3 min

What NDP renewal?

Picking the re-treads over the future

Credit: Xtra West files

The divide was just too neat, too tidy, too obvious. And too tragic.

On the right hand side of the room, facing the stage, were the gray haired people, the people wearing nylon blouses and lumberjack shirts. White. Very white. Straight. Very straight.

On the left-side of the room, taking up only about one-third of the seats, were those still with their original hair colour, though sometimes supplemented with dazzling dyes. A good number of them were sharp dressers. Many were visible minorities. Some were gay or lesbian.

Welcome to the 2004 NDP Olympic trials, the candidate selection meetings leading up this year’s expected federal election. This particular show-down is Vancouver-Kingsway’s nomination meeting Feb 21.

Vancouver-Kingsway voters have much suffered the sheer, incomparable incompetence of Liberal MP Sophia Leung-surely the saddest member our Canadian parliament has ever endured. She’s made such a bungle of it that her past supporters are open to change. Add to that the Paul Martin Liberals’ loss of Western Canadian votes due to the Sponsorship scandal.

What you’re left with is that those who carry NDP cards can smell big-time potential for victory in Vancouver-Kingsway riding, an area with a deep leftist political history. It’s easy to imagine taking down Sophia Leung, if the party can field the correct candidate.

That’s where you’d expect new NDP leader Jack Layton to enter the picture from stage left. He’s a longtime Toronto city councillor of more than a little repute and an abundance of political talent. Layton’s going to be the NDP’s secret weapon, revealed for this election and bound to bring hundreds of thousands of disgusted and disenchanted voters back to the party; or rather, that’s the way party hacks and longtime supporters see it and they’re spreading the message, including on new TV commercials.

It could work, too. This guy’s a very skilled politician. And he believes what he says, which has a profound ring of authenticity that’s all-too-rare in politics today. Layton exudes charisma and intellect. In contrast, Paul Martin has no charisma. None. And Stephen Harper is, simply, an insect.

Layton was the keynote speaker at the Vancouver-Kingsway candidate nomination meeting. He talked while the votes were being tallied to see who would be running on “Jack’s team” in the federal election. Candidates Mary-Woo Sims and Ian Waddell hung on his every word.

Sims is a friend of Layton’s and appeared beside him when he launched his own bid for the leadership of the NDP. Layton’s favourite spiel is about the need for the NDP to attract a new generation of social activists to draw in the young vote and renew the party. He wants alienated youth, who now practice their politics in the street or on the web, to switch to the polling booth where it will do more good.

Mary-Woo Sims seems like an ideal candidate. She’s a 48-year old visible minority in a riding where that often attracts votes. She’s a former union organizer, founding mother of a rape crisis centre, a former police commissioner and the former commissioner of the BC Human Rights Commission from 1997 until the Campbell Liberals fired her in 2002. She’s an out, proud, far-out dyke who could ride her motorcycle all the way to Ottawa.

And then there is Ian Waddell, a 61-year-old political hack who’s had almost 20 years of experience in the federal and BC parliaments. He’s got a reputation for winning elections for his party, that’s for sure. He’s bright, very bright. And a terrific speechifier in the style of political careerists. He’s deeply committed to environmental issues. Old ladies love him and he’s always talking about his mother. He wants on to Jack’s Team and hints that he’d make a good cabinet minister if the NDP ever comes to power federally.

Waddell’s always been vague about his sexual orientation. But after the vote he finally comes clean in an interview with Xtra West. “I’ve always considered it a personal matter. I’ve had relationships in the past with men and women.” Yes, you caught that: Ian Waddell’s finally out; better late than never.

The gray-hairs carry the day in Vancouver-Kingsway; Waddell wins 65 votes to Sims’ 48. The new, young, energized generation that Jack and Mary-Woo entice to check out the party are trumped by a political master who entered the nomination race almost at the last minute.

So much for NDP renewal.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.