In the aftermath of an ecosocialist nearly winning the Green Party of Canada (GPC) leadership race, many activists have asked: What’s next? Second-place candidate Dimitri Lascaris — known to many on the left for his tireless advocacy for Palestinian rights and involvement with the Real News Network — built a campaign that was more audacious and left wing than anything we’ve seen in decades.
Lascaris talked openly about ecosocialism, and the focus he and Meryam Haddad, another candidate, placed on the need for a socialist response to economic and social problems created the opportunity for mainstream media to discuss these issues. A minor victory, to be sure, but still an important step in bringing ecosocialism to a broad audience in Canada.
Lascaris’ campaign stood on the shoulders of another leftwing leadership bid: Niki Ashton’s 2017 campaign to lead the NDP. Ashton ran on a platform that promised to oppose pipelines, bring in free tuition and increase public ownership of energy production. She came in third — right behind second-place candidate Charlie Angus — with 17.4 per cent (11,374) of the votes.
Three years and a pandemic later, the world feels incredibly different from that moment. Lascaris, however, captured the same kind of energy as Ashton’s campaign, and offered a platform that fleshed out many of her promises, especially on foreign relations. Lascaris lost on the last ballot to Annamie Paul, with 45.47 per cent (10,081) of the votes.
Lascaris and Ashton are closer to each others’ politics than their party’s status quo. Both are longtime party activists — Lascaris was first involved with the GPC in 2007 and Ashton was first elected in 2008.
The massive division within the GPC toward ecosocialism, and the sizable number of people who voted for Ashton’s leftwing politics — a number I’m sure would be larger if a leadership race was held now — poses a very obvious question: Is there partisan space for these two parties to work together? Could a common set of political demands from each party’s leftwing be enough to hold together a coalition?
Many leftwing, non-partisan activists have called for a Green Democratic Party, a merger of the two parties that could force the worst (read: most centrist) elements of each party out of its ranks. I support this call, as I don’t see how either party is served by the existence of the other.
The roadblock, though, is the intense adherence within both parties to centrist, third-way social democracy. Moreover, although each party’s status quo can be shifted, it will take a lot of work.
The GPC is afflicted by the idea that a political party can be “post partisan” — that rational arguments are enough to rise above the din of traditional politics in Canada. The NDP places itself firmly on the left, but then refuses to advocate or promote leftwing ideas in a serious way. Remember when their convention in 2017 promised free higher education?
Both of these stumbling blocks sew apathy and disinterest into partisan politics, especially among social activists who need to have at least some of their demands brought to Ottawa. Lascaris and Ashton demonstrated that it might be possible for both the GPC and NDP to be transformed by a radical leadership candidate who runs on policy first and defines the terms of debate by the demands that social movements have made.
And that’s the problem: the success of these candidates is tied to the strength of social movements. If social movements are weak or unengaged, a left wing partisan confrontation can only go so far.
As a long-time pro-Palestinian activist who has seen small victories made possible by working with groups like Independent Jewish Voices, Lascaris’ leadership campaign was strengthened by activists from those movements who mobilized their members to join, and whose involvement in forming a platform helped to make it as good as it was.
What’s critical is that these activists become key in continuing to fight for their candidate if they win. In the absence of an ability to pry control of either the NDP or GPC from strategists who believe (perhaps not in word, but at least in deed) that the path to power passes through moderating party demands, it falls to the work of social movement activists to help support and make successful a progressive candidate’s leadership — both within the party and in society generally.
A lot of left wing activists claimed that Lascaris’ leadership was a shortcut, and the only way to create change comes through the hard work of social movement building. There’s no doubt that’s mostly where social change happens. However, Lascaris also demonstrated that there’s perhaps less sunlight between GPC and NDP members than each party’s most fervent activists would like people to believe. Moving radical politics forward requires many different strategies, and Lascaris’ campaign was an important part of that struggle.
But a partisan leadership campaign isn’t a social movement, and it can’t fundamentally change the GPC on its own, just like Ashton’s campaign didn’t change the NDP. What it did show is that left wing activists in both parties need to start strategizing about how to force a conversation about a merger, and bring together the only two parties in Canada serious about fighting climate change.