Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ethics and Principles

Lying awake in the night can be fertile ground.

Last night, for instance, lying awake, I found myself reflecting on the accelerating disappearance of ethics and principles in politics.

I realized that, in this age of the market, ethics and principles too are merely commodities to be bought, sold and traded.

Thus the ease with which Layton could sell decades of CCF and NDP principle as the cost of more seats in Parliament.

The squinty eyed comfort of MacKay selling out the Progressive Conservative Party and caucus in exchange for the soul destroying illusion of power.

The toothsome credulity of mini-Trudeau as he accedes to the proto-fascism of Bill C51 in exchange for what he and his silent henchmen perceive to be an electoral defence strategy.

All examples of ethics and principles being consumed as commodities.

I offer no examples of Harper because Harper has neither ethics nor principles of his own to trade or sell. All he is capable of is stealing the principles of others and then debasing them as though they were his own.

Eventually I slept again.


Purple library guy said...

While I take your general point, on Layton in particular I've never quite gotten it.
I mean, I personally would prefer if Layton had been further to the left (and there's some indication Layton would too--he was certainly making compromises).

But what "decades of CCF and NDP principle" did Layton in specific sell, that hadn't already been sold before he arrived on the scene? I keep hearing people say Layton pulled the NDP to the right, but it was already there--I remember the New Politics Initiative which came together precisely because of that. Near as I could figure out Layton just stayed the course, if anything cleverly putting in some new left-ish planks in the platform carefully camouflaged to not look left. For instance, Layton came out in favour of an industrial policy, something the NDP had basically abandoned by the time he arrived--he just dressed it in green clothes so nobody noticed that's what it was.

(As to the NPI, it was founded on ideas of direct democracy and popular participation, ended up supporting Layton for the leadership in hopes that he'd push that kind of stuff, and was bitterly disappointed when he instead continued the status quo. Then it foundered, IMO largely because, ironically, it itself didn't practise any of the principles it espoused)

Dana said...

Well, I would consider a National Early Childhood Education Program as falling within what would once have been considered the principles of the NDP. Ditto something along the lines of the Kelowna Accord.

I actually anticipated at the time that the party would have supported the Martin government in both those initiatives at least long enough to get them up and running long enough that the Harperians wouldn't be able to easily dismantle them without pissing off all the provinces and a few dozen million citizens. Because the party knew full well that both of those initiatives would be troweled under at the first opportunity by any Harper led government. They didn't even bother to make it difficult to do. It was almost as if the NDP themselves thought both of those things to be a bad idea they were so hasty in giving Harper the licence he needed.

There was a time when the CCF/NDP were happy to instigate or support legislation that was good for Canadians even if that meant they had to vote with a government they didn't really believe in. Woodsworth and Social Security; Douglas and Medicare.

Apparently those days are long gone and the current iteration of the party has no interest in the lives of ordinary Canadians beyond how they can be wheedled into voting for candidates who represent exactly the same things as the other asshole.

Scotian said...


Listen to Dana here. I know you write me off as a hopeless deluded partisan hack shill for the Libs, you have made that clear enough in the past, but Dana came from your side of the street, just like my wife, and just like my wife was infuriated by the choices made by Layton to place electoral politics ahead of basic principles and defending us against the worst anti-progressive party and leader in our history, Harper and his CPC. In particular the willingness to sacrifice the Kelowna Accord was exceptionally revolting for her and to me as well, given that was something that took a LOT of time and work to get together, and only needed a mere few months to make it near unassailable without major political cost to Harper and the CPC should they form government, yet Layton was almost indecent in his haste to pull the plug, and over "medicare", well how well has medicare fared under the Harper regime now, how much more did the NDP and Layton get during the minority CPC years for progressive policies and values than they could get from Martin, and had in fact gotten in the past from Martin?

Part of my disgust with Layton and the NDP leadership is because I could easily see what Harper was and I refuse to believe they could not, his record was simply too open for anyone that actually paid close attention to politics and in particular right wing extremism in this country. Part of it though was also in how willing they were in selling out their much proclaimed vaunted principles and values for seats while AT THE SAME TIME claiming they were still that principled party that did politics differently. There is a particular stench to hypocrisy I find hard enough to take, but when it is blended with sanctimony I find it exceptionally nauseating. The NDP these days is no better than the Libs where expediency is concerned, yet it wants to claim it is, at least the Libs don't try to sell me expediency and claim it is high ethical leadership or high minded statecraft.

