What would Tommy Douglas think about the NDP leadership vote in Edmonton this Sunday?

Apr 5th, 2016 | By | Category: In Brief

June 15, 2016 will mark the 72nd anniversary of the triumph of Tommy Douglas’s “first socialist government in North America,” in the 10th Saskatchewan provincial election of 1944.

And it is at least intriguing to bear this in mind when contemplating the strange juxtaposition of yesterday’s 28th Saskatchewan provincial election on April 4, 2016, and the imminent federal NDP leadership review vote in Edmonton on Sunday, April 10.

As explained by Éric Grenier on the CBC News site, Tuesday, April 5, 7 AM: “ Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party was re-elected to a majority government last night, taking over 60 per cent of the vote and sending the NDP leader to defeat in his own constituency.”

Grenier goes on : “The Saskatchewan Party captured just under 63 per cent of the vote and prevailed in 51 of the province’s 61 constituencies. The New Democrats took just over 30 per cent of the vote and won 10 seats.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened, of course. It’s Brad Wall’s third straight majority government, at the head of a prairie conservative party that tries to disguise itself with the name of the province it governs.

Saskatchewan Party supporters in Swift Current celebrate Monday night, April 4, 2016, after media outlets project a third majority government. (Peter Mills/CBC.)

(Also the province described in the American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1950 classic, Agrarian Socialism: The Coöperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan.)

Yet set the crash of Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten beside this coming Sunday’s federal NDP leadership review vote in Edmonton. (As in : “Thomas Mulcair Hints 70 Per Cent Result In Leadership Vote Enough To Stay On.”)

And it’s all a sad reminder that the age of Tommy Douglas, old CCF Premier of Saskatchewan (1944–1961) and first leader of the federal New Democrats in Canada (1961–1971) has now truly ended. (And is probably never coming back, with or without Justin Trudeau.)

* * * *

Meanwhile, whadda I know? I just have this office full of books here by the lake.

Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau in Edmonton, February 3, 2016.

But recently talking with NDP partisans over lunch at the canoe club (so to speak) has made me think there may be one bright light for the  leader of the federal New Democrats today — the same Tom Mulcair who seminally blew the party’s best chance ever to become a real Government of Canada, at last, on October 19, 2015. (Or so the story goes.)

“If I were going to Edmonton (which I’m not), I certainly wouldn’t vote for Mulcair,” is one thing I heard over lunch at the canoe club (and over and over and over again).

Later that evening, looking at the moonlight on the rooftops of the city, it struck me that, given all the wounds still healing, perhaps almost no card-carrying New Democrat who very seriously wants to vote against Mr. Mulcair will be in Edmonton this coming Sunday.

Rachel Notley’s NDP government of Alberta may indeed be the best thing the party has going at the moment. But the federal party gathering in the Alberta capital this weekend does not sound like anyone’s idea of a good time.

Moreover, for the good of the party (and even Bernie Sanders’s kind of democratic socialism in Canada!), there is a case for keeping Thomas/Tom Mulcair as leader for at least a while yet.

There will after all be no fresh federal election until the fall of 2019. Whatever else, Mulcair still stands for the inroads New Democrats have finally made in Quebec. Building on that remains important for the future.

And then who else really wants the job right now? The party has to heal and then renew and revive itself over the next few years. That much seems clear. And the leader who lost the 2015 election may even be the best person to start the process, at least.

Thomas Mulcair in Calgary, July 2012.

If there is going to be a new federal NDP leader before the next election, it may be best to wait until after the Conservatives have chosen their new leader, on May 27, 2017. Now is the time to rebuild the new democracy at the constituency level.

So … enough loyal New Democrats who really want to vote against Mulcair in Edmonton this coming Sunday may in fact be avoiding the gathering for the good of the party. And who knows? That may be just enough to give him “the kind of number evoked by (party president) Rebecca Blaikie (70 per cent)” in the end.

And the ghost of Tommy Douglas may think there’s nothing wrong with that. In the old days Saskatchewan was the left-wing populist province and Alberta was the right-wing populist province. More recently, they seem to have switched sides. (And even with the oil bust Alberta today is the considerably bigger prize!)

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