By Stuart Parker
On the morning of March 8th, I received a phone call from the NDP office in Ottawa. The party staffer at the other end of the line politely informed me that the NDP was rescinding its approval for me to seek a party nomination to run in the upcoming federal election.
Last fall, the party conducted a lengthy vetting process to determine if it would allow me to represent it. After six weeks of checking my background, it permitted me to proceed to the next stage and run for a nomination in my riding.
If victorious, I could join over 200 other NDP candidates in ridings across the country in flying the flag of social democracy in a totally unwinnable seat.
But this was not not to be.
The party, it was explained, had taken exception to comments I had made on my personal Facebook page, in particular one in which I exhorted New Democrats to keep supporting our most viable candidate for the Toronto mayor’s chair in the wake of a sex scandal.
I said, in full, "Stuart Parker isn't a fan of Giambrone's today but can't believe all the outraged jumping ship. NDPers not wishing to be sullied with our mayoral candidate have had little problem while our party has denied welfare to refugees and interprovincial migrants, broken strikes, shot at Indians, invoked the Notwithstanding Clause, supported NAFTA and otherwise sold out social democracy in Canada. But of all the things to quit the team over”¦"
This was apparently the most egregious of my “several” comments. But given that I have made only three Facebook posts mentioning the NDP since being vetted, there is little mystery as to the other comments that have made me so dangerous to the party that it won’t let any riding association in the country even vote on whether I should be allowed to represent them:
(1) "Stuart Parker can't believe the NDP is crowing about how Jack Layton has the highest approval rating of any federal leader when all three of them have lower approval ratings than Bush in 2008. It's one thing to privately rub our hands over Harper's 24% and Iggy's 15% but publicly bragging about a 29% approval rating is not smart politics. It's embarrassing."
(2) "Stuart Parker congratulates the NDP for (a) not running a troglodytic anti-tax campaign in Toronto Centre as in St. Paul's and (b) nearly doubling their share of the vote to 33%. Not unconnected! Good work Cathy Crowe. Being an actual social democrat vs. a fake populist actually pays off."
Many New Democrats have reacted to this by calling party officials “Stalinist”. These well-intentioned individuals, politically seasoned in the internecine conflicts of the Cold War-era Canadian Left, have missed the real story of what has become of our party and of Canadian politics generally.
My Facebook page was not searched by Stalinists looking to enforce ideological purity and lockstep loyalty–it was searched by risk-averse cut-rate PR flacks.
Have you noticed how politicians seem to speak more repetitively all the time, like they’re on a 30-second loop? Political parties have become enamoured of “key messages” and “talking points” because the strategists calling the shots are experts in what the PR industry calls “crisis communications”.
Crisis communications is a set of protocols designed to manage product recalls, oil spills, and the like. The idea is that something big, scary, and out-of-control is going on, and the way for a large corporate entity to cope with it is to make sure that it can restrict who speaks and what they can say to the point where it can control the conversation.
It is no coincidence, then, that when we hear our political leaders in the media, they sound just like some Maple Leaf exec explaining the next pre-emptive recall of potentially diseased meat. And people wonder why all our leaders are less popular than Bush was in 2008.
Democracy should be big, scary, and out-of-control. Elections should be times when energized and empowered voters and candidates speak with passion. Given a 50-year history of third-party status, the last thing the NDP needs is to be even more risk-averse. The party’s decision to turn its candidates’ personal (not campaign) Facebook pages into sterile, passionless places would leave the Obama organizers they brought to their last convention, at great expense, scratching their heads.
Unleashing the power of the social media is not, I am sure, about establishing new party surveillance and regulation protocols to micromanage party activists.
Stuart Parker was recruited to the NDP by Svend Robinsion in 1985, and was an active member until resigning in 1988. He then served as founding president of the B.C. Green party’s youth wing (1988-93) and then as its leader (1993-2000). In 1999, he negotiated municipal party coalitions in Vancouver and Victoria between the Greens, NDP, and local labour councils. Since 2001, he has been a member of the New Democratic Party, coordinating major endorsements of the party by former Green supporters in the 2001 B.C. and 2004 federal elections. Between 1999 and 2009, he served on the boards of Fair Voting B.C. and/or Fair Vote Canada. He works as a lecturer at the University of Toronto where he is completing a PhD in history.