In 2015, the federal New Democratic Party nixed Paul Manly’s hopes to run for Parliament, barring his candidacy because his anti-Israel politics were deemed too extreme. Manly joined the Green party and, this month, won a federal by-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. As only the second Green federally elected, Manly now makes up 50% of the federal Green party caucus.
By-elections are notoriously poor predictors of voter intentions in general elections. Manly’s win could go down as a footnote in history – or it could be a harbinger of tectonic change in Canadian politics. Little should be extrapolated from a single by-election outcome, but neither should we ignore the fact that the by-election win by Deborah Grey of the Reform Party, in 1989, represented the beginning of a new epoch in Canadian politics. The Reform party in the West and the Bloc Québecois in Québec gobbled up the Progressive Conservative party – and the New Democrats’ share of the vote.
Just days before the Nanaimo by-election, the Green party also made inroads in the Prince Edward Island provincial election, forming the official opposition. Just as a by-election is not a good measure of federal voters’ intentions, neither is a modest success in the micro-province of P.E.I. What both these outcomes do suggest is that a larger number of Canadians than ever before are considering casting a ballot for the Greens.
The outcome in Nanaimo-Ladysmith should send chills down the spines of Liberal and NDP organizers. Both parties saw their vote share collapse while the Greens leapfrogged and the Conservatives held their own.
Conventional wisdom says that the Green party should take more votes away from the NDP than from any other party. However, many 2015 Liberal voters are over their Trudeaumania and millions of Canadians are looking for a place to park their votes. The party would get a significant boost if Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two women who embody the country’s disappointment in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his sunny ways, opt to run under the Green banner, as has been rumoured.
Jagmeet Singh, who managed to win his own by-election last year, can hardly find any silver lining in recent results. With the Liberals, who arguably ran to the left of the NDP last time, hemorrhaging support, the NDP should be sitting pretty. They are not.
Six months out from the general election, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is the only party leader who should be pleased with the current landscape.
What this all means is not completely clear. Under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership, the NDP was dragged back to a more moderate middle after a period when it had seemed to go a bit off the rails, notably on the issue of Israel and Palestine. How the party addresses that and other contentious issues in the coming years will be determined significantly by the makeup of their caucus after the October elections. It was after their last terrible drubbing, in 1993, that the NDP fell under the sway of anti-Israel extremists. With just nine seats in parliament, and Svend Robinson as the most vocal and visible MP, the party became a hotbed of anti-Zionist activism. (Robinson is seeking a comeback in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour.)
Under Mulcair’s leadership, a number of former New Democrats, like Manly, shifted over to the Green party. Elizabeth May, the party leader, and, until this month its only MP, doesn’t seem certain of where she stands on the issue. When her party’s convention passed a wildly unbalanced attack on Israel, she threatened to resign unless it was rescinded or watered down. Since then, she herself has made some contentious comments about Israel.
In the NDP and in the Green party, there are a small number of courageous Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists trying to lead their parties to a common-sense position on Middle East matters. Too often, these individuals are ridiculed in our own community when they should be commended for promoting a balanced, reasonable approach to the issue regardless of political persuasion.
Nevertheless, given the emerging landscape, if the Greens and New Democrats do not form some kind of electoral alliance – and if the Liberals do not pull themselves out of their largely self-inflicted pit of unpopularity – Canada is likely to be in for a long run of Conservative government. In that case, the nuance of Israel-Palestine policy on the left will be a moot point.