Dana is more embittered than I about our politics, but not by a whole lot. I am unhappy with everyone myself, but I still maintain that the Libs are the best choice of a viable bad lot (I do not see the Greens as a viable government option this election). I was very unhappy with the need for Trudeau to support the horror that was C-51, but I got it, because of what Harper has been allowed to do to our political discourse over the last three elections, again, in no small part thanks to the aid of the NDP, especially in their decade long team-up of attempting to not merely defeat the Libs but destroy them utterly and remove them from the scene as a party, something I also find runs contrary to those old school principles the NDP once stood for.

My point is not how wonderful the Libs and Trudeau are, my point is that the NDP sold out whatever made it unique and truly progressive in values some time back, and it is long past time it and its partisans admitted that instead of continuing the old lie about being a different kind of party and a party of principles. Not to mention retiring that crap about Lib Tory same old story not fitting since there are no Tories anymore and the CPC and Libs are clearly massively different judging by the respective governing records for both.


Sorry, I know I get repetitive about this point, but you know exactly why, and PLG has time and again taken me to task for it. Maybe he'll listen to someone who came from his side of the street, but I doubt it.

e.a.f. said...

if politicians have principles when they arrive on the scene, I'd suggest many of them loose them, once they get into the "business of politics".

The closer the NDP has come to power, the less they have adhered to their principles. A former collegue once warned me, "all political parties will eventually become the employer. Unions need to remember that."

Then there is the line about, the first order of business of any government is to stay in power.

People are people and they all have their weaknesses. In the end you frequently wind up voting for the party which will do you the least harm or look like they might not let children go hungry, etc.

Purple library guy said...

Nope, sorry, the tactics of where you draw the line at supporting a government and under what circumstances you call bluffs and so on is not a question of principle in the sense you're talking about.

Layton did not oppose those policies, he made a calculation you don't agree with about the long term consequences of dropping versus standing firm on other demands, demands for policies that were also ones NDPers would support. The calculation is one similar to the "lesser evilism" argument. The question for him was, should I show that my bluff cannot be called, at the expense of some risk for the whole basket of policies I favour but giving me an advantage in every negotiation with every party from here on in, or should I give in and accept fewer demands, signalling that I will accept still fewer next time and, ultimately, anything that is even a shade better than Conservative rule? His answer was different from yours. In hindsight, given the way the utter haplessness and duplicity of the Liberals since then continued to hand Harper power for years, he may have been wrong, but I don't see how that could have been predicted.

But whether you agree with the calculation or not, what he did did not constitute a turn to the right or an abandonment of those policies. Trying to claim it did is either a purely emotional reaction or deeply disingenuous. What he did was make a different call in a poker game from the one you would have made. Making the wrong call in a poker game is not an ideological decision, nor is it a betrayal.

I actually think it was the right call. True, since then we've had until Trudeau a bizarre perfect storm of the Liberals doing absolutely everything they could to sabotage themselves and help Harper, right down to backstabbing their own leaders, let alone the prorogue thing where they went back on their signed deal with the NDP in a desperate bid to . . . keep themselves out of government?! But if Layton had caved back then, the other parties would have had his measure. The Martin Liberals would have stayed in power for a while, might even have taken another minority the following election, weakening their tea continually with more and more compromised NDP support until Harper finally broke through anyway, but the NDP would have remained a small rump with no chance of a breakthrough. But whether it was the right call or not, it has nothing to do with anything like a betrayal of NDP principles.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that Layton betrayed NDP principles. But you'd have to point to some policies Layton advanced that did so, or policies the leaders immediately prior pushed for that he eliminated. Or perhaps suggest some reason why anyone should for half a second imagine that the reason Layton refused to support the Liberals when they wouldn't give him what he wanted, was that he actually was secretly against the child care policy for instance. Dana says it's "almost as if" the NDP thought those things were bad--but neither of you think that's actually why he made that decision.

Scotian's broader point is about the NDP in general over a broad, vague amount of time. That broader point has some teeth, to be sure, although every time I think the NDP has managed to compromise itself so much as to be indistinguishable from the Liberals, the Liberals manage to sink even deeper so as to maintain the distinction. Bill C-51 springs to mind. But at any rate, it's somewhat distinct from the question of whether Layton in particular betrayed any NDP/CCF traditions or policies--or, at least, any new ones that hadn't already been betrayed by the time he reached the leadership.

