Why I Left the NDP

Although really, it’s more like the NDP left me.Leaving

I guess I should start at the beginning. I was a leaflet weight for a CCF campaign in Kitimat, placed there by my leaflet-dropping 18 year old mother. Since then I’ve canvassed, run election campaigns, worked as an assistant to Cabinet Ministers, and served many Constituency and Riding Executives.

I’ve never been what you’d call a ‘standout’ volunteer, or a brilliant strategist, or a gifted anything. I’ve shown up, done the work, given heart, mind, body and soul to the movement that stood for and with people like me. I loved building an image of a better world together, frustrating as that could be in a movement made up of feminists, environmentalists, trade unionists, anti-poverty activists and radical reformists. Sometimes we left more blood on the floor of policy sessions than in the ground of election campaigns.

In the end we came up with policies we could agree on and took them to our friends and neighbours before, during and after election campaigns. You might remember some of our slogans: People Matter More; Working Families; Corporate Welfare Bums; Don’t Blame Me, I Voted NDP.

We focused on issues that mattered to us and did the gradual work of educating and informing others. Over and against the efforts of our opponents and the Main Stream Media to paint us as ‘godless communists’ or ‘wasteful spenders of the public purse on idle reprobates’. We spent hours in conversation with ordinary people about a better world. A world of shared resources, caring community, and healthy environments. A safe, secure and well-grounded world.

In the late 1990s we decided to professionalise our policy sharing process. We sorted through the compromise resolutions that framed our vision of a better world in search of particulars that were safe for public consumption. We ran those out as platform and policy, made sure every campaign team knew what the ‘message box’ was and gave specific instructions that no one was to say anything that might give the media or others who opposed our aims a hook to hang their hats on. ‘Stay in the box, not on it’ became the watchwords of our days. Woe to the campaign team or candidate who ignored that call.

Since then I’ve watched in disbelief as more and more of our policies were rooted out and tossed aside in the interest of taking potential weapons away from our opponents. We weren’t to identify with socialism any more, nor were we to call for the nationalisation of banks, or public ownership of resources. Not to speak too loudly about systemic poverty, unless coupled with jobs for the middle class. Not to protest in defense of the environment unless couched in terms of multi-user agreements. Contentious issues no longer hit the convention floor, ‘less we be attacked by right wing media, or the right wing in general.

Provincially I recoiled when the NDP voted in favour of expanding Natural Gas production, while speaking softly about fracking and its effects on the environment. I wrote the leader, the party president and my MLA. I heard nothing from the first two, while the third – a thoughtful and capable representative – told me we were voting in favour of Liberal government bills because we did not want the Liberals or their friends in the media to be able to say we were against jobs. So we finessed them by voting with them. That seemed a lot like a desire for power trumping an opportunity to defend the environment. I wrote our MLA and told him so. He showed me a speech he’d made in the Legislature that made every point I could have made and then some. It was a wonderful speech. Well written, well researched, well presented. But it stayed there, in the Legislature, while news of the vote rang throughout the province.

Oh well, at least I still had the Federal Party. Tom Mulcair was fighting hard for us in Ottawa, and his message box was one I could live with. Until the election campaign. Hard fighter Tom became false smiler Thomas, and the message of a promised land became a message of a land that looked a lot like the one we already have, with some modifications for the middle class. Even our thoughts about the banks that gouged us into upheaval in 2008 were reduced to promises to legislate against the amount of gouging they can do. Kind of a reverse on Tommy Douglas’ “Mouseland”, I thought.

The run-up to the campaign should have been a clear indication of what was to come. Prospective candidates who had, at any time, opposed the way the leader and caucus interpreted policy were not allowed to run for the nomination. The folk in Ottawa being so sure they knew best, and so unsure of local members ability to determine a hair ball when they’d known one all their lives, took the power of self-determination away from riding associations. We lost members, we lost votes, we lost credibility and, most importantly, we lost the ability to question the decisions of our leader and caucus. The ability to tell them to rethink their positions and reframe them to better represent our common vision of the promised land.

Meanwhile, back in BC, our caucus returned to the legislature to support yet another Liberal motion. This time ‘Red Tape Freedom Day’. We supported this, my MLA tells me, because the Liberals would say we were in favour of Red Tape, if we didn’t. So we did not stand up in defense of environmental regulations, health and safety regulations, human rights legislation, child protection laws, consumer rights laws and any of a hundred other ways we protect one another through legislation because the Liberals would use that against our path to power.

It was about then I had an epiphany. NDP members were no longer in control of their party. Their movement was in the hands of an agenda that seeks power for the sake of power and will sacrifice pretty much anything in pursuit of power. Sure, they talk a good and prudent game but, in the end, will shut down any threat to taking up the reins of government. From where I sit, that means the NDP is under the complete and total control of the BC Liberals and their friends in the corporate media.

