Some commentators view what happened in Edmonton last weekend as an exercise in self destruction. Not so, writes Murray Dobbin. The membership of the NDP has sent a clear message. Principle is more important than political opportunism:
The NDP has paid a staggering price for the politics of its last two leaders. Jack Layton was more in tune with the social democratic roots of the party than Mulcair, but he launched the shift to a strategy aimed at achieving power. The inevitable result was to water down social democratic principles and move the party to the centre.
It also led to political opportunism. Instead of continuing to force Paul Martin's minority Liberal government to pass progressive legislation by threatening to withhold support, Layton defeated the Liberals in 2005, believing the resulting election would be the next step toward power. Instead it resulted in the election of the most destructive, right-wing government the country has known.
The party under Layton made Stephen Harper prime minister. And Dobbin lays the blame at the feet of the two public relations gurus into whose hands the party placed its future -- Brian Topp and Brad Lavigne. Brian Topp founded his own public relations firm with two other partners:
But these partners were not NDPers -- one was Ken Boessenkool, a former aide to Stephen Harper and later chief of staff for Liberal Premier Christy Clark until he was forced to resign for inappropriate behaviour. (The other partner, Don Guy, was a Liberal.)
Brad Lavigne was a vice-president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, one of the world's largest public relations firms and a symbol of the darkest aspects of corporate and political damage control and manipulation of public opinion. It's perhaps most infamous for its work creating public support in the U.S. for the first Gulf War. In 1990, Hill+Knowlton helped arrange testimony at the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus by a "witness" (actually the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter) who claimed she saw "Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die." Her testimony was later found to be unsubstantiated.
You can tell a lot about a political party by the company it keeps. The NDP, writes Dobbin, has decided to join a different crowd.