Purple library guy said...

I will agree that "Liberal Tory same old story" is no longer accurate. They are pretty much the same in their economics, both having a record of corporate tax cuts, cuts to the welfare state and so forth.

But the Liberals aren't fascists, while the modern Conservatives . . . really, these days there's no other word. It's not an approximation or an epithet any more, the only thing stopping them from full blown police state status complete with the secret police mysteriously disappearing anyone who dissents is the remaining structures and traditions of democracy, the fear that they wouldn't be able to successfully get away with it.

Dana said...

"...long term consequences of dropping versus standing firm on other demands, demands for policies that were also ones NDPers would support..."

OK, what demands? What policies? Which NDPers? How has that calculation worked out for ya?

"The question for him was, should I show that my bluff cannot be called,<*what bluff would that be?*> at the expense of some risk for the whole basket of policies I favour but giving me an advantage in every negotiation with every party from here on in, or should I give in and accept fewer demands, signalling that I will accept still fewer next time and, ultimately, anything that is even a shade better than Conservative rule?" Huh?

When the Liberals wouldn't give him what he wanted being what exactly? And why the fuck would the idiot think he'd have a better chance of getting any cooperation toward anything even vaguely progressive out of Harper?

You appear to admit that Layton was stupid enough not to see any of what Harper and his priests represented to the future of Canada.

Then you admit that you've come lately to agree with what I and Scotian and others have said and warned about for a decade or so now but that you and Layton and the dipper 'brain trust' declined to recognize or acknowledge at the time or even to this day.

This all strikes me as self serving and self excusing bafflegab and bullshit PLG.


Purple library guy said...

Well, if you're going to take that tone, fine. The bullshit here is yours. My logic is crystal clear, and the insinuations you're making without actually quite being willing to say them flat out are absurd. And without saying them flat out, all your sound and fury and outrage does not amount to making a point of any sort.

Layton had a list of stuff that he wanted in return for supporting the Liberal minority government. He had negotiated with Martin, and they had an agreement. Layton had been very public about this agreement, and his success in getting these policies out of the Libs was both useful in itself to the Canadian people and made a key political point that the NDP was not marginal but an effective force in Canadian politics.

Martin then wanted to go back on it, dropping some important Medicare stuff. So OK, fine, medicare by you isn't a CCF or NDP value; I'm sure that would be news to Tommy Douglas, but whatever. So the question is, do you let them go back on something because of fear that the Cons might get in, or not? The downside of triggering an election is that the Cons might get in. The downside of letting Martin go back on a deal with you is there's no end to that. If you give in once, everyone you deal with politically from there on will know you'll give in again. And specifically, Martin would know you accept the logic that on any given issue, you must give in for fear the Cons will get in if you don't. Good luck holding on to more than scraps for ever after. The consequences are serious in either direction, it is far from the simple decision you seem to imagine.

We can't test this, but I'm perfectly certain that had Layton made the opposite decision, you would today be condemning him for betraying NDP principles in always caving to the Liberals. And you would be utterly impatient with anyone who argued that, had he not done so, there might have been serious consequences such as the Conservatives getting in and trying to start a police state. Meanwhile, Scotian would be putting that decision front and centre in his thesis that the NDP no longer stand for anything. There was no decision he could have made there that would have led either of you not to say negative things about it, so your opinion is worthless.

In terms of strategy, you're also a damn fool.

Dana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana said...

OK then. Fuck you too.

Enjoy your delusions while the dismantling accelerates.

Scotian said...



What I find amazing about PLG's reply is how he still manages to exonerate the Layton NDP from foreseeing things that were bleedingly obvious to a lot of us, not least what Harper himself was. I also note that PLG blames only the Libs for supporting the CPC in minority without once considering all the actions the Layton NDP took during minority which teamed up with the CPC to further try to not just defeat but utterly destroy and remove from political viability the federal Liberal party during the minority years which forced that support, especially with all the Confidence votes Harper used/abused. Not to mention knowing that the Libs were going to be in such fiscal difficulties (and the idea that Layton et al did not understand the limits the Libs had put on themselves when they changed the fundraising rules while still government is beyond credulity) after that election because they actually had made major changes that disadvantaged them, changes that were publicly discussed for such BEFORE Martin lost power!

