How, Smith asks, can a party with a hip, popular, scandal-free leader whose social-democratic priorities have resonated during this pandemic, and whose efforts in the House of Commons have led to significant Liberal concessions, struggle so mightily to achieve even 20% support in the polls?
The answer, she speculates, is that the NDP is mired in an identity crisis.
One camp wants it to embrace socialism aggressively and explicitly. Another yearns for a more moderate, pragmatic approach to moving Canadian society to the left. A third calls for patience – supporters must allow leader Jagmeet Singh to grow into the kind of person that Canadians will be able to imagine as their next prime minister.
I am not a member of the NDP (I have never joined nor donated to any political party), so I am not well-placed to comment on camps one and two, but I can certainly see where camp three is coming from.
It seems to me that Singh’s current approach to foreign policy holds him back significantly.
I am thinking specifically about a tweet he released shortly before the US election:
“For those that want to build a more just world – silence is not an option. We have a moral imperative to say very clearly, that it would be better for the world if Donald Trump loses.”
On the surface, both sentences are unremarkable.
Public silence has contributed all too often to the commission of mass atrocities around the world. When we see injustice, and we don’t speak out, we forsake an opportunity to stop it.
And Singh was speaking for close to three-quarters of Canadians (and much of the interrnatoinal community) when he advocated a Biden victory.
Nonetheless, his comments suggest an understanding of foreign policy that has not yet matured.
Every Canadian prime minister eventually recognizes that Canada cannot survive and prosper by limiting its global interactions to leaders and countries with whom it shares values and ideals. We must work with just about everyone.
In some cases, we must proceed with extreme caution, but our national interests can only be fulfilled through compromise and negotiation.
We work with the Russians at the Arctic Council. We have collaborated with the Chinese on climate change. We are negotiating with Iran to bring justice to those Canadians who died tragically in Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752.
When asked who they supported in the US election, Prime Minister Trudeau and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole indicated that they were prepared to work with any American administration.
Implicitly, they suggested, prime ministers of Canada (and aspirants to the office) do not have the luxury of indulging their frustrations and disappointments – no matter how intense – when Canada’s ability to advance its national interests is at stake.
And since this US president regularly lashes at out perceived, or real, personal affronts, Canadian heads of government must choose their words about him deliberately.
This is not to say that we cannot aggressively disagree with the United States.
When the Trump administration cut aid for contraception and family planning in 2017, Ottawa immediately increased its contribution to compensate.
But the government left it to Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, to say:
“Trump’s policy represents a gross violation of women’s rights and runs counter to the global trend of liberalizing abortion laws that has resulted in significant decreases in unsafe abortions.”
Singh doesn’t seem to grasp the nuance.
When it comes to international relations, Canadian prime ministers must play the long game. They cannot make their policy disagreements personal, especially when it comes to our most significant ally.
Marie-Danielle Smith’s camp three believes Singh will get there. I hope so, for his sake.
If you’re looking to read more about the NDP, the University of Saskatchewan’s David McGrane recently won a major award for his latest book, The New NDP: Moderation, Modernization, and Political Marketing. On anti-Americanism, I am looking forward to a planned book that will be co-edited by Jennifer Bonder, Susan Colbourn, and Graeme Thompson. The deadline for their call for papers is December 15th.
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