Monday, February 7, 2011

Where Progressives Belong

I left off my last post saying I would write about why I picked the NDP over any other political party. I'm writing primarily about federal politics on the specifics, though the overarching principles will apply to each of the parties' provincial cousins in Alberta as well (the new Alberta Party falling under the Liberals and the Wildrose falling under the Conservatives).

I'll speak briefly, first, to the Conservatives, though I don't think I need to explain too much here, as there are very obvious contrasts. My mom didn't talk politics much growing up, but it was always obvious to me that my dad was a conservative. Though not overly political, he was very clearly a Reform supporter and still looks back fondly on that party. How I ended up a progressive was not anything to do with any direct political influence from my family. However, the principles of caring for people and being compassionate were clearly given to me from both my family and from the Pentecostal church I grew up in (I'm going to do a future blog about my views on politics and evangelical Christianity). I found those principles most clearly in progressive politics.

Because my principles of compassion were amplified every time I learned about more injustice in the world, I looked for remedies to those injustices as my primary factors in my political ideology. It was obvious to me early on that the conservative ideology lacked those principles. In fact, it was the whole idea of opposing conservatism (or maybe more accurately, neo-conservatism) that got me interested and active in politics. Somehow these people who wanted to solve all the world's problems using violence, cut poor people off of healthcare, and prevent any kind of environmental regulation where people were dying of cancer (to mention only a few things) had gotten into power in my province and country. Someone had to do something about it.

That was why, as I described in my "Political History of Joel" blogs, I initially joined the Liberal Party. I didn't fully explain why I left. A big part of it had to do with the leadership of Michael Ignatieff. When he became the leader of the party I belonged to at the time, I knew many progressives were critical of him. However, I always liked to think for myself, so I wanted to do my own research. I read three of his books ("Virtual War", "The Rights Revolution", and "Empire Lite"), as well as a critical book about him called "Ignatieff's World". I learned about his enthusiasm in supporting the American invasion of Iraq, his support for torture as a way to extract information from prisoners, and his positive judgement on extrajudicial killings, otherwise known as targeted assassinations. I also learned about his views of the United States as a benevolent empire that was using its imperialist tendencies for the good of the planet. After reading all of these things, I knew there was no way I could support this man.

My initial thoughts were that maybe I would remain a dormant member of the Liberal Party and wait until it got a new leader before becoming active again. However, there were two fundamental problems that made me dismiss those thoughts.

The first problem was that I didn't want to be politically dormant. I wanted to be as involved as possible, and I knew I couldn't stick to my morals and campaign for the Liberals under Ignatieff's leadership at the same time. I wanted to do whatever I could as quickly as I could to get the Conservatives out of power, but I would not do it by supporting a party with a morally bankrupt leader.

The second problem was that if a party could pick a leader this bad once, it could certainly do it again. As I learned more about both political history and about other prominent contemporary members of the Liberal Party, I found that they were good at masking their nastier traits. I had theorized that I might have still supported the Liberals if Bob Rae had won the leadership instead of Ignatieff. After that, I learned that the reason Rae had left the NDP for the Liberals was because of its tolerance of what he would call "anti-Israel" rhetoric, which is code for support for the human rights of Palestinians. When Ignatieff essentially took the same position as the Conservatives on Israel's invasion of Lebanon and later its invasion of Gaza, and there was no protest from inside of the Liberal caucus, I knew where the party stood. On the issue of justice for the Palestinians, which was and is my primary issue, the Liberals and Conservatives were on the same page - it was a non-issue.

At the NDP's federal convention in Halifax in the summer of 2009, I attended an early-morning talk by Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver East, and Kim Elliot, publisher of the progressive news site. They had just come from Palestine where they had witnessed the devastation unleashed on Palestinian civilians during Israel's invasion of Gaza. They spoke out clearly in condemnation of it, from a perspective of compassion for the victims. I had never heard a federal politician do such a thing. As I met more and more New Democrats, it seemed that almost all of them were on the same page as Libby (and myself). I began to understand that, on this issue, almost all New Democrats were in line with my position, and almost all Liberals were on the opposite side of my position (there are some exception within the Liberal Party).

Back to my point on Ignatieff being the leader of the Liberals. The Liberal Party is no doubt a party of diverse views and ideologies. Some view that as a good thing. But for someone who wants to be involved in progressive politics, that is a very difficult thing because the Liberal Party's positions on issues can be so unpredictable. Not only do their positions change when their leadership changes, but even leaders change their positions as they go. The first time I heard Michael Ignatieff speak as leader of the Liberal Party, he spoke very clearly in favour of implementing an intensity-based cap and trade system to lower Canada's greenhouse gas emissions (same sort of the plan the Conservatives always talk about). He now talks clearly about a cap and trade system with absolute caps (same sort of plan the NDP has talked about for years). There was no indication as to why he changed his stance. It just happened. The Liberal Party is a party that changes with the wind. It could take a progressive stand one day, but it could very well take the opposite stand the next.

I found with the New Democrats I didn't have to deal with that unpredictability. It has always been very clear to me where the party stands on all of the fundamental issues. Sure, policy evolves and is tweaked, but it is always in line with the principles of fairness for everyone. Corporate income tax cuts, though they may boost the GDP of the country, do not help poor and working-class Canadians. The Liberals have a habit of pushing for them regularly (until recently - Ignatieff is now saying he'll fight an election opposing them). There is a diversity of views within the New Democrats too, but it is among people who all have the same compassionate principles.

I don't want to be part of a party that sways with the wind in order to attain power. I want a consistent, progressive party that I can campaign for and promote with confidence every day of every year. I might not agree with absolutely everything the party says or does, but I can work within this party that shares my values and principles to fight for what I think is right. There are some progressives in the Liberal Party and many progressives outside of the partisan political process, but ultimately we need to be organized and united to realize our greatest potential. That is why the NDP is where progressives belong.

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