After the NDP failed to reach its potential in the federal election, shocking revelations have arisen from former parliamentary candidate Jessa McLean. McLean ran as an open socialist for the position of NDP president earlier this year, and gained one third of the vote. In a public post and follow-up interview with Fightback magazine, McLean revealed the dramatic extent to which the NDP bureaucracy went to exclude rank-and-file activists from elections. This exclusion of the ranks goes a long way to explain why the NDP fails.

McLean explained that her intention in this election was to run for Member of Parliament in the riding of York-Simcoe, as she had in the past. But she faced a wall of silence from the NDP bureaucracy. The party staff completely ignored numerous calls and messages she made to them. While she was trying to get in touch, NDP headquarters was reaching out to other members of her own riding association, asking them to run. When they refused, reiterating that Jessa McLean was their democratically-chosen candidate, the party simply parachuted a candidate into the riding without even telling him about the existence of the York-Simcoe riding association. 

“They have completely disrespected my local. We are talking about people who have spent forty years volunteering…they were just erased,” McLean told Fightback. “There is a theme too… a lot of socialists, dissenters, people not willing to go along with what the leadership wanted [were excluded]. It is definitely a punishment and a marginalization… to send a message that this is what happens when you challenge the leader or question our strategy.”

Unfortunately, it has become clear over the years that the marginalization of the left by the NDP bureaucracy is not the result of mere accident or neglect. The NDP has previously excluded prominent trade unionist Sid Ryan from running for similar reasons. In the past, the NDP bureaucracy has also targeted various pro-Palestine activists

This tendency is obviously hurting the party, as it means some of the most enthusiastic rank-and-file members of the NDP end up demoralized and walk away. Min Sook Lee, previous NDP candidate for Toronto-Danforth and left-wing filmmaker and environmental activist, is possibly another example. She also did not run despite the widespread belief she would put her name forward again. We are left only to speculate if she was just another casualty in the NDP bureaucracy’s crusade to muzzle rank-and-file voices.

“They are blacklisting people unofficially. It is a fear of the grassroots and the left… They failed to inspire people.” McLean remarked. “30 per cent of delegates [at the NDP convention] thought I would be fit to be party president, but I’m not allowed to run due to those same views.”

It seems undeniable now that this is a pattern. Anyone who questions the leadership, especially left-wing candidates and socialists, are no longer welcome to represent the party.

Virtually no gains made by the NDP

It is clear that this approach is not a winning strategy. Many in the party are now questioning how the NDP doubled its election budget but only managed to gain one extra seat. 

NDP activist and trade unionist Sid Ryan put this question forward starkly: “How did we manage to spend $25 million on this election but only $10 million in 2019 for basically the same result?” 

These results make sense in the broader context of the NDP leadership ignoring its base of willing activists and the working class as a whole. Instead of focusing the campaign on making the rich pay for the COVID crisis, the NDP instead focused on Jagmeet Singh’s personality. This inspired no one. Jagmeet Singh being “cool” or “relatable” is obviously not an election platform and it did not translate into votes.

In a recent public research poll, 35 per cent of Canadians stated that they were anti-capitalist. This is far in advance of the NDP’s vote of 18 per cent of voters, or 11 per cent of the electorate. Thirty-five per cent would be enough for the NDP to defeat all the other parties. The NDP must adopt anti-capitalist policies if it is to win. 

In order to win the NDP needs to be the voice of the working class and the oppressed. Instead of being afraid of rank-and-file activists like Jessa McLean, they should be welcoming such socialist fighters with open arms. Young people especially are open to campaigning for a party that allows them full democratic participation to achieve radical change. But rank-and-file control is alien to the Ottawa bureaucracy that runs the NDP. All they want is the money of the members, not the ideas, passion, and creativity.

Until the leadership stops attacking its militant rank-and-file activists, the party will continue to lose.