The NDP had, therefore, left me. So I called them up, and asked them to shred my membership. They have. One day I hope they’ll leave the Liberals and be mine again. Until then, I intend to speak up and out in every way I can, standing on the ground that used to be occupied by the party that used to be mine.

 

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About Keith Simmonds

Born and raised in the middle north (Kitimat BC and Flin Flon MB), I've worked 30 years in Mining/Smelting and the Pulp industry, while engaging in political action, community organizing, and union activism on the side. In and Out of Spiritual Being, my faith journey is through a Christian context, although I honour, uphold and am fascinated by other paths to the mountain. I began my training in diaconal ministry with the United Church of Canada in 2004, and began serving as a minister in Rossland, Trail, Beaver Valley and Salmo BC in 2009. My family and I moved to Duncan BC in August of 2013, where I serve as part of the ministry team. My partner, Laurel Walton, and I have five children between us. Liam attends Cow High, Jonah lives and works in Duncan, Brenna resides in Courtenay, Amy and her partner, Craig are in Vancouver, and Wade is in Calgary. My parents and siblings live in Kamloops, BC.

18 thoughts on “Why I Left the NDP

  1. Well. well, well. Jesus wept and so do I. Where do we go from here Keith?

    I shouldn’t reply to this right away, should let it settle and get my thoughts in order. Also I’m in grave danger of letting your shortbread burn.

    On this eve of the big TCF Memorial Service as I contemplate the finiteness of the young we are building or defending the world for and my mood of melancholy, it’s probably not the best of times.

    However having said that, you have sent me down a road of memory 55 years in the making. I was actually about 21, voting age at the time, when I first took you on the campaign trail in Kitimat. You in your red wagon, clutching the leaflets and me pulling you along Fulmar Street and around the neighbourhood. We worked so hard and had such fine results electing my hero Frank Howard, the very long serving NDP member for Skeena.

    We kept right on going after our move to Flin flon, our first experience with an NDP Provincial government . We worked so hard again, electing our friend, a rough spoken miner, Tom Barrow, another long serving NDP MLA.

    In Flin Flon we got to meet people who were in Saskatchewan at the signing of the Regina Manifesto. Hard working people, salt of the earth, products of the Great Depression. I was vilified by a fellow congregant in my church sanctuary for my political involvement. It only strengthened my resolve.

    We as a family have always worked hard to further the ideals of true socialism. Lots of times I was disappointed and felt those ideals sacrificed to expediency.

    But dammit, I still believe what Tommy said, you can lock up a man, or a mouse but you can’t lock up an idea. If we want to change anything we need a vehicle to deliver our plan for a better world. I guess I ask myself, WWTD?>

    What will you do Keith to further the cause of true socialism? I am not being facetious, I really want to know what course the future holds. I still want to plant some trees where Liam might find shade, shelter and sustenance.

    Loving you.
    Mom

    1. Thanks Mom, both for the correction in ages (I guess that would make me about 3 at the time) and the reminders of the fine, fine people I’ve met and supported and been supported by in this movement of ours. We met Tommy in Flin Flon too. I remember that. What would he do? I’m not sure, probably try to motivate some kind of change in the party, build networks, get memberships taken out, stump the province and the country, encourage wonderful people to take positions of responsibility and leadership, inspire us all with his personal and social parables. He was a truly great man.

      Not to say the current crop aren’t fine, responsible, caring people too. I think they are. I just disagree with their choices. Federally and Provincially. I talked to key people, I wrote to key people and I did the same locally. I didn’t try to bring motions to the floor of meetings or conventions, maybe I should have, but you know how those things usually play out. In the main I think we’re in the grip of political science grads with pragmatic views on the art of politics and a more academic than lived out in the trenches of life sense of what our movement is about. I don’t know what to do about that.

      So I’m doing this. I’m going to try to raise a voice for change from outside of the party. I can’t seem to influence them from within, so I’m going to take up the call of Joe Hill – don’t spend time mourning, organize! I’m going to see what kind of voice we can inspire by calling folk to account and by giving them something to account for. I’m not sure what that will look like, but I have more energy for it than I do for packing meetings and taking over executives or making inspirational speeches at conventions where the decisions were made in the caucus rooms before the meeting got started.

      I’m trying to build something for Liam too. And I’m darned if I’m going to sit idly by while the legacy of the On to Ottawa trekkers is turned away.

      hope you don’t mind me posting this.

      love you,

      Keith

  2. Very well said Keith. The odd thing is that calling out the abandonment of NDP values seems so normal, so NDP really.

    Nature abhors a vacuum and there is a wide opening on the centre left.

