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Joe Biden's Only Lesson for Canadian Politics Is How Not to Do It – Jacobin magazine

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Joe Biden’s Only Lesson for Canadian Politics Is How Not to Do It

Triumphalist celebrations of Joe Biden’s hollow win over Donald Trump are a master class in ideological hubris. Canada’s New Democratic Party absolutely should not take the wrong lessons from his feeble victory.

US president-elect Joe Biden and vice president–elect Kamala Harris. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

With the announcement of Joe Biden’s US presidential win, strategists around the world may be considering the latest election as a recipe for political success. Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), which has in the past drawn inspiration directly from the US Democrats, will court disaster if it deems Biden’s campaign to be worthy of emulation.

Biden’s victory is a cautionary tale. The Democrats faced an abhorrent opponent. Trump’s commitment to government inaction is responsible for over 141,000 coronavirus deaths. He pursued cruel, racist, and xenophobic policies and bolstered white supremacists. His administration was marked by naked graft, cronyism, corruption, and patronage. The election resulted in the highest voter turnout in a hundred twenty years, estimated at 66.9 percent.

And yet, aside from winning the presidency, the Democratic establishment hasn’t benefited. They’ve lost seats in the House of Representatives, and the Senate remains under Republican control. Defeating a monstrous candidate like Trump should not be considered a stroke of strategic genius. Rather, Biden’s victory is a result of negative mobilization: voters turned out, despite voter suppression and a rival Republican vote surge, to deny Trump a second term.

A Long Crisis of Political Identity

The NDP has struggled to articulate a political vision that might break with the all-party austerity consensus in Canada. Having never gained power on a national scale, the NDP has nevertheless been elected and governed in a number of Canada’s provinces.

Historically, this record has yielded some impressive reforms like medicare. However, as neoliberal orthodoxy took hold over the last few decades, NDP politicians found themselves imposing cuts, betraying workers, and cheerleading fossil fuel development while in government.

Gaining provincial power while remaining a third party across the whole of Canada often puts the NDP in a precarious position. At the provincial level, the NDP’s opponents use its association with its national parent body as a red-baiting punching bag. The same opponents use regional economic interests as a wedge to paint provincial NDP parties as loyal to national interests and coastal cosmopolitans, accusing them of betraying their own province or local economy for the sake of high-minded nation-wide ambitions.

This creates difficulties for the federal NDP as well. When its provincial counterparts are governing and making concessions to industry, it proves hesitant to thoroughly criticize injustices unfolding in plain sight.

Take, for example, the Wet’suwet’en standoff in January 2020. The province of British Columbia, governed by NDP premier John Horgan, oversaw an RCMP raid on indigenous Wet’suwet’en territory. Members of the Wet’suwet’en nation were obstructing construction of a natural gas pipeline over sovereign, unceded territory. National NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s comments were muted, confining himself to an evasive statement that he found the situation “concerning.”

From Style to Substance

The national NDP was the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from 2011–15. The NDP’s polling numbers collapsed in the fall of 2015, sinking from around 30 percent in September 2015 to 19 percent on election day, and going from 109 seats in Parliament to 44. The 2015 election campaign saw Justin Trudeau outflank the NDP on the left. The NDP had publicly committed to balanced budgets, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals blasted their approach as austerity economics.

The NDP elected a new leader, Jagmeet Singh, in the fall of 2017, and the party’s immediate strategy was an attempt to challenge the charming appeal that Justin Trudeau enjoyed. Charismatic profiles in GQ and Toronto Life established Singh’s stylish cred. Would celebrity status get Canadians on board with a social-democratic political vision?

During the election of fall 2019, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party came under fire for interfering on behalf of multinational SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering firm. Trudeau’s undermining of his own justice minister and attorney general resulted in a scandal.

His aim was to have a criminal case against the company settled — it was accused of fraud and bribing Libyan officials — so as not to imperil SNC-Lavalin jobs based in Quebec. To make matters even worse for the Liberal brand, a week into the election campaign, photos emerged of Justin Trudeau in blackface.

Despite these scandals, the NDP’s election campaign brought little popular support for the party — until its leadership started to speak the language of left populism. In early October 2019, the NDP released its platform, proposing expanding medicare to include pharmacare and dental care, housing affordability, student debt relief, and a new tax on multi-millionaires.

