Friday, October 25, 2019

Oil Chauvinism and the Western NDP Schism

The schism between the Federal NDP and the Alberta NDP cannot be, and should not be, papered over. It represents a real, material disagreement, and, in the case of the Alberta NDP, a massive departure from the policies and principles of the Federal NDP.

Having had my candidacy here in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo for this past election blown up by the gotcha-sliming of Alberta NDP pipeline partisans, and having had to sit through an election while those same vestigial 'Alberta NDP' personalities slagged off and demeaned the leader of the Federal NDP, I think it is high time for the 'leadership' of the remnant, rump 'opposition' of the 'Alberta NDP' to be called out for oil chauvinism, climate change hypocrisy and reaction, denigrating and excluding ecologically conscious young socialists from the Alberta provincial party, and for making backroom deals with Liberals for pipelines.

Yesterday, on the CBC's Power and Politics, Alberta NDP 'leader,' Rachel Notley said of Federal NDP Leader, Jagmeet Singh, that "he needs to stop hurting jobs and accelerating anxiety around the kitchen tables in the province ofAlberta." For Rachel Notley to be phrasing this in such an insulting and incendiary way on the day that the BC NDP recognizes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Law is irresponsible, ignorant and petty. In unilaterally adopting ecocidal, oil-chauvinist policies, and insisting that they be made federal policies, Rachel Notely has 'accelerated anxiety' in all of Western Canada, and sown confusion and discord within social democracy.

Rachel Notely and the provincial NDP's 2015 win in Alberta was absolutely and wholly conjunctural, that is, it was dependent on and impossible without particular circumstances which no longer exist (oil crash, separation of Conservatives, etc.). For her to be slagging off the leader of the party, in the middle of an election, and dictating energy policy to the federal party, from her rump legislature, is ludicrous and treasonous. She got elected on a fluke and squandered it perpetuating the same ecocidal policies of her predecessors.

In 2015 Rachel Notley used the chaos in the aftermath of a Federal election to broker a unilateral backroom deal with Justin Trudeau, without consulting the party, and is now livid that her deal hasn't been accepted as de facto party policy. If she wants to challenge Jagmeet Singh for leadership of the federal party she should do so, otherwise she should either put a sock in it or shove off to the Liberals or Conservatives. If Jagmeet Singh wants to 'grow into the role as leader' he cannot simply respond to this with 'we will discuss this in private.' Rachel Notley is already explicitly not discussing this in private, she is discussing this in public. The 'leadership' of the Alberta NDP needs to be told to get its head on straight and, instead, the Federal party keep kowtowing to these kind of whiny denigrations of the leader's intelligence.

All Jagmeet Singh has been able to offer is in response is "I’m not going to negotiate what we’re going to fight for in media like this." Far be it for me to call the leader of the party naive and unlearned, as Rachel Notley and her sycophants did during the election, but this statement is nonetheless meek. I believe the Party is demonstrating a deficit of spine and backbone by not pushing back against Rachel Notley's public statements for oil companies and against the leader of the NDP, against the scientific consensus, and against serious action on climate change and reconciliation. Of course this must be litigated in public, there is no other means of doing so. Jagmeet Singh must negotiate what the NDP is going to fight for in the Media. That is literally his job now: to go out into the media and explain not only what the priorities of an NDP Government are, but why they are important, why they matter. If when confronted with pro-pipeline criticism his response is simply to not discuss it, then the Party loses the opportunity to say why opposition to the TransMountain expansion is the position of the Party. It is not enough to simply have a policy position, that policy position must be defended and advanced, even as against oil chauvinist members of a provincial section.

The TransMountain expansion environmental and duty to consult processes have been shot through with bad faith on the part of the Harper and Trudeau governments. The cheap, post-hoc, after the fact consultation and environmental review the government have engaged in, is neither in keeping with our Paris Agreement emissions obligations, nor our s 35 Constitutional obligations towards First Nations, nor with reconciliation, nor with the Honour of the Crown, nor with our moral obligation to ensure the survival of vulnerable coastal habitats for future generations. If it is NDP policy to oppose the TransMountain expansion, then these arguments must actually be prosecuted, vigorously.