It is also sad that PLG took the tone he did with you to your response, despite your response being fairly tame. You were quite direct in making the point that what PLG was offering was self serving defensive rationalization, and it was. It excused the NDP and Layton from any real culpability or foresight, and he even after this last decade still thought it was the right decision of Layton's, despite what we have seen happen. I think at this point it is all but impossible to see PLG as anything but a Dipper partisan who is the mirror image of the Harperite partisans who cannot see their own failings while denouncing all others, especially anything remotely dealing with the Liberals.

The one thing the CPC and NDP clearly agree on is that the source of all real evil in this nation is the Liberal party, this despite the track record of the Libs governing and creating over a century of reasonable governance what once was a proudly progressive polyethnic law abiding society respected the world over for finding such a path to follow. The Liberals, have for the most part done more good than harm to Canada over their history, and the inability of partisans from either side to acknowledge even that basic a factual reality to me underscores a dangerous mindset in both.

These days I side with the Libs for government to follow Harper as much because I see them as the least dangerous, as well as because of the demographics argument I have made time and again. I'm not thrilled with any of my choices, but for me the idea that the Libs are simply the Harper CPC with a smile is so patently absurd I find it insulting, but then I've been getting insulted by Lib Tory same old story which suddenly finally PLG seems to realize no longer is true, this despite the evidence of that from the manner of the creation of the CPC itself making that brutally clear.

Scotian said...


I wrote yet another long angry comment on why you are so wrong, but I decided, what is the point. You clearly are unwilling or unable to remove your partisan blinders, you clearly do not want to deal with factual reality any more than the most ardent CPC partisan, and at this late date, I am really wondering if there is any point anymore. Your response to Dana, who unlike me was a fellow traveller from your side until the last decade who was, like my wife, also a once ardent hard core Dipper, felt driven out of their party by the choices Layton made which to their perspectives sold out the decade of everything the NDP federally had stood for makes this clear.

The Kelowna Accord sellout/betrayal was particularly offensive for my wife, apparently for Dana, and I admit to me as well, because we (my wife and I) believed the Aboriginals in this nation have been getting a raw deal all along, and this was finally something meaningful, substantive, and progressive that would start to redress that massive imbalance.

That you still defend the choices Layton made, that you still argue Layton was unable to see the truth of Harper despite it being so blatantly obvious to ANYONE that paid real attention to Canadian federal politics and the rise of the more extreme right wing elements within it (which one would assume progressives would do seeing as they would be their most dangerous threat by definition at least policywise) shows your mind is as closed as your counterparts on the right. You have for almost a decade denounced me as a shill, partisan of the Libs, the one with a closed minded, yet I've always been willing to deal with reality as it is, and posed my arguments on that basis. For a decade I've made the argument about supporting the Libs as the vehicle to stop Harper because of the demographic record of actual Canadian voters, and never once have you or those like you actually shown why that argument is fundamentally flawed. No, you all are too busy attacking me personally to actually refute what I argue.

In the end Harper relied upon those like you and Layton to rise to and hold power. If instead of aligning with Harper and denouncing the Libs as the worst evil of all instead the NDP had in 2005-08-11 instead made clear that the Harper CPC represented a dangerous and far right wing political force unlike anything we have ever seen before, it would have made it all but impossible for the CPC to win/retain power. It is because most voters believed the NDP to be still that party of principles it had been prior to the rise of Layton and the fact they didn't treat the Harper CPC like this and only the Libs were doing the denouncing of Harper and his party as dangerous that we were all sold out, especially progressives but far from limited to them. This is yours and Layton legacy, and for you to still either not see it or not be willing to own up to it makes you something I find little better than an enabler of Harper.

You and yours made clear that the Libs were in your view at least as bad if not worse than Harper and the CPC for a decade now, and this is where it l;ed all of us. Thanks. Really.

Dana said...

Scotian, I don't think there's anything to be gained by engaging with this character any further. Well, other than aggravation and there's quite enough of that in this life as it is.

Leave him to his purple library.

Scotian said...


Agreed. Both in terms of aggravation and in terms of there being any further point in engaging him where federal politics are concerned. He clearly has his mind closed to all but his own partisan POV and therefore any of us not of his mindset are obviously the enemy. As I said though, a mirror image of the Harper CPC partisans, which is another reason I have become so distrustful of the NDP as the solution to the Harperium aside from my other concerns.