Over the days that followed, Singh echoed the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders, stating plainly that the pharmacare and dental care programs would be paid for by taxing multi-millionaires, and that working people were the real sources of the country’s wealth. Singh insisted that generous corporate handouts and fossil fuel subsidies were political choices to use money that could instead pay for expanding medicare.

The left-populist campaign boosted the NDP’s popular support by roughly ten points in the last days of the election, rescuing their vote share from collapsing into the single digits and staving off potential losses to the Green Party. In the end, the NDP lost seats, but they were saved from an electoral rout by their turn to a left-populist campaign and rhetoric.

Learning the Correct Lesson

If anything, Biden’s election should demonstrate that campaigning for “nothing to fundamentally change” risks disaster. The wealth of Canadian billionaires has ballooned while workers cope with job losses and face the looming threat of insolvency. What’s more, Canada’s new Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, is increasingly brandishing the language of economic nationalism and criticizing free trade — positions  historically held by the NDP.

Singh’s proposal to tax wealth and excess pandemic profits is a welcome sign, but the left-populist frame has largely receded. The rhetoric deployed for eleven days in the run-up to the last election has given way to an attempt to appeal to everyone, and Singh now appears to believe that small businesses (not workers) are the backbone of the economy.

Gestures toward a left-populist vision can’t simply be trotted out for a week before every election. It takes sustained political work to articulate a vision that addresses people’s real concerns — and to name the enemies of progress that will resist such a vision.

If the NDP cynically grafts left-populist rhetoric onto a campaign primarily built on centrist hubris as a vote-gaining ploy come the next election, they may find the Conservatives have already been hard at work establishing an actual political vision.

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OPINION: Indian politics loses kingmaker – Anadolu Agency

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The writer is a senior journalist at Anadolu Agency

ANKARA

Behind every successful leader, there stands a confidant backroom boy, who not only exercises a surreptitious influence but works as an effective link for him with the world.

Recently, Indian politics lost one of its most important and longest surviving backroom boy, Ahmed Patel, to the COVID-19 at the age of 71. Wielding power and influence, while remaining firmly in the background, Patel worked as political advisor to Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s main opposition Congress party, for two decades.

From 2004-14, when Congress ruled India, Patel was instrumental in choosing ministers, political tie-ups, and a man behind actions in the parliament. Considering his clout and authority, no Muslim has so far been able to achieve such a coveted position in India’s national politics over the past 73-years, since the country’s independence.

A devoted Muslim, who could be seen offering late-night prayer in a corner of a mosque, just opposite the Indian parliament complex, Patel always kept a low profile. Once ahead of Friday prayers, when there was no water in the taps, he was seen operating a single tube well in the courtyard of the mosque. He continued pushing its handle, till all those who had come to offer prayers performed ablutions. Little did these poor souls know that a powerful person of the country was pumping out water for them.

His affable attitude, humble nature, and tendency to remain out of the limelight did not match the aura he had attained in Indian politics. At a first glance, he never appeared to be a kingmaker. During 10 years of the Congress party’s rule, he was the one to decide about appointments of ministers and advisors for the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, installing chief ministers in provinces, and choosing candidates to contest elections.

The working style of Patel, known as Ahmed Bhai (brother) in New Delhi’s political circles, was also unique. His bungalow at New Delhi’s Mother Teresa Crescent would turn to life at the dusk. He would inspect files, devise strategies, and return phone calls till early morning prayers. In a sense working on a graveyard shift was his routine. Top politicians and ministers used to line up in the lawns of his bungalow to seek an audience.

Repository of political secrets

Once when I had an appointment with him, I saw Speaker of Lok Sabha (Lower House) Meira Kumar, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha (Upper House), and few other ministers waiting outside his room. When I was ushered in, I told him that presiding officers of parliament were waiting outside, thinking he might not be knowing. But with a wry smile, he said they can wait forever, for the work they wanted him to do.

But to expect that he would ever give the news to a journalist was perverse. He was a repository of Indian political secrets. He would often say that these secrets would go along with him to his grave. But if a journalist did manage to get a scoop, he would either deny or confirm. Since it was known that he would not mislead, even if the news is against his interest, his one word “yes” or “no” was seen as authentic. Whenever you would call him, he would return the call or send back a message only past midnight.

