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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto with his partner Natalie and three children. Michael has a degree in history from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, a former socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and 2014 and served on the executive of the Socialist Party of Ontario as its Spokesperson and Chair.

The NDP's campaign disaster was much more than a failure to communicate

| February 12, 2016
Image: Flickr/Matt Jiggins

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According to the NDP and its leader it is now official -- what we've got here is a failure to communicate.

In a note entitled "Personal Reflections" that was posted to the NDP's website and emailed out to those on its email list, NDP leader Tom Mulcair made a show of appearing to "take full responsibility" for the debacle of a campaign he ran and accepted the predictably tepid conclusions of the "Interim Report" of Rebecca Blakie's Campaign Review Working Group that he had appointed to allegedly look into what went so very wrong.

"I agree with the over-arching assessment [of the report] that our campaign came up short," Mulcair writes, in one of the great statements of the obvious in recent political memory.

While one might note that a leader who accepted full responsibility for such a totally catastrophic result would actually generally do the right thing by their party and resign to leave its stewardship in abler hands, as always with the NDP, the devil is in the details when it comes to both the report itself and the mea culpa on Muclair's part.

After stating, "there remains within the Party a rock solid confidence in our core social democratic values," Mulcair goes on to say, "we are addressing the important observation from the interim report that the campaign lacked an over-arching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals."

And this is when it begins to become clear that, to Mulcair and apologists for the party's campaign, its fundamental narratives and its strategists, the policies that the NDP ran on were just fine. They were, apparently, simply expressed poorly.

It was not that the party's policies were basically misguided, it was all in the presentation and the fact that they were misunderstood by the electorate.

It was not them, it was you, Canadian voter!

The new line emerging is brought more into focus as Mulcair goes on to state:

"This became apparent when our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision which saw new government revenues generated through higher taxes for corporations, closing CEO tax loopholes and a crackdown on tax havens."

This is a fascinating attempt to frame the reactionary balanced budget pledge as "social democratic" -- something that it was not at all -- while also seeking to imply that the "revenues generated" by the, in fact, minor tax commitments the party made during the election (which would have been offset by boutique tax cuts) would have enabled the NDP to keep this pledge without cutbacks.

They would not have. Despite the best attempts of New Democrats to claim otherwise, the choice on offer was not between running deficits and a set of "fiscally-responsible" leftist initiatives. It was, rather, between a modest deficit accepting Keynesian infrastructure programme proposed by Trudeau and two parties pledging to balance the budget in ways, with tax policies and under a set of economic conditions that would have led to them either having to break the pledge almost immediately upon winning government or to implement severe austerity measures.

In other words, the NDP balanced budget pledge was either going to lead to the worst attack on what is left of the Canadian state since the Liberal budget of 1995 or was a total fiction. You can decide which is worse, but by pretending it was simply poorly communicated, Mulcair accepts responsibility not for what was a fundamentally terrible policy but rather for his inability to spin it.

And if it was only the spin, as opposed to the overall narrative itself, that was wrong, then Mulcair likely feels he can make a somewhat compelling case to those left in the party and willing to listen that, given another chance, he will spin this and other basically bankrupt "Third Way" ideas with a new paint job that will, indeed, deliver the dream of power next time.

Mulcair, whose leadership of the party has been, to say the least, top down, also appears to cryptically acknowledge that perhaps the purges of candidates and the burying of things like the member policy resolutions went too far when he says, "We spent far too much energy trying to avoid mistakes in the lead-up to the last election" and, "The parliamentary wing must work more closely with the party and the grass-roots". Predictably he does not elaborate much on what he intends to do about this other than having appointed insiders to somehow "ensure this happens."

And, again, as he did recently in an email I discussed in a previous piece, he makes an attempt to portray himself as deeply concerned about income inequality while continuing to not articulate one single meaningful policy to do anything about this inequality in a serious way.

This specific attempt to portray himself and the NDP in left-wing terms is especially galling when in comes in the wake of the NDP caucus voting in favour of the very Liberal tax changes they had supposedly opposed and had claimed -- likely correctly -- would actually increase inequality.

So what you get is Mulcair "accepting" the conclusions of a report that does not tackle the fundamentals at all, still trying claim that the balanced budget pledge was somehow misunderstood and now claiming that it was all the emphasis and that he is, despite all the evidence of his leadership to this point, a great standard bearer of the social democratic cause!

This is, it must be said, all a whitewash that makes the Andrea Horwath ONDP maneuver to save her leadership look like one of the greatest moments of political self-reflection and introspection of all time by contrast.

When Mulcair cruises to victory on the back of this farce at the upcoming NDP convention, get ready for a very long trip into the political wilderness of centrist narrow-vision emptiness for the NDP just when so many opportunities on the left might have been opening up.

Opportunities that cannot and will not open up so long as Mulcair remains leader and so long as the party and its caucus labours, under these fundamental self-delusions and with this complete inability to truly accept that it was not the communication, but what the party was communicating, that led to an entirely warranted and self-inflicted defeat that did not even have the solace of sound principles to make it worthwhile.

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Image: Flickr/Matt Jiggins

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