|February 15, 2006
Why expel Hargrove?
|It was disconcerting to watch Ontario's New Democrats abruptly conclude that party stalwart Buzz Hargrove is a heretic, and suspend
his membership. There was no warning and no consultation. Instead, the provincial executive simply voted last Saturday to cast the
veteran partisan into limbo, suspending his federal party membership as well, for his conduct during the last federal election. It was
cavalier treatment of the party's most prominent labour supporter, the national president of the Canadian Auto Workers, the nation's
largest private-sector union.
Worse, it was an extreme penalty for Mr. Hargrove's complicated, if unorthodox, doctrine on how to vote in the last federal election. To
the consternation of some party loyalists, Mr. Hargrove asked his 260,000 members to support NDP incumbents and candidates who
had a "strong chance" of winning. But in a startling move endorsed by 900 delegates to the union's council meeting last December,
he encouraged CAW members in ridings where the NDP had little chance of winning to vote for the candidate with the best chance of
beating the Conservative.
This was not apostasy. It was a pragmatic prayer for strategic voting. As Mr. Hargrove saw it, the last minority government, in which
the NDP propped up the Liberals, worked. There was more money for everything from cities to aboriginals, more progress on social
issues. In an implicit criticism of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, Mr. Hargrove even questioned why the federal NDP voted to defeat
the governing Liberals.
That skepticism clearly reflected the union leader's concern about the effect of Tory policies on his members. With CAW backing, Mr.
Hargrove, 61, who joined the NDP in 1965, first endorsed 43 NDP candidates who were likely to defeat the Tories; that list included
28 of the 29 subsequently elected MPs. Then he joined Think Twice, a coalition of social advocacy, labour and citizens groups, that
warned about the effect of a Conservative win on social programs. Finally, he went on the road with Liberal prime minister Paul
Martin, exchanging bear hugs and dire prophecies. Mr. Hargrove was a mixed blessing for the Grits. He even seemingly suggested
that Quebeckers should vote for the Bloc Québécois to block the Tories. But at every step, the union leader cogently argued that his
members could lose gains in everything from child care to pensions if they did not vote with care.
In other words, it was a savvy crusade on behalf of his union's agenda. Now Mr. Hargrove is at least temporarily defrocked without a
hearing. NDP ranks are divided, although, to his credit, Mr. Layton has argued that Mr. Hargrove should have had a chance to defend
himself. The provincial NDP has been short-sighted. Mr. Hargrove cared enough to campaign for issues that the party itself
professes to espouse. Redemption is in order.
Source: Globe & Mail editorial (Feb.14/06)