In August 2011, while working as a political reporter in New Delhi, I noticed Sonia Gandhi, who was also the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, was not seen in any public function over some time. Her office had canceled her appointments as well. I could dig this much that she had gone abroad. But it was still a question, why her tour is shrouded in secrecy?

In the next few days, I came to know that she had a health check at a local hospital and had been advised to go abroad for treatment. When I discussed it in the office, editors said it was a big news and cannot be published without due confirmation. I called Ahmed Bhai and as expected received his call back past midnight. His one sentence was that Gandhi was operated on successfully at a cancer hospital in New York.

The next day, after adding some more details to the scoop, my organization broke the news in the afternoon, which soon went viral. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister of the western province of Gujarat, retweeted the news, with a question that why Gandhi’s ailments were kept top secret?

Whether it was the Congress party’s grand nationwide session or any meeting at the party headquarters, or even an Iftar party during Ramazan, he would ensure all arrangements, from setting the stage to security, sound system to deciding seating arrangement for guests singlehandedly. Soon the function started, he would merge into the background and sit in a corner with ordinary workers. Even when as a member of the party’s top decision-making body Congress Working Committee (CWC), he had to sit on a stage, he would prefer the last row, far from the media glare. He was never seen in any banquets at the presidential palace or national days of embassies or even at receptions hosted for foreign dignitaries.

Saving government

In 2008, when Left Parties withdrew support on the issue of signing a nuclear deal with the US, the government was reduced to a minority. The opposition soon moved a no-confidence motion. They expected that the Left and socialist Samajwadi Party (SP), who were seen as anti-US would support the motion and bring down the government. It was left to Patel to save the government, who arranged a meeting of SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh with former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who had been also a distinguished scientist. He counted the benefits of the Indo-US nuclear deal to the socialist leaders. Just after coming out of the house of the former president, they announced that they will vote for the government.

Since the Congress was leading a coalition government from 2004-14, in almost all parliament sessions Patel was seen running helter-skelter in the central hall convincing allies and opposition seeking support for a particular bill. His connections across the aisle were handy for the government. He was among a rare breed of politicians, who would never get angry, even if you disagree or even use harsh words against him or his leader.

In 2004, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government was defeated in the elections, the outgoing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted the new government to continue with his four initiatives – strategic partnership talks with the US, peace process with Pakistan, interlinking of rivers, and construction of north-south and east-west highways.

Except interlinking of rivers, new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continued with all the projects and even took them to new levels. While continuing the peace process with Pakistan in 2007, it was decided to sign an agreement to settle the issues of Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek. It was believed that by settling these issues, a positive atmosphere will be created to help crack more difficult issues like Jammu and Kashmir and terrorism and pave way for the visit of Singh to Islamabad for an overall agreement.

Opposed Siachen agreement

But when in February 2007, Pakistan’s Defense Secretary Tariq Wasim Ghazi arrived in India to finalize the agreement, the Election Commission of India had announced provincial assembly elections in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh. At the CWC meeting, which was called to finalize the list of candidates, Patel questioned Prime Minister Singh for going ahead and agreeing on troop withdrawal from the Siachen heights. Insiders recall that Patel, in presence of Gandhi, said that the opposition BJP will go hammer and tongs by displaying pictures of troops vacating the icy heights to marginalize Congress.

As this meeting was on, the news came that Army Chief Gen. Joginder Jaswant Singh, who was touring northeastern states, has publicly opposed the agreement. It was a surprise for Singh, as just a few days ago, at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, the army chief had approved the accord.

Patel’s opposition to the Siachen agreement proved a nail in the coffin of the India-Pakistan peace process. The same year later, Pakistan then-President Pervez Musharraf got preoccupied with tackling lawyers’ agitation. Ironically, neither BJP nor Congress won the Uttar Pradesh state elections. Both were trounced and a Hindu lower caste Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party won the elections.

Insiders in the Congress said Patel had given a choice to Singh that the party would work for building a public opinion either for an Indo-US nuclear deal or for a peace process with Pakistan. They said Singh chose the nuclear deal.

