into thinking that this political masquerade could ever be more than an illusion.

However, I’m afraid there should have been a lesson to be learned from 2011, when the NDP won the second­ most seats in the House of Commons under the leadership of Jack Layton. Strangely enough, that NDP still had a pro­-Palestinian faction and its constitution still had mentions of socialism, yet the party received roughly 30 per cent of the popular vote (only 9 percentage points less than the Conservatives).

Layton’s NDP could still have been considered the rightful successor of the grassroots social movements and union activism of the early sixties. That NDP still had the potential ­– why not, let’s dream –­ to disrupt conventional politics and subvert the very foundations of the Canadian political system. People looked to this party as a viable alternative to the degenerating tradition of Canada’s two-party dynamics, something that certain activists, myself included, believe could be an asset to social change.

Maybe voters are smarter than they’re given credit for, putting their support behind one party when the other disappoints. Perhaps people were just craving for a genuine change in politics and in the political class when they cast their ballots for NDP that one time in 2011. Maybe people voted differently because they held a vain hope that this had the potential to shake up Canadian politics a tiny bit. Now, after the most recent election, I must admit that it is quite laughable to think that the NDP used to embody that hope.

It seems Canadians didn’t buy into your rebranding, Mulcair. Although cheap knockoffs sell in this consumerist world, I’m afraid that the same kind of market dynamics don’t apply when it comes to picking a political party. People were never going to rally behind someone trying to emulate the Liberals’ century-old position in Canadian politics over the original formula. Indeed, you tried to sell them another liberal party – so they elected a Liberal government instead.

It seems that people wanted the still-somehow-slightly-socialist NDP of 2011, and instead you presented them with this politically correct parody of something that once gave them hope. There is nothing sadder than a glimmer of hope that gets lost in a sea of darkness, and that’s exactly what happened to the NDP over the last four years.

I feel tired. I know that I had hope. A very shy hope that the revolutionary socialist deep inside of me was trying to suppress, shouting that electoral politics never really lead to any good. I don’t usually put great hope in the capacity of representative democracy as a political system to spark or undergo radical social change. But I guess I held hope anyway, because sometimes you’re just naive and get caught up in optimism, this awfully vain optimism, fooling yourself into thinking that it is enough to vote to grant ourselves a government that would be slightly more reluctant to impede social change. Honestly, I’m the only one to blame here. I was fooled into thinking that this political masquerade could ever be more than an illusion.

Anyway, you’ll soon find me marching in the streets again, swallowing my bitterness.

Jules Tomi is a U2 Sociology and East Asian studies student. To contact him, email