By Paul Kellogg
The late Jack Layton’s political presence in Canadian politics owed everything to the social movements.
In the 1980s, he was a partisan of choice on abortion. In 1991, he was a co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign to combat violence against women. In the run-up to the Iraq War, he made both Tories and Liberals shudder when he again and again used his podium to say “all out” for the great demonstrations on February 15, 2003.
But when members of the party gather, March 24, 2012 to elect a replacement for Layton, the party is likely to be moved very far from this social movement experience.
That would clearly be the case if, as many expect, Thomas Mulcair were to win. Instead of the social movements, Mulcair comes from the Liberal Party. Three times, he won as a candidate for the Liberals in Quebec. In 2003, this saw him elevated into the cabinet of (ex-Tory) Jean Charest.
And if you doubt his right-wing credentials, he shamefully sided with Stephen Harper and Bob Rae, calling on Libby Davies to resign as NDP House leader when she (correctly) stated that the occupation of Palestine had begun in 1948.
What if his chief rival, Brian Topp, gets the nod?
We will still see a party leader, very far removed from the social movements.
Topp is a lifetime apparatus man, working as a staffer inside the NDP since 1990, and in that role, has been virtually unknown to people in the movements.
He emerged into prominence in 2008. As a key adviser to Layton, he was one of the principal architects of the shameful attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal Party – something of which, by the way, he is extremely proud (see his book How we almost gave the Tories the Boot).
We don’t know if either of these two will emerge as the eventual leader. But either of them will mean an NDP more firmly wedded to backroom politics, more likely to be enticed by a coalition dance with the Liberal Party – the architects, if you remember, of draconian cuts to transfer payments in the 1990s, and the party which took Canada to war in Afghanistan.
Mulcair and Topp are two more reasons why we need renewed attention to rebuilding a left rooted in the social movements.