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by Barry Weisleder, chair NDP Socialist Caucus

Does Marit Stiles merit the title Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party? Stiles, the NDP MPP for Davenport, won the uncontested race to lead the ONDP on December 5.

She succeeds Andrea Horwath, who had led the NDP since 2009. Horwath resigned after losing the June 2 election to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives and on October 24 was elected mayor of Hamilton.

Stiles captured the $180,866 a year leader’s job without a single leader debate. Her acclamation will likely be rubber-stamped by a members’ “confirmation vote” in the new year.

The lack of media attention and opportunities for political fundraising that come with a competitive leadership race is taking a toll on the party.

The former federal NDP president, and one-time Toronto public school board trustee, put on a brave face when she spoke to reporters at Queen’s Park. “It shows that we are a united party; we’re not interested in being divided.”

“The real race is the race to defeat Doug Ford in 2026,” said Stiles, who was first elected in Davenport in 2018.

Several New Democrat MPPs had pondered a run, including Chris Glover (Spadina—Fort York), who reportedly tried to raise the required $55,000 entry fee as late as December 4.

Others who contemplated running were Jill Andrew (Toronto—St. Paul’s), Catherine Fife (Waterloo), Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong), Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) and Wayne Gates (Niagara Falls).

How long interim ONDP leader Peter Tabuns will stay on the job is unclear, but the plan for a March 4 vote is gone with the wind.

The corporate media and other parties at Queen’s Park are having a field day with the non-race and its meager result. No one is interested in leading the NDP, they say. A lack of ideas and a dearth of talent seem to be the cause of a contest with only one contestant.

The truth is that there is an abundance of critical ideas, contentious debate, and deep interest in the labour-based party. The problem is a lack of democracy.

In the recent years, all it took to run was the collection of a few dozen signatures – no need to mortgage your home or pawn the family jewels. But the NDP brass fixed that. They stacked exorbitant fees (for a worker, eh) on top of onerous nomination rules to form a barrier against unwanted (especially radical) contenders. Perhaps they did not reckon on how effective their socially and politically exclusionary regulations would prove to be.

The NDP Socialist Caucus likely fields a candidate for leader if it has the material means to do so. The leftist caucus typically receives 15 to 40 per cent of the votes cast at conventions for its candidates for party executive. And socialist policy resolutions often pass, that is, when rarely they are not prevented from reaching the convention floor for debate.

Increasingly, those radical, Eco-socialist, anti-war, and pro-Palestine NDPers who strive to be the party’s candidate at federal and provincial elections are blocked from seeking nomination, or are subsequently disqualified. Ontario party tops cast another deep chill into the proceedings by pressing unjust claims of anti-Semitism against Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden and past York-Simcoe candidate Jessa McLean.

To say nothing of what British Columbia NDP officials did to terminate the inspiring, seemingly unstoppable bid of Anjali Appadurai to become BC NDP leader and Premier of the western-most province.

So, it is not a lack of interest or talent, but a lack of party democracy that limited the Ontario NDP leadership race.

What should be done about that? Youth, labour, equity seekers, and electoral district NDP members should demand a new leadership race now, with rules that make it accessible to all. 

And they should certainly vote NO on the upcoming leader “confirmation” ballot.

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