A Plea to the Left: Stop the Infighting!

Posted on April 23, 2011


The worst possible thing that could have happened in this election campaign has happened. The Liberals and the NDP have turned away from the Conservatives and started campaigning against one another. Check out this new Liberal ad:

The NDP have a similar message, presented in non-video form on this website.  Nobody should be particularly surprised by this kind of thing, particularly given that the NDP have made such huge gains in the polls recently. NDP and Liberal stalwarts would eat their shoes before admitting the obvious fact that they are closer to one another than either of them is to the Conservatives. This election, however, we need to be holding progressive politicians to a higher standard. We have a government to defeat and that needs to be the primary concern. This will be much more difficult to accomplish if the two opposition leaders, in a bid to best one another, hand talking points to the Conservatives on a silver platter.

Stalwarts of either party will frequently claim that it’s an oversimplification to label every non-Conservative party ‘progressive’. They will point out ways in which the other parties have supported Harper in the past, or have failed to bring about any reforms in the direction of real social justice. I’m not going to disagree either of those points at this juncture. It’s true that there are significant differences between all the country’s political parties. I have had frequent and polarized arguments with other leftists about every political issue under the sun. That is because the single most important identifying feature of lefties is that they understand nuance. The one thing that the Liberals, NDP, Greens, and Bloc Quebecois have in common is a recognition that issues are complicated and the right thing to do is not always easy to figure out. The Conservatives, on the other hand, run on an oversimplified platform which says that military hardware and law enforcement are good, while immigrants and taxes are bad.

This distinction is very important, because questions like whether we should mitigate or adapt to climate change, or how we can best address the problems posed by hard drug use, or how we should respond to the current collection of social ills surrounding sex work, will be politically irrelevant in the event of a Harper majority. If given a majority, the Conservative Party will completely ignore climate change, lock up drug users, and reinforce failed legislation that punishes sex workers. The vigorous and important debates within the Canadian left over how to best bring about social justice will be put on a five-year hold by a government that rejects the very concept.

This summer, while I was watching with horror as my twitter feed revealed increasingly brutal conduct by the Toronto Police service, one exchange between two friends of mine stood out as a sign of hope. These two friends were about as far from each other politically as they could possibly be while still being dedicated left-wing activists, and they had been on opposite sides of a number of very, very heated debates. This did not stop them, however, from going together to the makeshift G20 jail in the middle of the night with food, water and dry clothes to give whatever help they could. Despite their differences, they were able to unite in solidarity against a common threat. Let that be a model for what we need to do. We don’t have to like each other or even get along that well, but we should at least be able to agree that it is worth not explicitly attacking one another while in the presence of a much greater foe. The very relevance of our many heated debates depends on it.