It is not sufficient to simply say 'I am against the transmountain expansion,' and simply leave it at the index, just like that. No, the argument that the pipeline approval processes have irrevocably damaged the possibility of free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples, that such an expansion would constitute a massive 9 billion dollar giveaway to oil and gas conglomerates, directly from the public purse, in addition to the already dispensed 4.5 billion, and that the increased bitumen tanker traffic it would entail represents an intolerable risk to vulnerable coastal habitats, must actually be made, right now.

When Rachel Notley slags Jagmeet Singh off in the press and shouts 'jobs, jobs, jobs,' it is imperative to push back, immediately and publicly, and note how the policy of the party is based on environmental science, economic analysis which accounts for economic growth in an ecologically sustainable way, and our constitutional and moral duties with respect to First Nations peoples. If your policy on TransMountain is that you're against it, then defend that policy! Explain the reasons why and care about those reasons! Shout from the rooftops that you care earnestly about the environmental and inter-societal ramifications of ramrodding through a pipeline without social license.

Justin Trudeau says his intention is to have the TransMountain expansion constructed "as quickly as possible." Any hope or expectation that Trudeau would want to govern in a collaborative and progressive manner are extinguished. His intention is to pick and choose who to solicit votes from on an issue by issue basis, and to exclude the NDP as much as possible. The time for backroom deals on oil chauvinism are over. It is insulting to suggest that these contradictions can simply be glossed over in public and hammered out in private. The forces which work for the oil companies do not operate in private, they loudly condemn the communities and social forces which stand in their way as 'Native extremists,' 'foreign funded radicals,' 'ecoterrorists,' and all manner of dispicable, denigrating language. Disdain and contempt towards settler society's historical relationship with First Nations is characteristic of the discourse emanating from Alberta, and this is sick and dangerous.

The abject failure of Rachel Notley to be critical with respect to herself and her society is appalling. There is 'brexit-like' talk in her province and she has not denounced it or tried to address the real reasons for it, which are not that 'Albertans don't feel listened to,' it is rather that they have refused to diversify their economy for fourty years, and are refusing to do so now. Oil has become a religion and symbol of toxic masculinity and white-supremacism, it has become a cipher for disdain and contempt towards ecology and Canada's relationship with First Nations peoples.

What the NDP ought to do in response to these counter-productive insults from Rachel Notley is institute mechanisms by which membership can hold provincial and federal leaders to account, in addition to mechanisms of enforcement, whereby if the leadership of a provincial section acts wantonly in opposition to agreed upon party policy, as in the case of the Rachel Notley and the TransMountain expansion, that they can be either removed from leadership, or at very least made to answer for their contradictions.

It is not enough to simply be handed a piece of paper with a bunch of policy positions on it. What matters is the degree of care and solicitude you invest in those policy positions, the degree to which you will go to defend and advance them. Military force is being applied to Secwepemc people who are opposing the TransMountain expansion right now. The Canadian State is violating the sovereignty of First Nations lands right now. To have made the kinds of comments that Rachel Notley did is ignorant and irresponsible, and to not push back, as the Federal party has, is cowardly and rudderless, and makes it appear as though the Federal Party isn't as committed to the scientific, ecological, and reconciliatory goals as it needs to be to really fight this fight.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

There is Nothing Wrong with Jagmeet Singh.

While Jagmeet Singh may coast to victory in Burnaby-South, alarm bells are nonetheless still going off. The most recent polls have the NDP federally at an absolutely abysmal 14%. Older MPs, for better or worse, are choosing to retire rather than fight the upcoming election. This all sounds rather grim, but, as always, it is less grim than the rich-man's newspaper would have you believe. There is nothing wrong with Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh is an intelligent, literate, personable, and charming guy, more than capable of commanding and leading a social democratic party in the spirit of the times if he sets his mind to it. Jagmeet Singh is eminently capable of leading a political party, the question is whether he is as capable of grasping the significance of the historical moment and articulating a clear-headed socialist response to both the vile xenophobic rhetoric of the far right, on the one hand, and the hypocrisy and economic criminality that characterizes liberalism and the monopoly form, on the other. This is what Jagmeet needs to be better at, louder at, more unrelenting at, bring the soapbox and shout it from the rooftops at, if he wants to rise to the occasion.

