Art by Yousef Amairi

Art by Yousef Amairi
the struggle continues

December 07, 2015

Why I Left the NDP

Why I Left the NDP
First published: December 5, 2015
By Keith Simmonds

Although really, it’s more like the NDP left me.

I guess I should start at the beginning. I was a leaflet weight for a CCF campaign in Kitimat, placed there by my leaflet-dropping 18 year old mother. Since then I’ve canvassed, run election campaigns, worked as an assistant to Cabinet Ministers, and served many Constituency and Riding Executives.

I’ve never been what you’d call a ‘standout’ volunteer, or a brilliant strategist, or a gifted anything. I’ve shown up, done the work, given heart, mind, body and soul to the movement that stood for and with people like me. I loved building an image of a better world together, frustrating as that could be in a movement made up of feminists, environmentalists, trade unionists, anti-poverty activists and radical reformists. Sometimes we left more blood on the floor of policy sessions than in the ground of election campaigns.

In the end we came up with policies we could agree on and took them to our friends and neighbours before, during and after election campaigns. You might remember some of our slogans: People Matter More; Working Families; Corporate Welfare Bums; Don’t Blame Me, I Voted NDP.

We focused on issues that mattered to us and did the gradual work of educating and informing others. Over and against the efforts of our opponents and the Main Stream Media to paint us as ‘godless communists’ or ‘wasteful spenders of the public purse on idle reprobates’. We spent hours in conversation with ordinary people about a better world. A world of shared resources, caring community, and healthy environments. A safe, secure and well-grounded world.

In the late 1990s we decided to professionalise our policy sharing process. We sorted through the compromise resolutions that framed our vision of a better world in search of particulars that were safe for public consumption. We ran those out as platform and policy, made sure every campaign team knew what the ‘message box’ was and gave specific instructions that no one was to say anything that might give the media or others who opposed our aims a hook to hang their hats on. ‘Stay in the box, not on it’ became the watchwords of our days. Woe to the campaign team or candidate who ignored that call.

Since then I’ve watched in disbelief as more and more of our policies were rooted out and tossed aside in the interest of taking potential weapons away from our opponents. We weren’t to identify with socialism any more, nor were we to call for the nationalisation of banks, or public ownership of resources. Not to speak too loudly about systemic poverty, unless coupled with jobs for the middle class. Not to protest in defense of the environment unless couched in terms of multi-user agreements. Contentious issues no longer hit the convention floor, ‘less we be attacked by right wing media, or the right wing in general.

Provincially I recoiled when the NDP voted in favour of expanding Natural Gas production, while speaking softly about fracking and its effects on the environment. I wrote the leader, the party president and my MLA. I heard nothing from the first two, while the third – a thoughtful and capable representative – told me we were voting in favour of Liberal government bills because we did not want the Liberals or their friends in the media to be able to say we were against jobs. So we finessed them by voting with them. That seemed a lot like a desire for power trumping an opportunity to defend the environment. I wrote our MLA and told him so. He showed me a speech he’d made in the Legislature that made every point I could have made and then some. It was a wonderful speech. Well written, well researched, well presented. But it stayed there, in the Legislature, while news of the vote rang throughout the province.

Oh well, at least I still had the Federal Party. Tom Mulcair was fighting hard for us in Ottawa, and his message box was one I could live with. Until the election campaign. Hard fighter Tom became false smiler Thomas, and the message of a promised land became a message of a land that looked a lot like the one we already have, with some modifications for the middle class. Even our thoughts about the banks that gouged us into upheaval in 2008 were reduced to promises to legislate against the amount of gouging they can do. Kind of a reverse on Tommy Douglas’ “Mouseland”, I thought.

The run-up to the campaign should have been a clear indication of what was to come. Prospective candidates who had, at any time, opposed the way the leader and caucus interpreted policy were not allowed to run for the nomination. The folk in Ottawa being so sure they knew best, and so unsure of local members ability to determine a hair ball when they’d known one all their lives, took the power of self-determination away from riding associations. We lost members, we lost votes, we lost credibility and, most importantly, we lost the ability to question the decisions of our leader and caucus. The ability to tell them to rethink their positions and reframe them to better represent our common vision of the promised land.

Meanwhile, back in BC, our caucus returned to the legislature to support yet another Liberal motion. This time ‘Red Tape Freedom Day’. We supported this, my MLA tells me, because the Liberals would say we were in favour of Red Tape, if we didn’t. So we did not stand up in defense of environmental regulations, health and safety regulations, human rights legislation, child protection laws, consumer rights laws and any of a hundred other ways we protect one another through legislation because the Liberals would use that against our path to power.

It was about then I had an epiphany. NDP members were no longer in control of their party. Their movement was in the hands of an agenda that seeks power for the sake of power and will sacrifice pretty much anything in pursuit of power. Sure, they talk a good and prudent game but, in the end, will shut down any threat to taking up the reins of government. From where I sit, that means the NDP is under the complete and total control of the BC Liberals and their friends in the corporate media.

The NDP had, therefore, left me. So I called them up, and asked them to shred my membership. They have. One day I hope they’ll leave the Liberals and be mine again. Until then, I intend to speak up and out in every way I can, standing on the ground that used to be occupied by the party that used to be mine.

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