09/07/2017 17:09 EDT | Updated 09/07/2017 17:30 EDT

Niki Ashton's Obsession With Identity Politics Could Destroy The NDP

Leaders don't manufacture a scandal by attempting to turn female colleagues who witnessed an accidental elbow into feeble political props.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Niki Ashton speaks as she participates in the first debate of the federal NDP leadership race with Guy Caron, Charlie Angus and Peter Julian, in Ottawa, Ont. on Sunday, March 12, 2017.

The NDP is a heartbreaking entity.

Under the late Jack Layton they found a way to thrive, gobbling up ridings in Quebec as their cane-wielding leader hobbled across the nation and inspired millions of Canadians to take a chance on the little party that couldn't. They decimated their main rivals, the Liberal Party of Canada, and showed the country that a politician can inspire large swaths of the public long before a man named Justin Trudeau burst onto the scene.

But Layton passed away, and while the party's replacement leader, Tom Mulcair, put on a clinic in the House of Commons, undressing Emperor Stephen Harper for months on end during the Senate debacle, he just couldn't manage to impress voters, especially while wearing a forced grin on a man formerly known as Angry Tom. The NDP lost the vast majority of their seats from the previous election and took their familiar place as Canada's third place party.

They then decided to turf Mulcair in hopes they could find someone within their ranks to battle the celebrity of the aforementioned Trudeau. Smartly, they seemed to discourage ambitious politicians from creating a crowded field, and today we are down to four contenders: Charlie Angus, Guy Caron, Jagmeet Singh, and Niki Ashton.

Leaders don't manufacture a scandal by attempting to turn female colleagues who witnessed an accidental elbow into feeble political props.

On paper, all of these potential leaders have redeeming qualities. Angus is a champion of Indigenous rights; Caron provides a good shot at winning back seats the party lost in Quebec; Singh is a savvy minority with fundraising chops; and Niki Ashton resonates well with young people. Unfortunately for Ashton, her like-mindedness with young folks may also be her albatross.

Like many millennials, Ashton subscribes to the pathological wing of identity politics. That isn't an overstatement. During Elbowgate, that innately Canadian incident that turned a moment of tomfoolery into a two-week apology tour, Ashton had the audacity to claim that she and other female colleagues now felt unsafe to go to work at the House of Commons. She framed her hysterical comments inside what she referred to as a "gendered lens," banking on the notion that if she just claims to be afraid, the country should show her and her female colleagues pity.

Of course, most women rolled their eyes at Ashton, likely feeling infantilized by an elected official who is supposed to embody the intelligence and strength of female politicians. After all, women in politics are already scrutinized enough, but acting like one inadvertent elbow was the same as a terrorist lurking during Question Period was a surreal display.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
NDP MP Niki Ashton asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 4, 2015.

And it seems to be an intentional strategy — to ingratiate herself to the most rigid, hard-left radicals in Canada, radicals who have been able to spellbind millennials into believing that everything should be viewed through a gendered lens, or a racial lens, or an LGBTQ+ lens.

Back in March, Ashton tweeted the phrase "to the left," Beyonce lyrics from her track Irreplaceable. She even credited Beyonce when she tweeted the phrase. But the Vancouver Black Lives Matter organization said she was appropriating black culture. And so Ashton, never one to miss an opportunity to align herself with the most extreme voices of identity politics, apologized.

I repeat — she apologized... for quoting Beyonce. All because a couple of people in Vancouver who happen to belong to BLM shamed her on Twitter. Instead of showing confidence and strength, she capitulated and submitted to nonsense, all because she was either too afraid of the political blowback if she fought back, or because she actually thinks quoting a pop singer is an act of cultural appropriation.

The more she positions herself as a tough social justice warrior, the less savvy she seems.

Obviously, Ashton is not a strong leader. Leaders don't manufacture a scandal by attempting to turn female colleagues who witnessed an accidental elbow into feeble political props. Leaders do not retract tweets when overzealous activists scold her publicly. A real leader would double down and say that she used relevant lyrics to describe where she thinks the party should be the left. It's absurd that we even have to debate why this is so absurd, but here we are, just days away from the NDP Leadership Showcase, and one of the contenders continuously parrots a regressive, empty form of social justice.

If moving to the left is what defines Ashton's bid, then she should stick to outlining her plan for Indigenous reconciliation, or sharpen her stance on the Site C Dam, or continue to assert herself firmly for the rights of workers, or maybe promote a viable daycare policy. Instead, she is trying to rally support in the cheapest manner possible — through hot-button identity issues that satisfy sound-bite seekers and social justice alarmists. This doesn't mean Ashton shouldn't be a staunch supporter of marginalized groups, it just means her methods and tactics, borrowed from the pseudo-infallible left, ring hollow. In other words, the more she positions herself as a tough social justice warrior, the less savvy she seems.

Members would be wise not to give in to the temptation of succumbing to the sloganeering of Ashton. By doing so they would relegate their party to another third-place finish, and drive the final nail into the coffin of the legacy of Jack Layton.

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