The commentariat across the spectrum whispers behind his back, 'he will flunk and be churned up.' I don't think so. I hope not. The problem, the reason the NDP is still at 14%, is not Jagmeet Singh. The problem is rather that Jagmeet Singh is hamstrung by all the elements that allowed him to rise to the position of party leader in the first place. With all due respect to the scaffold, Singh needs to kick away this scaffold of party patronage if he's to rise to the occasion. So far Jagmeet has trailed and stumbled in Canadian political discourse with late, polished, superficially uncontroversial language on whatever problem or issue of the day. His position on LNG was and is boneheaded and tonedeaf. The BCNDP has for political reasons, and not all of them especially convincing, made its peace with LNG. But Coastal GasLink was nonetheless, as the chart below illustrates, spearheaded by the BC Liberal Government in all its criminality and indifference.

If you are for LNG then state your reasons, defend that position, but don't materially be indifferent to the RCMP forcibly rounding up First Nations elders and shrug your shoulders because you've been assured by some shrivelled party Iago that its checked the boxes, or because it calms the waters between you and Western NDP Premiers. That is shallow opportunism, and Jagmeet Singh should be, and needs to be, better than that.

The same goes for foreign policy. In order to win the leadership, Singh slyly gladhanded exactly those elements of the party that were most culpable for the defeat in 2015, the worst, most lazy, most unimaginative vestigial apparatchiks of the party. Characteristic in this respect, is Helene Laverdiere, a viciously right-wing ex-Liberal spook. It is a great development for the NDP and for Canada that she will no longer be foreign policy critic for the NDP, it cannot come soon enough. And so, when there is a situation of disagreement between the 'leader of the party' and the 'foreign policy critic' whose support had been solicited for the leadership, the 'leader' has to lead. All around the world socialist and social democratic parties are dealing with the cynical instrumentalization of claims of anti-semitism wielded by neoliberal centrists as a cudgel. As Israel slides further and further to the right, Jagmeet Singh needs to be, and has a moral obligation to be, standing up for the basic dignity and human rights of Palestinian peoples and against illegal settlement, dispossession, and oppression by the State of Israel, as well as against real antisemitism against Jewish communities. Instead, Singh countenances Israeli-apartheid cheerleaders like Randal Garrison when they make exactly this cynical and weaponized conflation of criticism of the state of Israel with anti-semitism. On all the touchstones of foreign policy, Singh must chart a different line than the Liberals. Oftentimes these positions that he unreflectively adopts are the very thing which causes him trouble, because in many cases the apparatchiks who have survived through Mulcair and into the Singh party administration have bad and incoherent positions. The point is that it is not enough for Jagmeet to simply internalize the extant positions of the different pontiffs whose support he solicited, he's got to understand the issues and be vociferous in responding to them in a principled and consistent manner in real time.

Jagmeet Singh is going to win in Burnaby-South, but to change the political landscape in October he has to be much, much better. Jagmeet Singh is more than capable of seizing the moment, galvanizing a mass movement, and offering a credible alternative to the xenophobic right wing, on the one hand, and hypocritical and ethically bereft centrism, on the other, but this requires a gravity, clarity, and ferocity of thought and principle that Singh has in his power but has thus far not exercised. I have actually said this before to Jagmeet Singh, briefly at a leadership debate held in the Empress in Victoria, where I was pleased to have met and talked with him for a while. I told him that he needed to be more critical, off the cuff, less polished. 'On what issue?' he said. 'On all the issues,' I told him. Its even more necessary now.

The point of this writing is in the most comradely spirit I can imbue to it. I want Jagmeet Singh to hook into the general social democratization going on across the continents, to be Labour not Independent Group, AOC not David Brooks, and to galvanize working class, marginalized peoples, and First Nations peoples into a powerful force for social and environmental justice. More pessimistically I can foresee the dystopian hell-world that Andrew Scheer and his fascist henchmen would create were they to, in the demise of the reputation of St. Trudeau, take power. For better or worse, the only person who can forestall that now is Jagmeet Singh.