Les Leyne: NDP's messy convention guarantees more trouble

VKA-Leyne02832.jpgBritish Columbia’s New Democrats are trying to put the best face on the Error in Edmonton, but it’s hard to see how any wing of the party wins after a mess like that.

Every major decision made at the federal convention was the wrong one. The huge show of non-confidence in leader Tom Mulcair means they repudiated their most viable option to retain what’s left of their breakthrough in Quebec.

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Delegates served Mulcair notice with all the grace of Donald Trump — “You’re fired!” Then they set a long, awkward schedule to replace him. The brand-new has-been could conceivably be limping around for almost two full years past his expiry date. It’s to his credit that he didn’t yank off his lanyard and walk out the door right after the vote.

And to cap it off, they decided to seriously consider the Leap Manifesto, that radical plan to retool the entire Canadian economy, minus the fossil-fuel part.

For all the idealism in the outline (“make more and work less”), it would annihilate thousands of western Canadian resource-sector jobs. It could easily spark open revolt between the federal and Alberta NDP, and that could just as easily spread to B.C.

In the immortal words of Alberta labour leader Gil McGowan: “These downtown Toronto political dilettantes come to Alberta and track their garbage across our front lawn.”

For all the anger and unhappiness about being knocked back down to third place in last fall’s federal election, the federal New Democrats are acting as if they’re getting ready to stay there for quite a while. It’s hard to imagine any scenario where the course set in Edmonton puts the party in government, or even in opposition, any time soon.

B.C. NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth, like all other MLAs interviewed, was surprised at the outcome. He said the big worry is that they have “threatened” the big breakthrough made in Quebec. The NDP was putting down roots and building a base, but now faces challenges.

Mulcair stood accused of letting the Liberals outflank him in the federal campaign, who stood for deficit financing while he promised balanced budgets. But that policy difference seems overblown in retrospect. Mulcair’s real offence was simply not being an incredibly charismatic younger man of destiny, like Justin Trudeau.

He also stood charged with not having the late Jack Layton’s charm. He’s guilty on both counts.

Party members also had some political DNA evidence against him. Some NDP members are like dog-show people when it comes to obsessing about pedigrees. Mulcair’s previous career as a Liberal in Quebec cost him hundreds of votes in the Sunday showdown.

But delegates snuffed out his leadership without having anyone better in mind. None of the alternative names being floated Monday are very inspiring. If federal New Democrats are looking for some kind of bilingual northern Bernie Saunders, they have a big search ahead.

The touchy showdown over the Leap Manifesto created enough crossfire that Mulcair got caught in the middle. It’s an explosive issue with the Alberta NDP and a lot of the tension carries over to B.C. Going by their voting record against resource projects, the Opposition in B.C. is on good terms with parts of the Leap Manifesto. And the B.C. Liberals are delighted to cement that relationship.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond spoke to the B.C. building trades council convention in Victoria on Monday and noted one line in the manifesto: “There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future.”

Bond said she reminded union members: “That’s your job they’re talking about.”

Opposition Leader John Horgan shrugged off the links the Liberals will be making between his team and the manifesto.

“It’s a document I don’t embrace personally,” he said. “I believe there are elements that make sense and there are elements that make no sense in B.C. We won’t be proceeding under any Leap Manifesto … under my leadership.”

He’s going to have to be loud and proud with that stand. But he’s also going to have to come with a lot more support for resource workers and job creation in general to make people believe it.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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