Image: Des D. Mona

Thomas Mulcair should drop acid

I have an idea for the Federal NDP: Thomas Mulcair should drop acid. The case of Rob Ford, alleged Mayor of Toronto allegedly caught on video smoking crack, tells us that Canadian politicians can flirt with hard drugs with impunity.

Mulcair could probably get away with an acid trip once in a while. I think it would be good for him, because of the vision thing. It seems to me Mulcair has a limited perspective on politics these days, lining up the NDP as the good cop of austerity beside the obvious bad cop, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. The NDP just will not challenge the fundamentals of the Conservative agenda – on immigration, on taxation, on health and social programmes, on foreign policy. They offer roughly the same programme, but assure us they are on our side and will try to minimize the pain.

There are two main problems with this. First, there is someone else auditioning for the role of the good cop in this production: Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party. So at the level of electoral strategy, it seems to be playing out rather badly, as the Liberals are now outflanking the NDP in opinion polls.

But there is something more important at stake. The range of opinion we hear in parliamentary debate or in the mainstream media these days is appallingly narrow, all variations on the same theme: what’s good for business is good for all of us. There is a consensus that the success of any government should be measured by the corporate bottom line, rather than the well-being and rights of the people. Rather than providing a voice within mainstream politics that challenges the core ideas of Harper’s agenda, the NDP is part of that consensus.

They could step out of it by taking up a few sensible demands being articulated by movements. Fight poverty by renewing commitments to public housing and increasing transfers to provinces to raise social assistance rates above the poverty line. Respect Indigenous sovereignty and build policies around recognition and taking responsibility for the damage of colonialism. Defend migrant rights, rather than introducing more punitive laws. Restore collective bargaining rights for unions that have been eroded by the abuse of back-to-work legislation and changes in labour laws. Stop being the best friend of Israeli apartheid on the global stage and start defending the basic rights of Palestinians. Don’t build our future around oil. The list could go on.

But Mulcair isn’t interested in learning from movements. He made that clear when he prevented NDP MPs from wearing the red square in solidarity with the Quebec student strike in 2012. The voice of the NDP just was not there supporting one of the most vibrant and effective movements against austerity and privatization we have seen.

If Mulcair is not going to listen to what is coming out of activist movements, where is he going to find the vision to energize Canadian politics with a sense of the real possibilities for justice in the here and now? That’s where the acid comes in. I know it sounds desperate, but a hallucination or two might open up his mind a bit. Perhaps he’ll realize that he who plays good cop forges his own hand cuffs.

Alan Sears is a writer and activist who teaches sociology at Ryerson. He is an editorial associate of New Socialist webzine and the co-author (with James Cairms) of The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century (University of Toronto Press). His new book is The Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood Publishing).

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