Anyways, I have a weekend visit to help out family so this is likely to be my last comment for a few days barring some internet opportunities out there, we shall see. Have a good week-end.

Purple library guy said...

We can argue the tactics. Maybe Layton was tactically foolish. Maybe he could and should have predicted exactly how things went down. Or maybe not. That's disputable; my opinion isn't the same as yours but I have no problem with you holding it and arguing it and the question has complex enough dimensions with fuzzy enough edges that I'm comfortable with intelligent people coming up with quite different conclusions from mine.

What bothers me is that you guys insist on conflating the tactics argument with some kind of ethical claim. That is, you're ascribing ethical content, and indeed massive, overriding ethical content, to a decision which as far as I can tell basically didn't have any. When he decided to help bring down Martin, Layton was attempting to maximize policy gains for the left over the medium term; whether he succeeded or failed, whether he made the right or the wrong decision, it's pretty clear that is what he was trying to do; by showing himself not to be bluffing in a high stakes situation, he sought an ongoing edge in future negotiations. So even if you consider he made the wrong call and in so doing failed the left, it is utterly wrong and a category error to say the decision betrayed the left, or that it represented any kind of right-wing political thinking.

And I notice neither of you really try to back up your vague claims of ethical or ideological failures by Layton. You say a lot about the consequences of Harper's rule, but the claims you're advancing have nothing to do with the consequences of Harper's rule. If you want to say Layton made an error in judgement, you can talk about the consequences of Harper's rule. If you want to say he was a betrayer, you need to be talking about quite different things which neither of you have said word one about.

As a side note, I'd like to point out that Layton voting against Martin's government wasn't a betrayal as an action in itself, either. He wasn't going back on his word, for instance--to the contrary, he was following through on his previous claims. He had said to Martin basically "If you do X I will let your government fall", Martin did X (presumably on the assumption that Layton was bluffing), and Layton let his government fall. So there was nothing interpersonally treacherous about it either. Unlike, I might add, many of the significant actions of the Liberals between then and now, both towards each other and towards the NDP.

Purple library guy said...

So do you people understand the distinction I'm drawing here and are just refusing to acknowledge it in any way, or do you completely not get it? It's hard to tell because nothing either of you say engages with anything I've said. Really, it amazes me that you have the gall to talk about me being closed-minded when you don't seem to be actually reading what I'm saying.

One thing that really disappoints me here is that neither of you seem to quite have the guts to really set out your claims honestly. Look, Layton's decision was a betrayal IF AND ONLY IF he was saying to himself when he made it "This will lead in the end to fewer progressive policies being enacted, and that is what I want so I'm going to do it". So OK, if that's what you think, have the guts to SAY it and ARGUE for it. But no, you sort of come vaguely close, and weasel around it, and then make lots of claims about consequences but none about motives. I've seen nothing from either of you about what Layton is supposed to have been up to--there's this vague implication that somehow, he must have been rubbing his hands together Snidely Whiplash fashion at the prospect of bad things happening to First Nations and single mothers, or something, because, um, no particular reason, or maybe Scotian's saying it's because he single-mindedly hated the Liberals. I'm not convinced either of you actually know what scenario you're trying to describe. If you do, you certainly haven't conveyed it.

Look, the NDP has shifted way too far to the right. But it does it by cowardice, not by bold strokes of treachery. NDP leaders and backroom people look at media dissing of anything like a solid policy that would really help people, and pull in their horns, "moderating" their stance, and then moderating it again, until there's hardly anything left. I'd be receptive to an argument that Layton inherited a set of progressive policies when he became leader and then watered them down, if it came with some examples of progressive things that were NDP policy when Layton arrived and which he got rid of. That would constitute a betrayal of CCF/NDP principle, and it's something NDP leaders do all the time that pisses me off. But what we're talking about isn't anything like that; if anything it was an action that would make media see him as more radical, not less. What his "betrayal" motivation is supposed to have been is beyond me.

And overall, you folks' claims really seem to run counter to everything I've ever heard about Layton's motivations, personal ideology, and personality. Surely in order to believe your thesis so fervently you must have something a bit beyond "But it worked out really badly so he must have been betraying us".

Dana said...

Nothing to say to you. There's no point, really.

Have a nice life.