A leadership race is an opportunity to promote bold ideas and invigorate a political movement. Canada's right-wing party seems to understand this, the left not so much.
In recent months, Conservative Party leadership contenders have promoted a bevy of extremist ideas. Recently the spokesperson for Conservative contender Brad Trost boasted that his candidate is "not entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing." For his part, Maxime Bernier is pushing to abolish taxes on those who make money from their money (capital gains) and supply management, as well as lowering the corporate tax rate to 10 per cent. For her part, Kellie Leitch called for the CBC to be "dismantled," while Chris Alexander labelled most of the world "anti-Semitic" for criticizing illegal Israeli colonies.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Brad Trost during the Conservative Party of Canada leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Feb. 19, 2017. (Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Outside the Conservative Party, rightist groups are leveraging their heightened influence -- at a time when candidates need support from more right-leaning party members -- to get contenders to amplify their views. In the highest profile instance, four Conservative leadership candidates spoke at a Rebel Media rally to protest Muslims... I mean Motion-103. At least one person in the Toronto crowd raised her arm in a Nazi salute.
Rebel Media also drew three leadership candidates to a December rally against Alberta's planned carbon tax. Brad Trost told the Calgary audience "this whole climate-change agenda is not science fact-based."
A hodgepodge of other extreme-right groups have sought out Conservative candidates to legitimate their cause. Kellie Leitch, for instance, recently met neo-fascist Rise Canada member Ron Banerjee.
None of the NDP candidates are offering an alternative to the "greed is good" narrative of the hardline supporters of capitalism.
Rebel Media, Rise Canada and other right-wing groups aren't worried about whether leadership contenders attending their events or expressing extreme ideas harm the Conservative party's short-term electability. Rather, they are focused on strengthening their respective causes.
The NDP race is a study in contrasts. Despite being far further from winning office, caution has been the order of the day during the early stages of the NDP leadership campaign. Few bold ideas have been presented.
No one is calling for (re)nationalizing Bombardier or other companies receiving massive public support. No one is proposing to restrict relations with institutions benefiting from illegally occupied Israeli territory. No one is demanding Canada's 150 birthday celebration be scrapped and the $500 million be spent on educating ourselves about colonialism. No one is promoting workplace democracy. No one has expressed the need to reduce tar sands output 10 per cent a year. Heck, not one of the four candidates has even said explicitly that they oppose building new pipelines.
NDP leadership candidates during the first debate of the federal leadership race. (Photo: Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
In short, none of the NDP candidates are offering an alternative to the "greed is good" narrative of the hardline supporters of capitalism.
Either the NDP is simply another party supporting the economic and political status quo or it is so afraid of being called "radical" by the mainstream media that it self censors to the point of political blandness. Too many people around the NDP are concerned about the leadership race's short-term impact on the party's electoral prospects. Few seem concerned with its impact on the left's long-term prospects.
Progressive party members must demand more from politicians seeking their vote. If leftists can't significantly influence the discussion during a race to lead a purported left-wing party, when will we?
NDP members are right to deride the ideas flowing from the Conservative leadership race, but they are wrong to dismiss it as a circus. The Conservatives' boldness and willingness to amplify their agenda is something the NDP should mimic.
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