It took decades for progressives to coalesce around an alternative to Canada’s de facto two-party federal system in numbers sufficient to catapult the NDP into the role of Official Opposition. Shamefully, it took only until the conclusion of the first vote in the new House of Commons to crush any hopes that the NDP would prove to be any better than the rest of parliament.
Support for the Libyan intervention by the NDP was at least marginally understandable in the lead up to the May 2nd election. The very language of ‘humanitarian’ interventions purposefully frames any discussion and debate as being ‘against the clock’ and certainly no one wants to be seen to be responsible for civilian deaths that might have been prevented had bombs only started dropping sooner. A federal election was looming large and the NDP needed to begin the delicate process of courting liberal voters through subtle shifts in policy. Perhaps it was the case that the NDP’s historical memory was a bit hazy as to the sad legacy of such interventions and the numerous critiques of the myth of humanitarian intervention were lost on MPs with no time to read the latest analysis. And perhaps it was even the case that at the time, an entirely defensive, NATO-enforced no-fly zone, genuinely seemed like the best way to safeguard innocent lives in Benghazi.
But to support the Harper government and recommit to the Libyan mission three months later as the NDP’s first act as the Official Opposition is nothing short of criminal.
Sure, the real blame here might fairly be levelled at Harper, as the NDP and other opposition parties don’t even have enough seats to disrupt the Conservative agenda. But here’s the thing: no one expects Harper to do the right thing on Libya. Harper and his cronies are committed to purchasing new fighter jets and support continued Israeli war crimes like a badge of honour. The NDP, on the other hand, should know better, and to me, that makes them even more disgusting. They were elected with the expectation that they would at least try to do the right thing, not only because they owe it to the progressive base that mobilized to elect them in the first place, but also because until Libya, their (admittedly meagre) history of opposing ill-conceived and illegal military invasions by Canada set a refreshing precedent. It was also the perfect opportunity to quickly and confidently define a truly alternative voice with which to map the future of an NDP-led opposition. Instead, the NDP squandered the hopes and dreams of a new generation of progressive Canadian voters and then swiftly made them complicit participants in continued war crimes and crimes against humanity.
You might think it would have been even easier for the NDP to vote with a conscience when the outcome of the debate was already decided before any yeas or nays were recorded. You might think that the growing evidence of the sticky influence of oil politics on the decision to invade Libya would give cause for pause, as Wikileaks cables recently confirmed what we all knew anyway, which is that Libya is a country that has historically never played nice with the West with regards to its oil reserves. (The rebel opposition, on the other hand, which the NDP was happy to recognize officially yesterday, has already begun oil shipments to the United States.) You might be right to imagine that since the campaign has murderously and unequivocally morphed from defensively protecting airspace around rebel-held territory to offensively terrorizing Tripoli in a massive wave of bombings -- which recently included killing staff and students at a university and using helicopter gunships which continue to damage civilian targets such as hospitals, homes, and other essential, non-military infrastructure -- it would be easy to vote against the continuation of the mission in Libya. You would be wrong, however, if you assumed the NDP would see it that way.
Because the NDP has gone from supporting a neutral no-fly zone to openly supporting an increasingly clear – yet entirely illegal – mandate for violent regime change at the hands of NATO. More ominously for party faithful, perhaps, is the signal that any rhetoric by Jack Layton about shaking up the status quo in Ottawa has been decisively put to rest at the cost of thousands of innocent lives.