Sunday, February 26, 2012

Defection to Liberals highlights NDP dilemma

By Barry Weisleder
Socialist Action
February 26, 2012

 Lise St-Denis
While NDP officials go to great pains to prevent leftists from becoming NDP candidates at election time, they'd do better to spend more time screening the right wingers in their ranks.

A case in point is Lise St-Denis, who was elected NDP MP in the Quebec riding of St-Maurice-Champlain and who crossed the line to join the federal Liberals on January 10. She was one of 58 NDP rookies to win a seat in Quebec last May 2.

Why the sudden decision to bolt, after St-Denis spent a decade volunteering for the party?

The 71-year-old said she did not feel “at ease” in a party that wanted to put an end to the Canadian Forces mission in Libya, that called for abolition of the Senate, and that rejected any private-sector involvement in building a new bridge in Montreal. She stressed that the NDP had lost its “drawing card” in Quebec with the death of Jack Layton.

But could St-Denis be as flaky as that? Could she have been unaware of basic NDP policies when she ran last Spring? Or was it a case of the party brass being unaware, or worse, unconcerned about her 'ease' with perpetuation of the status quo – including the non-elected 'Upper Chamber', imperialist interventions in the Arab countries, and private-public partnerships that undermine workers and squander public funds?

NDP MP Guy Caron, who chairs the party's Quebec caucus, was correct to say “Changing political affiliation is a blatant lack of respect for democracy. If the Liberals think that this is what the voters of her riding want, we challenge them to run Ms. St-Denis in a by-election.”

But there is another point to this incident. And it's not just that the NDP was unprepared politically for the 'orange wave' breakthrough -- a victim of its own success, so to speak.

The point is that the party leadership recruits candidates in its own image. At its core, that image is increasingly associated with opportunism, lack of principles and shallowness. Party bureaucrats, and party electoral campaigns project accommodation to the capitalist system and its vaunted institutions. They foster illusions in Ottawa's foreign policy, covering up the reality of military intervention at the service of corporate power and profit.

And the party elite's longstanding subordination of the aspirations of oppressed nations to the vice-grip of the bourgeois state makes it completely unsurprising that the NDP attracts liberal federalists in Quebec like St-Denis, who after surviving the shock of her election as MP, discovered that she is more at “ease” in the Liberal Party caucus.

The only good thing about this incident is that there will be one less advocate of merger with the Liberal Party inside the NDP federal caucus.

Until her departure, St-Denis was a strong supporter of Thomas Mulcair's bid for NDP Leader. What does Mulcair think about his erstwhile fan's act of treachery? And what say the other candidates for NDP Leader? The silence is deafening.

What we see here is fundamentally a problem of class perspective. For what class programme does the NDP fight? The ambiguity of the NDP's stance underscores the need for NDP political education in the spirit of working class independence from the system of exploitation, and from its state apparatus.

So, when the NDP Socialist Caucus argues that, in order to survive, the NDP must turn sharply to the left, clearly it is no exaggeration.


  1. Good description of the NDP. We need a new party of the left with a real leader again. Someone with the respect of Canadians, like Jack Layton had.

    1. I understand Jack respected Tom Mulcair, and they worked together to get young idealistic Quebecers elected.

  2. I grew up in England and was a member of the British Labour Party for 20 years. Same thing - they threw out the left and put up candidates of the right - who had about as much loyalty to the party and the movement as this MP. It is usually the right that leave the party when the going gets tough.

    I am voting Peggy Nash - firm union roots and a good fighter.