I don’t have time to write anything smart about this, but it is too long to cram into a twitter post. So some quick facts which might not immediately appear related but actually are:
– Today the New Brunswick NDP has not only supported the RCMP’s brutal crackdown on the provinces First Nations and their allies, but actually called on Conservative Premier David Alward to refuse to negotiate with anyone resisting fracking until either activists remove all blockades or law enforcement clear them by force. So the NDP are not only failing to stand in solidarity with the province’s social movements, they want the provincial government to intensify the crushing of opposition to fracking.
– The Assembly of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have thus far actively called for more oil and gas exploration in the province and have refused to lend full support to the members of their Nations who have been protecting the commons along with their non-indigenous allies. Even gone as far as to criticize the activists on the ground for potentially costing the province and the First Nations monetarily. They have not (as far as I have seen) openly been critical of the role of private security forces or law enforcement in escalating the situation,
– The lawyer for the AFNCNB is Kelly Lamrock. For some inexplicable reason, the white politician has also been serving as the organizations primary spokesperson.
– Kelly Lamrock is a former Liberal Party cabinet minister who lost his seat and then joined the NDP. He is widely thought to be a key advisor to the NDP party leadership with the hope that he will both run in the next election and be able to move the party further to the centre-right to train to gain some ounce of political viability in New Brunswick.
– While still a student in New Brunswick, Kelly Lamrock was a central figure in fracturing the Canadian student movement in the mid-90s by organizing the Canadian Alliance of Student organizations in order to try to fracture opposition to the Liberal Party’s social policy review. Lamrock (along with at least one key figure in the Nova Scotia NDP) helped fracture the student movement in Atlantic Canada an attempt to separate it from its social movement routes and align more closely with small-l liberal lobbying efforts in the midst of a radical economic re-structuring of the Canadian welfare state to re-allocate more and more money to capital in the form of the Liberal Social Policy Review and the Harris Conservative’s reign of terror.
– So in the midst of the start of widespread austerity in the 1990s Lamrock helped lead an assault on a social movement that was at the centre of opposition to re-structuring by helping to organize a rival organization which would side with the state and condemn movement activists in exchange for a metaphorical seat at a non-existent table. In 2013 he is serving as lawyer, spokesperson and political strategist for an organization of leaders who are selling out their own members and trying to use this as an opportunity to push his new political party to the right and disassociate them from on-the-ground struggle and resistance.
Those are facts. Below us opinion, but it is opinion which is rooted in spending too much times in rooms with my generation’s Kelly Lamrock and from spending far too much time thinking about how people of my generation can look at the strategic disasters of the segment of 90s social democrats and liberals who truly believed that capitulation could be traded for access and that access could be traded for social change.
Lamrock is a thread that runs through the politics of our region from 90s to today. And he isn’t a bad guy – I have met him a few times and he is not a bad human being. For the purpose of trying to explain what I think is going on politically, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he believes that his political choices have been the best option for everyone they had an effect on, not just for him. What I am critical of is not his morality, but his political strategy. Even more than that, I am critical of the political strategy that he so perfectly represents.
There isn’t a singular villain here, but Lamrock is emblematic of the kind of liberal politics that he has practiced for decades: he sees social movements not as a vehicle for change but as a wedge. The Canadian Federation of Students of the early 90s and its social democratic positions against imperialist wars abroad and the slashing of corporate taxes and social spending at home was a tool to be use to make him and his policy wonk, big and small-L liberal cohort look reasonable. They wouldn’t just climb to the top of the latter, they would use the backs of the people doing hard organizing to get there.
Likewise, there seems to be a logic at play within the hyper-marginalized NB NDP that has led Lamrock, Cardy and their ilk to believe that the quickest way to convince the electorate that they aren’t radical is to be more opposed to the radicals than the government is. And remember, Thomas Mulcair and many of his provincial counterparts see the 2009 NS NDP’s victory as proof that if you can be un-radical and bland enough you can get enough votes to win. (In the defence of those still clinging to this belief, the Chronicle Herald’s new pay wall may mean that they haven’t actually realized that the voters of Nova Scotia decided that if you want bland and unprincipled you just vote for the real deal and elect the Grits. You get ten more free articles next month, so hold tight, fellas)
The lives of hundreds of people on the ground be damned, Lamrock is going to get his seat at the table. Even if he got there once (a real table! A cabinet tabe!) and did not manage to improve the lives of NB’s most vulnerable one bit.
The sad thing isn’t that he is at it again, it is that he is taking other people along for the ride. The leadership of the New Brunswick NDP want this and they deserve what they’re going to get. Desperation and no direction will take you to crazy places – an few places are crazier than alleged social democrats complaining that a Conservative premier isn’t clearing blockades fast enough.
But shame on the Chiefs of NB’s First Nations for letting the province’s Worm Tongue whisper in their ears and convince them that they can’t control the tide capitalist exploitation and that they just need to use the bodies of the members of their nations to ride it out for some sweet royalty checks down the road. It is obvious that it takes a special kind of heartless to see the people you claim to represent standing and singing for months on a road with the guns of a militarized law enforcement agency pointed at them and to still do nothing. But even if their wager is that selling out the most principled of their people will help them get to the mystical table then they are fools. The grass roots in their communities have had enough, the tides are shifting and they’ve misread them. And they’re following the advice of a man who not only has split loyalties at best, (it is possible to believe that their lawyer has shown throughout his political life that he has few loyalties, split or otherwise) but who has also spent two decades showing the strict limitations of exactly the kind of politics they’re engaging in.
The NB NDP and the Federation of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have dug deep into the 90s to find a political path, and they both hired the same guide: one who has walked that path his whole political life. But neither the chiefs nor Dominic Cardy have bothered to look at where that path leads, even though the answer is right there, whispering in their ears.
And just like so much of what passes for 90s nostalgia these days, the strategic snake oil they are being sold is flashy and bright but devoid of any real political content.
There are lessons to be learned from the past, but you don’t learn them by repeating the same unprincipled, unsuccessful errors that were so central to the success of the counter-offensive which beat back the first wave of Canadian opposition to neo-liberalism. But just like when students fought austerity alongside trade unionists, anti-war activists, welfare recipients and public healthcare advocates, there are still ambitious, white men with ill-fitting suits and vague politics whispering in ears and claiming that the first ones to capitulate will get the first scraps that fall from the table.
(Good lord, don’t sue me)