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After Spectacular Failure, NDP Needs A Leader Who Can Inspire

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TOM MULCAIR
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It has been almost six months since the NDP's spectacular failure in the last federal election, and its precipitous plunge from first to third place, thereby squandering the best chance in a generation to win federal government to build a better Canada. Many New Democrats are still stunned by it all. Their public reaction has ranged from denial to anger to sad acceptance. This was not supposed to be the outcome in 2015.

Our national NDP campaign let us down in spectacular fashion.

I was as happy as the next person to see the end of the Harper decade. As an NDP MP for much of that period I saw up close just how regressive and mean Conservatives could be. Still there were 44 NDP MPs elected in 2015, some in new ridings, and the current NDP caucus is without doubt strong and competent.

But the defeat was still resounding. Dozens of sitting MPs lost their seat, myself included, in spite of many strong local campaigns. In our local riding, we had more indications of support, better finances, more volunteers, more signs than ever before.

But our national NDP campaign let us down in spectacular fashion. That it was so tone deaf to the mood of the nation and ultimately so incompetent in its campaign offer to Canadians, was simply heartbreaking. At the historic moment when Canadians overwhelmingly wanted change, our national campaign appeared to want to match the tone and approach of the Conservatives. Many have commented on the failure of the Leader to answer questions on the opening day of the campaign, the failure to debate unless the PM was present, and generally the failure to inspire Canadians. I agree.

Clearly the federal NDP campaign failed to communicate with Canadians. There was no coherent message, no optimism, no passion. The NDP had a progressive platform that the national campaign neglected to advertise. Campaign ads were often insipid, and sometimes, there were no ads at all. Where were the voices of young families struggling to find and pay for childcare? Where were ads with low wage federal workers, like at Pearson Airport, struggling at poverty level wages to make ends in the Canada's largest city? Why didn't we defend our plan to raise corporate taxes to pay for social programs?

tom mulcair

Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair and Stephen Harper at the second leaders' debate on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015.

The national NDP campaign failed to promote the progressive issues that set us apart from the other parties, and then allowed the Liberals to define the NDP as regressive on balanced budgets. Why was the decision made during the 2015 election concerning deficits, just as the resource sector was nosediving?

There has been some helpful analysis of the federal NDP campaign, the review led by NDP President Rebecca Blaikie. She had the unenviable job of debriefing activists and candidates and kneading their emotions and observations into to a comprehensive report. And there's certainly lots of blame to go around. People focus on the Leader, but I'd like to see the key federal campaign people discuss frankly why they made what seem to be some pretty dumb decisions.

The key is what happens now? Do we learn from our mistakes? Or do we keep repeating the cycle of hard work and unfulfilled electoral aspirations? Following the 2015 election, some Liberal strategists were quick to say that there's no need for the NDP since the Liberals are now the progressive party.

The Liberals have in the past made some progressive choices, when they had a Bernie Sanders-like NDP snapping at its heels in opposition: think CPP and Medicare. But during the Martin/Chretien years, the Liberals made the biggest social spending cuts in our history. The Conservatives have simply added to this legacy. Corporate taxes have been halved, the wealthy often escape paying their fair share with impunity, and our social services and infrastructure are crumbling.

The most important thing is for the NDP to not limp along and slip into irrelevance, but to boldly rebuild.

The NDP is needed more than ever. We live in extraordinary times: Light speed disruptive technological changes, destructive insecurity for the vast majority and unimaginable wealth and privilege for the tiny few; breathtaking access to information and communications, and social movements with the potential to mobilize vast numbers of people; greater consumption on a global scale and the rapid deterioration of the planet.

The most important thing is for the NDP to not limp along and slip into irrelevance, but to boldly rebuild. Canada needs the NDP. But it needs an NDP that is both inspiring and competent, visionary and responsible, principled and practical.

The many dedicated NDP activists need to know what happens now. Where is the NDP headed and how do they fit in to the big picture? What are the concrete plans to rebuild?

Which brings me to the leadership question. The Leader too has to share the blame and Tom Mulcair has acknowledged this. Some delegates tell me they will support him anyway because he's good in Question Period. Others say they'll support him because there's no other candidate, because someone else could be worse, because we can always bring in a new leader in two years, or because this is the NDP and he deserves another try. Not all are good reasons. Some delegates have already decided to vote for a leadership review.

I will be a delegate in Edmonton next weekend. Frankly I haven't yet decided how I'm going to vote. I want to hear what Tom Mulcair offers us at the convention. He's had six months to reflect on the events of the 2015 campaign. I hope he throws away talking points and speaks from the heart. I hope he shows us the passion that was so lacking in the federal campaign, and that he inspires us with a vision of a better Canada and a plan to rebuild.

Canada needs the NDP to build a truly progressive, sustainable, inclusive and fair Canada. The NDP urgently needs the leader who can get us there.

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