Last week, Justin Trudeau incited fury from the NDP- claiming that the poor showing in the federal by-elections for the NDP indicated that they are “no longer the optimistic party of Jack Layton- instead they are the negative, divisive party of Thomas Mulcair”. Trudeau proceeded to remark that “it is the Liberal party tonight that proved hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative.”, a partial Jack Layton quote made in his deathbed letter. The uproar was swift and furious- Thomas Mulcair darkly remarked that quoting the deceased Layton “as a political tool” shows Justin’s true character. Brad Lavigne, long time NDP strategist, slammed Trudeau in an incendiary Globe and Mail opinion piece. When the Trudeau quote is examined in context however, the NDP hierarchy and their criticisms are exposed for what they truly are- the sanctimonious, self-righteous cries of a slumping party in the midst of an identity crisis.
Brad Lavigne takes aim at Justin Trudeau forcefully, concluding with a strongly worded attack: “I knew Jack Layton. Jack Layton was a friend of mine. And you sir, are no Jack Layton.” Not only was the criticism invalid, as Trudeau was never actually directly comparing himself to Layton, but the article exposed a tremendous hypocrisy. The quote from which the article originally derived is from the famous words of Lloyd Benson, the now deceased Vice Presidential candidate who used the line to smear his rival for comparing himself to John F Kennedy. Lavigne copies this verbatim, switching only the name- a rather ironic appropriation for a man supposedly enraged by the adoption of a deceased politician’s quote.
Further adding to the ridiculous nature of the NDP faux-outrage is that the Jack Layton quote in question was- by his own admission- a paraphrasing of famed Liberal Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. This presents a logical fallacy in the arguments of the NDP brass; can one politician appropriate a deceased politician’s words to make a point, while the other cannot?
Nevertheless, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was furious, and Trudeau’s explanation that he takes inspiration from sunny, positive leaders such as Laurier and Layton only drew more outrage. The next day Mulcair fired off angrily: “If [Trudeau] has things that he’s ever going to accomplish in his life, maybe we’ll eventually hear about them. For now, he should leave Jack Layton alone.” What Mulcair seems not to realize is that this kind of negative, cynical language is the very reason why Trudeau is able to make these claims on success and positivity in the first place.
While Mulcair is an excellent speaker who has been given well earned praise for his prosecutorial handling of the Harper government’s senate expenses scandal, his brand of politics clearly isn’t working for the NDP. Where Layton and Trudeau’s positive approaches to politics earned their respective parties newfound success, the characteristically negative Mulcair has only seen his NDP’s numbers dwindle during his tenure as leader. If an election were to be held today, polls show that the Liberals would win a narrow minority over the Conservatives, at the expense of many lost NDP seats. Continuing to launch searing attacks against the third place party as Leader of the Opposition does little to help this cause, particularly when it evokes similarities to an increasingly unpopular and similarly negative Conservative government. When the NDP’s plummet in the polls is considered, the knee-jerk reaction from notable NDP members to Trudeau’s positivity remarks is probably best explained by how hard it hits home.
Mulcair, among many others, have accused Justin Trudeau of lacking substance and speaking in vagaries, and not without warrant. However, Trudeau has beaten the NDP to the punch on hot-topic political issues such as the proposed Charter of Quebec Values and cannabis legalization. The NDP on the other hand, dithered a long time before opposing the Charter, and have a much less appealing stance of “decriminalizing” cannabis. Their shift towards the centre is still met with ridicule by many in the Ontario 905 belt and in Western Canada, who still continue to regard the NDP as a unionist party that is soft on separatism. These voters are still much more likely to elect Conservatives and Liberals as a result- and traditional NDP leftists may be sufficiently disillusioned by the futile centrist shift to vote Liberal, or more likely Green.
Whether it is a question of ideology or attitude, or the likely combination of the two, the NDP have found themselves in turmoil. Rather than launching preachy, largely unsubstantiated attacks on the Liberal leader’s criticisms, it would be advisable for them to instead look past the Layton non-issue and realize that Trudeau may have a point. With positive, progressive policy proposals that they were once known for, the NDP could easily find itself back into the hearts and minds of Canadian voters. Until then, it seems that they are destined to play directly into Trudeau’s hands by being the bitter, negative, divisive, and ideologically confused party of Thomas Mulcair.
– Eli Vincent Zivot