Source: Jessa McLean/Facebook

The Ontario NDP leadership has begun a smear campaign against Jessa McLean, a prominent socialist member and past candidate for member of Parliament and party president. Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a string of attacks that the NDP bureaucracy has unleashed on progressives and socialists in their ranks. 

In a letter she has since shared on social media, McLean was alerted that a claim was filed against her under the Ontario NDP’s anti-harassment policy and that she is subject to an ongoing investigation. The investigation mandate is built on three points: alleged antisemitism, McLean’s conduct towards NDP members on Twitter, and use of the party name by her without permission. 

The allegation that McLean has engaged in antisemitism is bogus. The only example the letter points to is a meme McLean retweeted from one of her supporters back in April of 2021. The meme is written in a very popular format which references a Bible passage (Galatians 4:16: “Am I therefore your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”). According to the NDP leadership, some people sometimes use this same passage to justify antisemitism, so this is an example of hate speech. This is ridiculous! Surely much of the Ontario NDP executive could be classified as antisemites themselves using this same flimsy metric. 

The letter also cites “other Twitter content regarding Israel” as part of their investigation mandate, but doesn’t provide any examples of supposed wrongdoing. McLean has been critical of the Israeli government in the past, and the NDP bureaucracy has a known history of smearing pro-Palestinian activists as anti-Jewish. Almost certainly this is yet another example of that. 

Source: Jessa McLean/Twitter

As expected, the other charges are just as weak. The letter cites multiple examples of tweets from McLean critical of party leadership which, according to the executives, have “exceeded mere debate and disagreement” and created an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” But in no case did McLean ever personally attack or harass anybody. Most of the tweets in the letter don’t even mention anyone by name.

For example, one tweet that allegedly violates harassment policy reads: “Yes, the system is rotten. Of course replacing key folks won’t solve it all. But how do you start to reform a system while controllers remain at the helm, dug in? You don’t. You clean house first.” The letter also points to McLean stating, “Can members fire staff? Absolutely!” The point she’s making here is clear. McLean doesn’t believe the current leadership is fit to lead and is rightfully pointing out that party members have a right to replace them. How this possibly counts as harassment is never explained. 

There’s a clear, bizarre conflation here of criticism with personal misconduct. Are NDP members not allowed to criticize their leaders? Is this anti-harassment committee going to investigate everyone who disagrees with them? How can you possibly have any party democracy on this basis? It’s especially ridiculous since McLean actually has been personally attacked by NDP executives, including publicly over Twitter, by none other than the Ontario NDP anti-harassment officer!

The last claim, “use of the party name without preapproval”, is a strange thing to include in this letter to begin with. Even if that were the case, why would it be grounds for an investigation into harassment claims? In any case, McLean didn’t even do that. She shared an online petition critical of the NDP leadership which she didn’t create. 

What should be clear is that the motivation behind this letter isn’t to protect a healthy party environment. Rather, Ontario NDP leaders want to stigmatize McLean and undermine her influence within the party. We reached out to McLean for comment and she noted, “This is an old tactic used on socialists in the Party [and] in other so-called progressive parties. The source is a fear of the Party being perceived as too far Left and a deliberate choice made by paid consultants to align our policies with Liberals rather than socialists.”

This isn’t the first time McLean has been attacked by party brass. Her 2021 bid as MP for York-Simcoe was completely excluded. Despite the fact she democratically won the party nomination for the district, the party bureaucracy parachuted in a different candidate and put him in the race against the wishes of the constituency. 

This is just the latest example in a clear trend. The NDP leadership has been actively attacking prominent left-wing party members with bogus accusations in a clear attempt to silence critical voices in the party. NDP MP Niki Ashton was smeared not too long ago for an event she held with Jeremy Corbyn, who himself was baselessly accused of antisemitism by the U.K. Labour Party bureaucracy. Most recently, there was the case of Anjali Appadurai, a progressive party member whose campaign for leader of the B.C. NDP was disqualified by backdoor maneuvering and sabotage. 

Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face  

This all stems from the NDP leadership’s refusal to break with the status quo. The bureaucracy has been more interested in playing second fiddle to the Liberals than presenting themselves as an anti-establishment alternative, and anyone who criticizes this sorry state is to be attacked into silence. 

The bureaucracy’s crusade against any member critical of its leadership only alienates their base and keeps people from joining the party. People like McLean should be the heart of the party. If the NDP put forward a platform based on making the bosses pay for debt and inflation, and mobilized its rank-and-file activists to fight for this program, they would easily be the most popular party in Canada. But instead, anyone who joins looking to create a real change finds themself pushed out the door.

Source: Anjali Appadurai

We can see the consequences of this quite concretely in the B.C. provincial government. The NDP government under John Horgan found itself on a constant rightward drift. His premiership was marked by constant betrayals and capitulations to big business. As a result, nearly half of the B.C. NDP membership vanished under his government. Membership shot back up once Appadurai became a factor, but it’s doubtful that many who joined to support her candidacy will stay after the leadership debacle. 

Things haven’t been any better on the federal level. The federal NDP has thrown itself behind the Liberal establishment and crafted a deal with Trudeau to keep him in power, discrediting itself in the eyes of the millions of working people who hate this government. There’s nothing to be gained from this. Those who want a more liberal party are going to continue voting Liberal, and those who want a break with the status quo are forced to look elsewhere. The results speak for themselves. Despite doubling their campaign budget from $10 million between the 2019 federal election and the 2021 election, the NDP made virtually zero electoral gains. Their cozying up to the corporate Liberals has created a terrible irony where Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been able to position himself as the “anti-establishment” candidate!

Simply put, this is a losing strategy from the NDP. As long as they keep attacking activists and moderating themselves, they’re going to continue to bleed members and alienate working class voters.