A year ago, I was exactly the kind of voter that you will need to court to win the next election. I was left-leaning but undecided. I voted for a different party for each election, based on a complex interplay of reasons; strategic voting, policies, personalities of leaders, and personalities of candidates all played a role. I was willing to consider any party that might be able to beat the Conservatives, whose agenda I find to be divisive and mean-spirited.
I came to the NDP after the last election for two reasons. The first, like so many people, was Jack Layton. In addition to charisma, there was the intense commitment to social justice, and to moving Canada forward while leaving nobody behind. That, I felt, was the essence of the New Democratic agenda: that gains for our nation were not gains unless everyone benefitted from them. It stood, and stands, in stark contrast to the radical individualist perspective offered by the Right.
The second reason was the realization that my methods were not accomplishing anything. I wasn’t working to build anything myself. I wasn’t throwing in my lot with any one group and working to build it into what I wanted it to be. I was letting others do the work, and then grazing at their buffet. I was following in the great Canadian political tradition of the undecided voter. With only a small percentage of Canadians belonging to a political party, and an even smaller percentage participating actively in one, I was in good company.
I decided that this approach didn’t meet either my expectations for myself, or my needs. I decided not to be the person who let other people decide how she would be governed; I needed, to quote one of the world’s great activists, to be the change I wished to see in the world. So I joined the NDP. I got involved in the riding association. I attended the Leadership Convention. I stood in your bleachers on March 24th and cheered and chanted in two languages. I sang a Habs olé, denying my family’s traditional Maple Leafs roots. I answered the appeal and went to your call centre to pull out the vote. I celebrated when you were elected.
And then I watched as the media pundits and bloggers across the country pontificated on the NDP’s shift to the centre and what it meant. I’m sure, Mr. Mulcair, that you’ve read some of the same articles. They’re saying you’re moving the party to the centre. Some are saying Jack did the same thing. Some are lamenting the demise of a strong left. I read it all, and I decided that they’d missed something.
In fact, they’d missed something game-changing.
I voted for you because I believe you to represent the left both as it is and as it needs to be to grow. I felt that you understood what the strong union candidates, excellent and caring people all, did not: that the rhetoric of our unionized past was alienating people who ought to be able to find a home in the NDP. But a shift in rhetoric does not equal a shift in values. We can appeal to the social justice voters who do not see themselves in the rhetoric of the unions, but nevertheless have a lot to gain from their tradition: the professional civil service voters, the non-unionized support service voters, the small business owners and family farmers and fishers, and all those Canadians from all walks of life who have lost trust that their government has their back.
I need something from you, Mr. Mulcair. It’s something I believe you were going to give me anyway, and that’s why you got my vote.
I need you to be the point person for a strong and united left.
I need you to stand up for social justice, not just for the most downtrodden but for the people in the middle who are so often alienated and bitter about politicians, neither far enough down to need a boost nor far enough up to benefit from the cronyism and pandering to big business that have marked our government for my entire adult life.
I need you to be the face of the Left which once ensured that these people would not lose their homes trying to pay for a doctor, and I need you to be the arm of the Left which will ensure that these people will not lose their homes paying for chemotherapy.
I need you to fight for the rights of the employees in offices who are earning the same dollar amount that their parents earned twenty-five years ago, as surely as you filibuster back-to-work legislation for Canada Post.
I believe you will do this. I have a great love for this country, and great hope for its future. I am optimistic that together, tous ensemble, we can get the job done. I voted for you because I believe that you want what I want for this home we both love.
I’m what you need those undecided voters to become. I’m a supporter who will put my money, my time, and my heart into your cause if I believe in it strongly enough. I’ve been told you’re a man of your word. We’re listening. Will you give us your word?