Last week I wrote a surprisingly well-received column on what I expected to be a deeply uninteresting topic -- the appointment of journalist Chrystia Freeland as the Liberal nominee in an upcoming Toronto-Centre byelection. Though I could care less who the Central-Torontonains send to the House of Commons, I did find it a little striking that the Liberals -- a party supposedly obsessed with rebranding and reinvention -- had chosen as their "star candidate" a wealthy, globe-trotting Harvard-Oxford educated intellectual who almost painfully personified the stereotypical Liberal elitist. And to top it off Justin had assigned her an almost insultingly implausible responsibility -- Canada's voice for middle- class interests.
Only the Liberals are this hopelessly trapped in their own cliches, I thought.
And then the NDP announced the candidacy of Linda McQuaig.
Now, like Ms. Freeland, Linda is a journalist by trade -- written a couple books, has her own column in the Toronto Star -- and much of her media welcome to date has focused on this superficial coincidence. "It's getting to where if a journalist does no more than write a column for a living, he's going to come off as a slacker," snarked Maclean's Paul Wells, for example.
And while there definitely is a problem with the increasing coziness of Canada's political and media establishments, that's not what makes the McQuaig pick such a face-palmer. No, the trouble with McQuaig is that she's one of the most iconic far-left cranks working in the Canadian punditscape today, and therefore a candidate that single-handedly flushes down the john any NDP aspirations of claiming the pragmatic middle of Canadian politics. It's as if Barack Obama closed his famous "there's no red America or blue America" speech with the words "and now meet my new vice president, Noam Chomsky."
If you can envision a cartoonishly extreme left-wing position on something, chances are Linda McQuaig's taken it over the years.
Capitalism? You mean, she wrote in 2006, the "slavish obedience to the marketplace that has left North Americans chained to their work stations, feeling obliged to work ever harder in order to consume ever more trinkets"? You mean the "obsolete," greed-based system that elevates "economic gain above the very sustainability of the Earth we inhabit"? Linda's written seven books denouncing the free market, so don't talk to her about capitalism.
Or how about America, our jolly neighbour to the south? In 2007, McQuaig finger-wagged that "Canadians need to remember that we are not dealing with a best friend, but with a superpower that has never abandoned its dream of Manifest Destiny." They're nothing but thugs and imperialists and Christian crazies down there," she warns, "whose moral compass doesn't seem to rule out burying people alive or crushing the testicles of children."
Foreign policy? Canada hasn't done anything worth a damn on that front since Lester Pearson. Certainly helping depose the crazed gang of misogynistic fanatics running Afghanistan was nothing worth celebrating; in a 2008 column she coldly reclassified Kabul's 2001 liberation as "invading Afghanistan and toppling the government," an act "illegal under international law." In Holding the Bully's Coat, her 2007 book denouncing Canada's Quisling-like subservience to the "US Empire" she suggests 9-11 was a missed opportunity for negotiation.
But if Islamists (and Venezuelan dictators) get the benefit of McQauig's doubt, we can't say the same for Jews. "There's nothing odious about Israeli Apartheid Week" she quipped in 2010, whitewashing one of the far-left's grossest fads -- if Israelis don't want to be compared to Afrikaner supremacists and Nazis on college campuses, maybe they shouldn't try to defend their country from people shooting rockets at it. (It's worth remembering that Bob Rae specifically cited over-the-top rhetoric like this as his main reason for ditching the Dippers).
Charitable to her opponents? Dream on. In a 2004 essay, Linda described conservative-minded residents of this country as "anti-Canadians" and "self-haters" who "appear almost glad to see Canada fail" by virtue of the fact they don't share what the Globe and Mail charitably describes as McQuaig's "left-leaning nationalist" agenda for the country. When George W. Bush was re-elected as President of the United States later that year, she similarly dismissed 62 million American voters as hysterical "God-fearing, gay-hating, anti-abortionists."
I don't deny that there exists a fringe constituency eager to swallow this sort of stuff. McQuaig's books sell briskly, and lots of lefty websites seem eager to broadcast her broken record of tired anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-Israel singles. But now she's an NDP politician, and the NDP (at least theoretically), is more than just a socialist knitting circle, it's a government-in-waiting that's supposedly prioritizing, in Thomas Mulcair's words, broadening its appeal "beyond our traditional base."
Could you imagine a Minister McQuaig in a future Canadian cabinet, helping run a country whose economic system she despises, whose closest trade partner she loathes, and whose entire approach to MidEast diplomacy she'd gladly flip 180 degrees -- beginning with the "good guys/bad guys" chart?
Me neither. But that's now part of the NDP pitch.
This Toronto-Centre by-election is shaping up to be a depressing pageant of cluelessness in which both opposition parties flaunt their ugliest qualities with an astonishing lack of self-regard. That might not matter much in 2013 -- it's not like Rosedale's limousine liberals are going to elect (shudder) a Tory -- but to the extent by-elections are often a dress rehearsal for the real thing, 2015's suddenly looking a bit brighter for the boys in blue.