India’s current Minister for External Affairs Subramanyam Jaishankar, a former diplomat, had worked tirelessly for the conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal by using his contacts in Washington. Singh wanted him to become a foreign secretary in 2013. But it is believed that Patel vetoed the appointment on the ground that a staunch pro-US diplomat would not go well with the ideals of the ruling Congress party. Sujata Singh was appointed as foreign secretary. She was, however, dismissed by Prime Minister Modi in 2015 and replaced by Jaishankar, who had just a few days left to retire.

Paved way for Modi’s Delhi journey

Since Congress had assumed power in 2004 by tying up an alliance of secular and liberal forces, who had panicked at the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, many party leaders were pushing for initiating criminal proceedings against then-chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi. But Patel, who also belonged to Gujarat, put his foot down, arguing to tackle Modi politically. He thus paved way for the ascendency of Modi to become prime minister.

In 2017, Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah tried hard to defeat him in the elections for the upper house. But they did not succeed. During his career, he was elected to the lower house thrice and remained a member of the upper house for several terms.

Ahmed Bhai’s faithfulness towards his leader, personal integrity, remaining away from the limelight, humble nature, and tolerance were some of the characteristics hardly seen nowadays in the corridors of politics and power.

In a heartfelt tribute, Gandhi said Patel was more than a troubleshooter and crisis manager for her. She described him as a quintessential organizational man, who worked quietly but effectively away from the public glare and spotlight. “Ahmed has left us, but his memories will live on,” she said.

Goodbye Ahmed Bhai. Stay in peace. In the words of poet Iqbal: “The imprudent ones consider death is the end of life. This apparent evening of life is the morning of perpetual life!”

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.



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Politics Briefing: Liberals acknowledge missed target on clean water for First Nations – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to end long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations by March, 2021.

Today, after months of speculation, the government acknowledged that it was not going to meet that deadline.

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In fact, there are still 59 advisories in 41 First Nations communities. The longest of which, in Neskantaga in Ontario and Shoal Lake No. 40 in Manitoba, have been in place since the mid-1990s.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the government was still racing to provide clean water in those communities by March, but it was unlikely to get all of them in place in the next four months. The government is pledging $1.5-billion in the next fiscal year to that purpose.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

Trade between Canada and China is growing, despite the chilly diplomatic relations.

The Indian government expressed disapproval with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supporting protests by farmers in India. (Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have also voiced support for the farmers.)

More than half of women and men living in the territories have been the victims of physical of sexual assault since the age of 15, Statistics Canada reports.

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Canada’s Competition Commissioner says he can’t make nearly the same moves against tech giants that other international watchdogs are making, because he doesn’t have the same powers.

Paul Rochon, the deputy minister of Finance, has resigned.

Has the government spent enough on pandemic relief? Perhaps too much on individuals, but not enough on businesses, experts say.

And the light at the end of the tunnel: Britain is set to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines next week after approving of the drug produced by Pfizer.

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on the Liberals’ fall economic statement: “The COVID-19 pandemic has savaged this country’s finances. You simply can’t slough off a deficit that will likely surpass $400-billion once we’ve struggled through the dark winter that awaits us. Years of previously unimaginable deficits lie ahead.”

Michael Geist (The Globe and Mail) on why the new broadcasting bill could lead to less Canadian ownership of content: “Yet the obvious trajectory of the new Canadian system is to shift away from the licensing system. Broadcasters in the licensed world will increasingly look at the unlicensed internet world that is free from foreign investment restrictions and conclude that they prefer the unlicensed system.”

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Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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The real reason more women should be in politics – TVO

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I got a very short, provocative email the other day from a former Ontario finance minister, whose privacy I will protect here, since it was a personal note that he sent. He was responding to a piece I’d just written about what it’ll take to get more women into politics. His note simply said: “Why?”

I inferred from this that he wanted to know why we needed more women in politics. What possible difference could it make? Isn’t it more important to have the “best people” in public life, regardless of gender?

All great questions. Fortunately (and coincidentally), I had just watched a Zoom conversation, organized by Ryerson University’s Democracy Forum, featuring two of the most trailblazing women ever to serve in politics in Canada. So, to that former finance minister who emailed me, here comes your answer.

Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley both made history in their respective provinces during the past decade. Wynne became Ontario’s first female premier in 2013 and won a majority government in 2014. She was also the province’s first openly gay premier. In 2015, Notley became the first New Democrat to inhabit the premier’s office in Alberta. She learned her politics from her late father Grant, Alberta’s NDP leader from 1968 to 1984. Notley did her first campaigning as a child of three and a half and has a picture of herself on Tommy Douglas’s knee. (As a young girl, she famously once told federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, “You have that same fake politician smile as my father.”)

It seems both women inherited their partisan stripes from their parents’ generation. Wynne came from a Liberal family, and even in Grade 8 at MacKillop Public School in Richmond Hill, her colours were on display. At mock Parliament, there were 30 Conservatives, four Liberals, and one New Democrat. Wynne was one of the Liberals. Even then.

Five years ago, Wynne and Notley were two of six female premiers in Canada. That’s right: for the first time ever, the majority of the country’s premiers were female. They also represented the vast majority of Canada’s population, as they were serving in the biggest provinces (Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta).

And then the wheel turned. Within a few years, there’d be none. Today, there’s one (Caroline Cochrane in the Northwest Territories).
Did having more women in the premier’s offices of the country make a difference?

“It certainly did change the tone,” said Notley. “There’s a different tone when men replace women, especially if they don’t see elevating women as an important part of their approach.”

Notley added that women leaders are more willing to listen to contrary views — for example, around the cabinet table. “They don’t walk in with a pre-set view that they need to defend,” she said.

For her part, Wynne pointed to a Council of the Federation meeting (essentially, all the premiers) in 2013 at Niagara-on-the-Lake as all the proof you need that women in politics do things differently and achieve different outcomes. The issue of the Conservative federal government’s unwillingness to call a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women had come up for discussion.

“I can tell you categorically, it was the women at the table who structured the discussion so the men had to agree to support it,” Wynne said. “There was some shifting in their chairs, but they had to go along.”

She added: “It’s just very clear that, when there’s a critical mass of women at the table, it means different issues get discussed, and there’s a different commitment to substance.”

Wynne is adamant that most women get into politics to advance a cause, whereas men look to wield authority or exercise power. Her first foray into politics was half a century ago, when she tried to convince her high school in Richmond Hill to repeal a ban on girls wearing pants. Later, after having kids of her own, she became an educational activist, which led her to run for school-board trustee and eventually Queen’s Park. She’s still the MPP for Don Valley West, although she’s announced she will serve out this term, and that’ll be it.

“When you have 50 per cent women at the cabinet table or in caucus, you talk about different issues and solve them in a different way,” Wynne insisted.

“It also sends an important signal,” added Notley. “It says we’re going to make sure that women, who are half the population, are also half the decision makers.”

Both women have also bemoaned the fact that, for much of the public, political leadership still has to look big and strong. Wynne has mentioned in the past how hard it was to project a presence of strong leadership when she campaigned in the 2018 election against Doug Ford, who physically is just much bigger than she is.

“We’ve got to change the criteria of what a good leader looks like,” Notley said. “And, left to their own devices, all political parties will leave women behind. Even my party operates in a very combative, partisan field. It makes it harder for women to participate fully.”

Wynne even fessed up to the fact that, when she was premier, she’d drop a curse word “strategically” every now and then to project a more traditional sense of strength.

“I may not be one of the boys, but I know how to hold my own,” she joked.

“I swear excessively,” added Notley, to bigger laughs.

Notley, meanwhile, is still leader of the opposition in Alberta and hopes to get back into the premier’s office. She still has a chance to break one of the worst curses in Canadian political history: no female first minister has ever been re-elected. Notley’s NDP is currently seven points up on the governing United Conservative Party. “I’d like to break that pattern,” she said.

There’s been considerable debate as to why, so far, no women leaders have been able to do it. Some say the barriers to winning and getting re-elected are bigger for women. Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn, who moderated the session, suggested that “women only get a chance to be leader at the end of a dynasty. As men run for cover, women step up. They’re braver. They get an opportunity to become leader because often the best men won’t run.”

“That’s why the odds are stacked against us,” added Wynne. “So, Rachel, no pressure, but it’s all on you.”

So, to the former Ontario finance minister who wrote me the shortest email I’ve ever received, I hope this answers your question.

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