A series of articles has raised alarm among many NDP members. These articles insist that the NDP leadership has quietly adopted the opposition's antiquated & dogmatic approach to trade. Of course, no such thing is occurring. The NDP leadership is merely executing a "re-branding" of our traditional - prudent & merit-based - trade policy.
In a series of articles hosted here, we will examine the NDP's contemporary trade strategy & all related issues of significance.
Past articles have highlighted the disconnect between the substance of NDP trade policy & its presentation in the partisan press. This seems to be an intended feature of the NDP's apparent "re-branding" of trade policy. In this particular article, we will explore the benefits & costs of such a "re-branding" strategy.
The last article highlighted Don Davies' prominent role in this apparent "re-branding" effort. He served as "point man", skillfully engaging members of the partisan press. Recognizing the industry's Liberal loyalties, Davies successfully manipulated the egos & biases of these "gate-keepers" - to achieve the desired editorial effect. Reporters were allowed to indulge in Liberal self-validation, claiming that the NDP had adopted their particular fetish for indiscriminate trade. In return, the NDP secured the consideration of Liberals - for whom such subservience to antiquated dogma mattered a great deal.
Less skillful has been the preparation of NDP members for this re-branding campaign. In the absence of official guidance, many members were quick to accept the obvious Liberal media "spin". The result was resentment, indignation...or in more charitable circumstances: deep concern.
Murray Dobbin's reaction to the slew of press reports was exemplary:
...instead of listening carefully to this embedded message about who Canadians really are, Thomas Mulcair and the NDP decided instead to listen to the polls showing the Liberals (read Justin "He doesn't really want the job" Trudeau) gaining ground at their expense. The result? A complete about-face on so-called "free trade" deals. Instead of highlighting three incredibly destructive investment agreements currently in the news, they panicked -- ending their commitment to get out of NAFTA, calling on the WTO to re-launch global trade talks and urging Harper to sign deals with India, Brazil and South Africa.
Here was a chance for the NDP to stake out ground that distinguished them from all other parties. Mulcair (who unfortunately does support 'free trade') could have used these deals (FIPA, CETA -- the EU deal -- and the Trans Pacific Partnership) to lambast their potential destructive impact on the country and argue against more such agreements. None of them have anything to do with trade --they are all about corporate rights, just like NAFTA and the WTO.
Now I am sure some clever NDP strategist will dismiss Dobbin's article as an isolated burst of poorly researched hysterics. He/She would be correct to dismiss it as "poorly researched" (as the previous articles in my series demonstrated). But an "isolated outburst"? I submit that when Sarah Polley nods approvingly at Dobbin's screed...the NDP needs to pay attention to its internal dynamics.
Why did our NDP strategists not recognize such a "side-effect" of their "re-branding" campaign? I suspect it is because - tragically - they hold our membership in too high a regard. They must have assumed that our enlightened members would inherently trust in the noble intentions of our leadership. Or perhaps, they assumed the members would seek reassurance through grueling independent research of MP statements.
It is my contention that NDP members are typical Canadians: a combination of busy, superficial and lazy. Save for their admirable perseverance & staunch values...they are just like the members of any other political party. Hence, they must be subjected to the same preparation & education as the wider Canadian electorate.
The NDP should correct perceptions among the membership, as soon as possible. If they do not, we can expect Thomas Mulcair to enter the next election with a silently resentful "base"...suffering a fate similar to Mitt Romney and all other perceived "carpet-baggers".
This would not be a difficult task.
In the short term, it would merely require an update of the existing official website. A single and authoritative document outlining the leadership's intentions on trade would suffice. Unlike the current over-arching policy document, this suggested document would address trade with the intention narrowing any perceived distance between the leadership & membership.
In the longer term, I would look towards a re-organization of the official website. In terms of policy, there is an intolerable amount of content segregation. It seems that each official critic hosts substantive policy documents on his individual MP website, while the official site offers only brief mentions (organized in an overwhelming "blog" format). The official website should be made to serve as a static, concise and authoritative destination for all those interested in NDP policy.
IMO, such short & long term renovations would allow the leadership to engage in risky marketing efforts - while ensuring that the membership holds a correct understanding of our party's policies and intentions.