Don’t Take Harper’s Bait: Why the NDP Shouldn’t Block Candidates for Criticising Israel

I really thought I wouldn’t have to write this. No, scratch that, I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write this. Things were going so well since the New Year, the start of the election year in Canada.

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, it seemed, turned over a new, very progressive leaf and it has really started looking like they could ride it all the way to 24 Sussex Drive. Unfortunately now it looks like they may have folded back that leaf’s left corner just enough to cause a problem. And they did it by taking the bait laid out for them by the Conservatives.

Two Steps Forward

Last summer, when Mulcair made a statement on Israel’s attack on Gaza that sounded as one-sided as the ones Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau released, the party faithful wouldn’t stand for it. Members of the NDP base began speaking out, some even occupying MP offices.

Such a strong statement eventually led to a mea culpa from the leader which came in the form of a Toronto Star op-ed. While it wasn’t everything the NDP base had been hoping for, it was a much more balanced approach to the situation and one that didn’t leave Israel blame-free.

Protesters occupying MP Don Davies' office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza
Protesters occupying MP Don Davies’ office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza

It was good enough to shift the party’s focus away from the Middle East and onto more domestic matters. It’s on these issues that the NDP has, for the most part, excelled in offering an alternate view to the sometimes indistinguishable Conservative and Liberal discourse.

This year, we have seen the NDP, among other things, take a very important stance against Bill C-51, Harper’s so-called anti-terror legislation. Not only did they oppose some of the more egregious elements of the now-law, but voted against it and promised to repeal it if they form government.

Four Steps Back: Manly, Wheeldon, Natanine and Hyder Ali

Unfortunately, that progressive streak hit a roadbump back in July when the federal NDP denied Paul Manly, son of former MP Jim Manly, a chance to run for the party’s nomination in the BC riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Manly, now running for the Green Party in the same riding, took to social media almost immediately, letting everyone know his nomination was refused because of his father being on the boat to Gaza.

Last week, it became apparent that what happened to Manly wasn’t an isolated incident. After CPC trolls unearthed some rather ordinary statements critical of Israel, the party forced Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine who was running in Nunavut and Kings–Hants, Nova Scotia candidate Morgan Wheeldon off the ballot and barred hopeful Syed Hyder Ali from running for the nomination in Edmonton Wetaskiwin.

Unprincipled Approach to Principle

So what did they say online that warranted such a censure? Nothing groundbreaking, really. In fact, it’s the same thing the United Nations had to say: that in 2014 Israel was guilty of war crimes for its assault on Gaza.

To block someone from running under the orange banner just because they have voiced principled views on a subject many in the party, the country and the international community share is just plain unethical, paranoid and wrong.

It also indicates a tone-deaf top-down approach instead of the grassroots one the NDP seems to have adopted over the past year. Now we’re back where we started last summer with the leader enforcing his own agenda on a party and its supporters that, for the most part, have a very different point of view.

Not Even Good Politics

To be completely honest, a good chunk of the political centre in Canada, the so-called middle class which all politicians pander to, doesn’t really care all that much about Palestine and Israel. Domestic issues are much more important.

Supporting Palestinian human rights gets votes on the left and may lose some on the right. Coming out as a hardcore supporter of Israel no matter what the country is doing has the reverse effect. A politician doesn’t risk losing the centre with either approach, but Mulcair is risking losing votes on the left in hopes of getting some on the right, which he will not. It makes no sense.

I checked out the site The Conservatives put it together as an attack site, pulling gotcha quotes from MPs and candidates, but the attack really only helps to mobilize their own base. I read through the quotes and came to the conclusion that this site just makes me want to vote for the NDP.

Screenshot of Conservative "attack site"
Screenshot of Conservative “attack site”

Canada is, at its core, a centre-left country. Harper is an aberration of electoral math, his right-wing and sometimes ultra-right-wing views and policies are not shared or supported by the majority of Canadians. However, he tries to use the fact that he has a majority government to bait his opponents into mirroring his agenda.

Trudeau took the bait on Bill C-51 and has been relegated to near irrelevance because of it. Mulcair has avoided it and offered a progressive view of Canada to voters. But now, possibly spurred by his own beliefs, he has fallen for it and barred valid candidates from running under the NDP banner simply for saying things which quite a few Canadians already think.

What Happens Now

As I said, I never wanted to have to write this. This leaves progressive Canadians in a very precarious position.

I had actually been excited to vote this time, despite all the hoops Harper’s “fair elections act” is making me jump through. It was a clear choice, vote NDP or live with Bill C-51, a real no-brainer.

Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with Mulcair’s stance, or lack thereof, on Energy East, but at least he has chosen to remain on the fence until after he forms government and conducts a study on whether he gets more votes from Quebec or Alberta. Crass politics through and through, but I can live with it.

When it comes to Palestine, he’s not on the fence. He is forcing the NDP into a position that is no different than Harper’s or Trudeau’s and he is doing it with the party in full campaign mode, so it’s really hard to challenge him.

I can’t change my vote on FTB’s election poll, but I can do so in the actual election. I don’t think I will, though. There are plenty of good people running for.and working with the NDP who share what I believe in. I also want to get rid of Bill C-51 at all costs and while the Greens would do that and also offer a more principled position on Palestine, they are not in a position to form government and do anything while the NDP is.

While I’m reluctant to vote NDP under these conditions, I will do it. Unfortunately, I think there are those who will not, strictly out of principle. These are people who may have supported, volunteered for and voted for the party but just can’t because Mulcair seems to have taken a stand on Palestine that is on the wrong side of history.

I can only hope that the NDP fixes this problem quickly and acknowledges that criticism of Israeli war crimes is not something to sweep under the rug, but something to be proud of, as it is one more thing that distinguishes New Democrats from the Lib/Con slate.

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