3 min

New Democrats? It’s time for an intervention

Is the party abandoning its friends in the pursuit of populist appeal?

Hello, New Democrats?

Please, have a seat.

We’re sorry we told you Naomi Klein would be giving a lecture here. That was just a ruse so we could get you in the room and have this discussion. 

New Democrats, we’re concerned about you.

Over the last several years, across all levels of government, we’ve witnessed you pursue power through appeals to base populism that are frequently at odds with the core values you say you hold.

While it is important that a political party reach beyond its base in order to build a working electoral coalition, we fear the striving for populist praise has made you lose sight of why you got into the race in the first place.

New Democrats, your obsession with populist appeal has affected the LGBT community in the following ways:

First, you are fielding at least one candidate who is telling voters that he will work to roll back LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, and who is boasting that he has your leader’s ear on this issue. Despite Scarborough—Rouge Park’s Reverend KM Shanthikumar making national headlines for his comments, he has offered no denials and faced no reprimands.

By allowing this candidate to carry your colours, New Democrats, you’re telling Canadians that it’s okay to foment hate against LGBT people as long as you think it might net you a win.

By contrast, even the Conservatives turfed a candidate who penned an editorial that suggested gay people can be turned “normal” if they go through “therapy.” Sure, the Conservatives have also kept on some other notable recent opponents of LGBT rights, but at least they have made a gesture toward establishing a floor of what they won’t tolerate.

Second, some of your MPPs and candidates have been contributing to anti-sex-education hysteria, particularly among suburban and newcomer communities in and around Toronto. While the spontaneous organization of some parents against Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum would likely have happened without help, the groups received early support from the Ontario NDP’s deputy leader Jagmeet Singh.

Singh’s self-serving criticism of the curriculum, and the harsh words from provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath on the subject, is helping undo more than a decade of work by activists to help improve access to information and safety for LGBT youth in schools.

While we agree it’s not your job to help out the Liberal Party, your apparent hostility to the new sex-ed curriculum is doing real, long-term harm to LGBT people.

Finally, can we talk about sex work? While your candidate in Toronto-Danforth, Craig Scott, gave an impassioned speech against Bill C-36, which recriminalized sex work, at the #LGBTQvotes debate in downtown Toronto last month, we have the distinct impression that the rest of your party does not see the urgency of repealing this unconstitutional law that threatens the lives of sex workers.

Not once since the election campaign started has your leader said anything about sex work. In fact, he held a big press conference in August to discuss violence against women, and pointedly avoided saying anything about the routine violence faced by sex workers, which is exacerbated by the laws that prevent them from working together indoors, hiring security or properly screening their clients.  

We’re aware that fully decriminalizing sex work is not a position that’s easy to sell in the suburban ridings you need to win. We also know that it’s unrealistic to expect a party to field 338 candidates who all share the sexual politics of, say, Ontario’s Parkdale-Highpark MPP Cheri DiNovo, a fierce defender of sex-worker rights.

But we also don’t believe it when you tell us that you’ve abandoned your principles just to appeal to base populist instincts, and that once you’re in power, you’ll come back for us and do all the difficult, unpopular things we want from a government. After all, a party in power tends to want to stay in power. If you won’t stand up for us now, why should we believe you’ll stand up for us once we become a much smaller part of your base?

New Democrats, we care about you and we’re worried about you. While your actions are harming us, there’s even more evidence they’re harming you. The bigots and small-c conservatives already know they can rely on the Conservative Party. Your play for their votes is coming off as phony. You’re not winning them over, and you’re destroying the credibility you have with your own base. Even if you don’t believe the polls, you’ve surely seen the Ontario NDP’s back-to-back losses when Horwath tacked to the populist right.

Abandoning your causes is not how you win. It’s how you concede. It’s how become your opponents.

It’s easy to try to win over bigots by playing to their worst elements. It’s far harder to work to convince them of the rightness of your cause. But that’s the work you signed up for when you formed a political party and invited us into it. 

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