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Mulcair's lead in the polls does not protect him from criticism

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It's impolitic and vaguely treasonous, it seems, for a progressive to be critical of the Leader just when the NDP seems poised to form the next government. I have been pulled aside and lectured by friends of mine on Facebook for my grumbling commentary. This isn't the time. Take the Hill, then we'll make the new regime accountable. For now, just "shut up," as one anxious comrade put it. Another accused me of attention seeking. Still another suggested that Liberals are behind the principled criticism that has been surfacing recently. I was even called dishonest.

I won't embarrass anyone by linking. But that's the flavour of it.

For some time I've been critical of the Left for its tendency to self-cannibalize, for its narcissistic purity-seeking when there is practical work to be done. And now I stand accused of that same sin. In fact, NDP MP Charlie Angus was quite explicit about that, kicking me out of his presence on Facebook after I explained that, yes, we must all make compromises, but if that included embracing Margaret Thatcher I would have to plead guilty as charged.

In fact, as an old union hand, I know very well what compromise is. You go along to get along. You become intensely pragmatic rather than programmatic. Real people, after all, are depending upon activists and leaders to help solve practical problems, not to blat on about the revolution. You win by increments, or try to.

I'm not opposed to this approach if it's delivering. It's about tactics; it's about strategy. But to have either, you need a core set of values and principles that define a direction. No decent trade unionist would side with the Pinkertons. And no decent social democrat would embrace Thatchernomics.

Or so I thought.

The past few days have been full of revelations. Mulcair's purge of candidates and would-be candidates who are critical of Israel for human rights violations is already on record, and the list of desaparecidos is steadily growing. Even the Executive Director of Friends of Medicare, Sandra Azocar, was cast out for the apparent crime of expressing concern over the NDP's silence on Gaza last year according to sources cited in Metro Edmonton.

Unsettling video clips have emerged. Not only has the Leader expressed warm thoughts about Maggie Thatcher, and doubled down on them just a few days ago, but he's not all that keen on unions, either, or at least he wasn't back when he was a Quebec Liberal.

Now he has just bowed out of a debate specifically designed to address women's issues. If Harper won't show, he won't either, he says, although he had earlier confirmed his attendance. Up For Debate, a spirited coalition of women's organizations, was left in the lurch, all of its hard work and planning come to naught. Without the presence of these two powerful men, there was no point in continuing.

Women's issues haven't been addressed as such in a national electoral debate since 1984. And now that opportunity has been torpedoed--by the leader of the NDP. The optics. Good grief, the optics.

Harper was planning to be a no-show, a prudent course of action for a sitting Prime Minister whose record on women has been abysmal -- a man who set the tone early on when he had the word "equality" struck from the goals of Status of Women Canada. There was simply no upside to putting in an appearance.

But Mulcair? Yes, the general rule about taking no part in national debates without Stephen Harper was a sound one. He wanted to hold the current government to account, not bicker with young Justin in front of a bored national audience. But there are exceptions, and this was one of them.

The debate did not have to be confined to clever sound-bites and one-upping. Here was a golden opportunity to put out substantial and coherent policy on the current status of women in Canada, and set out a specific course of action to implement that policy. Instead, whether intentional or not, the message was sent that women's issues don't matter.

A major tactical blunder, at the very least. And this after the whole notion of social-democratic principles has been put into question, and those of us who dare to talk about them are chided and mocked.

If there was ever a time for critique, now is that time. Those of us who want a clear alternative to Harper and everything he represents can't afford to wait until the day after the election. If Mulcair wins power, the most likely scenario is a minority government. There will be more shushing of the activists, more rationalizations for inaction, more compromises, as the NDP treads water until the following election. Caucus discipline will be as tight as Harper's. The corporate media will be unremittingly hostile, the other parties will offer no quarter, and the temptation will be to placate rather than to advance, to govern by poll rather than principle, to keep the cranky left wing of the party in check while Bay Street is courted.

Think progressives aren't being heard now? After October 19, we'll be swallowed up in an orange fog. Be quiet, comrades. Don't you know the end of history when you see it?

Welcome to the Mulcair maze. The point is not to solve it but to accept it.

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Image: Flickr/Matt Jiggins

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