By Scott Costen
ONE of James Laxer’s most under-appreciated written legacies is a blistering but inspiring critique of the New Democratic Party (NDP) that resonates as strongly today as when it came out three years ago.
Laxer, who died in early 2018, was a founding member of the Waffle, a left-wing, economic nationalist movement that briefly shook up the NDP in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Running on the Waffle’s ‘Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada’, he finished second in a field of five candidates in the party’s 1971 federal leadership contest.
Laxer was pushed out of the NDP a year later but eventually came back into the fold, briefly as a party official but primarily as its socialist conscience.
‘The NDP Needs a Radical Makeover’, a short ebook published less than six months before his death, is an invaluable resource for party activists and a condemnation of self-interested party insiders.
Written with a palpable sense of urgency in the face of growing economic inequality and the election of Donald Trump, the text demands sweeping and immediate action.
Laxer recounts how the NDP has slowly but inexorably moved to the political centre, a trend encouraged by party staffers and exploited by opposition strategists.
The culmination of this centrist drift, he argues, was the 2015 federal election that elevated Justin Trudeau to power and dropped the NDP from official opposition status.
The party was riding high going into the election, but voters were unimpressed with NDP leader Tom Mulcair and his cautious, moderate platform.
“The strategy adopted by the NDP during the campaign was to reassure voters that the NDP was ready for office,” Laxer writes. “In first place in public opinion polls during the first month of the campaign, Mulcair promised that an NDP government would manage the country’s finances so as to achieve a balanced budget.”
But the social democrats had lost the pulse of the country and were outflanked on the left by a third-place party committed to ending the Conservative government’s austerity program and willing to go into debt to do it.
“Whatever the merits of the case, it was Justin Trudeau who came to personify the hunger for change, not Tom Mulcair,” Laxer writes.
The author takes Mulcair to task specifically for failing to appeal to left-leaning young voters.
“Prior to the 2015 federal election, one might have expected Tom Mulcair and the NDP to have benefited from the activism-radicalism of Canadian millennials,” he writes. “Instead, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were buoyed by this important political force.”
Invoking the leftist nationalism of the Waffle, Laxer implores those same millennials to develop “an appreciation of both the social wrongs that have been committed on our soil as well as an awareness of the positive collective achievements of Canadians that serve as the basis for future accomplishments.”
Remembering historic injustices is important, he writes, but so too is recalling the hard-fought victories that have laid significant groundwork for a socialist Canada.
“Knowledge of achievements provides a record of what we have done together as Canadians and inspires us to do much more,” Laxer says.
With right-wing populism on the march, and the faux-progressive failings of the Trudeau government laid bare, ‘The NDP Needs a Radical Makeover’ is an instructive and inspiring blueprint for future left-wing success.
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