    1. Hopefully a bit more left than centre.

      You’re right about the abandonment discourse, it’s been going on as long as I can remember. I also remember big internal debates, lots of passion, lots of opinion. Waffle; Feminist; Labour; Socialist; the NDP used to hash things out. Not so much anymore. Like we used to say in the pulp mill, trying to have an effect on this course of leadership is like punching jello, you can sink your arm in up to the shoulder with no discernible change.

      So yes, large hole on the left. Who or what will fill it?

      1. Interesting tale of how you felt your party was drifting away from your roots and moving further to the right. In some ways very similar to my feelings on how the United church is drifting away form what I felt was our historical religious roots. Like the ndp I think our church mandarins in Toronto are so desparate to be all things to all Christians they are, and will continue to lose numbers by pleasing fewer and fewer members.
        Unlike me you have the Leap Manifesto fools to fall in with,,,,,my options are more complicated, (and limited). The ndp and the United church have a valuable role to play but both are in trouble and have only their leaders to blame for it.

  3. Tommy Douglas, nor Woodrow Lloyd would recognize the party today at the federal level, or in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia. They’ve been infected with the Third Way, and Austerity politics. Oddly, it seems Alberta may be the NDP section that has any resemblance to the CCF/NDP of Douglas an Lloyd’s time. Shredded my card long ago.

  4. Keith you must know that admire and respect your decisions. I know you haven’t come to this lightly. Someone who has been as faithful, committed and active as you have all these years is not a fairweather, ship jumping, opportunist.

    I’m sure you know that I have had my share of disappointments and disagreements. I even called Ed Shcreyer out personally years ago. Once many years ago I was asked to run, aside from my commitment to my family was the knowledge that I would have to kiss goodbye to my personal ideals and sell out to expediency. I couldn’t do it.

    I just thought I had to support the movement that was closest to my philosophy and try and effect change from within. I haven’t even done that for years as I have seen what you have seen but I just put it down to being old, cynical and tired.

    Having said that, I have been inspired by men like Bill Sundhu who ran here and lost in the recent election. He is new, full of idealism, honesty, intelligence and compassion. Everything we want our representatives to be.

    I will always support you Keith, I know the place you are coming from.

    Love
    Mom

    1. Thanks Mom,

      I too am greatly inspired by many of the people I’ve worked with in the NDP. Alex Atamanenko, Katrine Conroy, Bill Routley, Tom Barrow, Harry Lali, and lots of others. They remain my source of hope. I’m not joining another party, I was just as disappointed with the way the Greens ran their campaign as I was with the NDP. And the other two are completely in the pockets of the Bay Street folk in Toronto, both Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton told me that.

      I’m not sure where to go from here, I’ll just rest a while and see…

      love

      Keith

  5. I agree whole heartedly with you Keith. I live on the East Cost where the liberals one all seats in the recent election. The NDP of today is not the NDP that I joined in the early 1970’s. I was an activist in the party here and in Ontario and feel like you – I didn’t leave the party it left me. I have my own experiences that brought me to the decision to leave, but they are only difference in minor detail not substantially different from yours.

    1. thanks Michael, I was so sorry to see those East Coast MPs go down to defeat. Harris, Stoffer, Leslie among them. I expect the Liberals will revert to form fairly soon, and wonder what we’ll do to bring another perspective to bear on the political scene when they do.

  6. Thank you for sharing this, Keith.

    You are not alone. Our riding was won with barely 35% of the vote, a few weeks back, and I think that says an awful lot about how much of the electorate is struggling with the restrictive nature of modern political parties. Maybe one day we’ll get to sit down over caffeinated or adult beverages and see if we can’t re-imagine a different way.

  7. I wish it were time to stop partying and actually get back to people focused and driven government. Meanwhile better to work outside and avoid Lord Acton’s power trap.

  8. Hello Keith, oddly I found your angst in parting ways with a party you thought you knew and could trust parallels my own thoughts about how the United Church has left,,,or at least is in the process of leaving me.
    The church mandarins in toronto, perhaps like the NPD leaders are forgetting who their grassroots support are. The church has spent so much energy in trying to be current and pleasing all folk, they are increasingly (in my humble opinion) displeasing increasing numbers of our members.
    I recently wrote a letter to the United church moderator expressing opinions and thoughts on an issue and received an auto reply referring me to an FAQ page. Now theres customer service for you!

    Politically you have the option of falling in with The Leap Manifesto fools or some other political group, my options are different and more difficult, at least for me.

    We each have our own conundrum I guess. Good luck with your, and I will pray for guidance with mine.

  9. Well said, Keith. I,too, have given up my membership and feel very much like a socialist / social democrat without a political home in Canada.
    The party (S) have been taken over by inner circles who see the role of the membership as providing money. The call for “Solidarity” rings loud, but it is a call for acquiescence,
    compliance, silence. “My party – right or wrong” was never before the rallying cry.
    Even the inner circle supporters from “big labour” cannot deliver the votes of their own members. A massive overhaul or a new party is urgently required.

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