Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I'm disappointed with the NDP

I suppose I couldn't have hoped for any better. Obviously, the NDP was going to defend its newly elected MPs. I don't even say they're wrong for doing so; they could hardly throw them under the bus, and I wouldn't want that to happen to the individuals affected. But my overwhelming feeling towards the New Democratic Party right now is one of disappointment and chagrin.

I have voted for the NDP in every single federal and provincial election I could. I voted for Jinny Sims. I voted for Nancy Clegg. I voted for Guy Gentner, my MLA. To the extent that I have ideological commitments (which are mostly trumped by my deep beliefs in elitism, meritocracy, disinterestedness and intellectual honesty), they are socially democratic. I'm not even one of those oh-so-trendy 'socially liberal, fiscally conservative' types. I don't think, however, that I can bring myself to vote for the NDP again. Among my reasons:

1) The NDP claims to be the party of education. By their recent actions, they clearly believe that education isn't that important at all, or is in a purely utilitarian sense. By acclaiming the election of individuals who are only still beginning their education, the NDP rejects the notion that further education is necessary to be spiritually complete and valuable members of society. I am assuming, of course, that representing Canadians as a Member of Parliament in our de facto preeminent legislative body is a high honour and privilege, and should stand as the high point of a citizen's contribution to the body politic. By their actions, the NDP clearly suggests that they do not buy this assumption, that they, instead, see the House of Commons as a mere numbers game and MPs as mere seat-fillers. However 'informed' a first-year university student might be, I find it detrimental to the dignity of both Parliament and that student. Becoming a Member of Parliament should be, simply put, hard. I am harping on this because I want it so much to be true, that being an MP should require wisdom, virtue, competence: quality. If you want parliamentary democracy to be effective, as I wrote earlier, you need to take seriously the House's role in governance and not just representation. By embracing such neophytes, the NDP is suggesting that university education (or some other form of experience) is neither necessary nor all that valued.

2) One of the major themes of the NDP's appeal to voters is and was that of economic 'fairness'. As I said, my ideological commitments, such as they are, are in sympathy with this general vision of striving for greater economic equality and supporting the middle class. But I also take fairness seriously in particularistic ways, as ensuring that merit and quality are rewarded. It is, then, very disconcerting to me that MPs in general, and this group of "rookie MPs" in particular, will receive a staggering amount of compensation entirely on someone else's merit (I gather it's indisputable that most of the new Quebec MPs were elected for one reason only: Jack Layton). They will be making multiples of three and four of what the average nurse or teacher or bus driver make, again, through no effort of their own. In essence, they have won the lottery, and Canadians will be paying them for it for at least four years.

This point, of course, goes for many MPs of all parties, which is truly saddening. It has only been magnified in salience by this most recent crop of members. Now, it may very well be that some of these new MPs will do much to earn (a portion of) their pay and the respect which should be accorded our representatives. However, if the NDP really wants to show its commitment to fairness and its 'party of the people' status, it should mandate that its MPs will not take in renumeration any more than a specified median salary, say, elementary school teachers. In my ideal political system, of course, the people's representatives would make no salary at all (but for allowance for living costs, etc.), as elected public office should not be a personal profit-making enterprise but an expression of virtue, humility, and public-mindedness. That's too much to hope for.

3) This is really a rehash of my argument about parliamentary democracy below, but the NDP's recent actions show a disrespect, dare I say, contempt, for Parliament. The party claims to stand for parliamentary democracy in opposition to the purported 'autocracy' of Stephen Harper. Yet, they take no steps to ensure quality, meritorious candidates and they invite, all the more, mockery and a low opinion of what should be a revered institution. This goes for all parties: if you cannot find a qualified candidate to nominate, do not contest that riding; when you put up placeholders and seat-fillers, you disrespect our parliamentary institution and you exacerbate the weakness of Parliament vis-a-vis the executive. Now again, I do not intend to attack personally all those MPs who are elected in such a manner; I'm sure they are fine citizens. Perhaps I just have greater expectations for our governing institutions than most Canadians; I want to be able to look up at the House and say, "Now that is a legislative council of the finest, most able, most virtuous members of our political community". This notion of quality, of course, is antithetical to the ideal of "mirror representation", introduced earlier. I don't want to look at the House and say simply, "There's Canada", but, rather, "There's the best of Canada".

These are among the reasons that the NDP's recent actions have stirred in me a distinctly negative feeling towards the party. I don't expect anyone to care, particularly, but in future elections, unless the NDP take these points seriously, I won't be voting 'orange' again.


  1. Thank you - you've articulated my concerns very well (and to great length!) Though I am not an NDP supporter, I do respect our democracy and the associated diversity of views that our system of representation allows. However, and I feel the same regardless of political stripe, there should be some minimum qualifiers. We draw lines in the sand for many societal rights (age to drive, age of majority, etc.); why would there not be some minimum requirements for those whom we select to govern our country? That's not to say some of these people won't become great representatives - but again, i believe we should expect some minimum baseline. Thanks again for the thoughtful piece.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you found the piece of interest. I'm all for diverse representation for legitmately entitled components of society, which I don't believe students, specifically, and 'youth', in general, are. I like to think of it this way: could a member of group X be the prime minister? We've had a female PM; I could easily envision a visible minority, a teacher, a labour leader, someone from the North, etc., being PM, though not likely anytime soon. Students and young people, and I'm one of them, are not, in my mind, legitimately entitled components of society. Perhaps I just have a greater deference to experience and the wisdom of age, which partly comes out of my academic work, which involves political leadership and leadership institutions. I also believe in things like paying your dues and proving oneself. Call me old-fashioned.

    Although I'm unsure of the theoretical connection between the right to vote and the right to run for office (i.e., not sure there is one), I wouldn't go as far as to advocate for legal barriers. At minimum, though, candidates should be scrutinized much more carefully, and parties need to know that nominating unqualified candidates is unacceptable and an affront to democracy.

    Thanks again for commenting. This blog and my twitter account are my first real foray into 'putting myself out there' on the internet in a non-anonymous way, and I'm glad I've reached somebody. Please share if you think it worthwhile.