Politics can be a strange and fickle beast at times, or at least some days it feels that way. And in one way, that makes a lot of sense; people change, grow, evolve over time. We fall in and out of love, relationships and friendships all throughout out lives. Yet that same phenomena and accepted reality of life never seems to get applied to politics. For me, that’s always been a curiosity and, in a sense, an oddity.
Working on Parliament Hill seeing MPs change parties is part of the experience and in my experience those situations tend to fall mostly into two categories; people you’re sad to see go and people you’re happy to see out the door. I’ve experienced both myself. I’ve seen people leave the NDP caucus over time that I really liked a lot, respected a tonne and thought we were worse off for losing. I also seen others leave the caucus that I couldn’t have been happier to see go. They were someone else’s problem now and it was a true case of “addition by subtraction”.
That is what made Friday such an odd day for me, as news broke in the NDP caucus on this front. Then this morning the other shoe on that front dropped, making for a situation that’s not cut and dry:
Before going too much into this, I should say right up front that for me Pierre Nantel falls into that first category of MPs, but with a caveat. He’s someone who I got to know a little bit over time (not too well) but he was always someone was pleasant, polite, funny and a great person to have on the team. Even in his message on Facebook when he spoke to this, spoking about all the good people in the NDP. He is someone who has been very upfront with his views and he’s someone who didn’t always fit 100% within the NDP policy wise, but he didn’t seem to fit anywhere 100%. But if anything, I’ve always found him to be relatively hard working and constructive. So yes, this one hurts a bit on a few fronts.
But here is where my caveat comes into play. Some people will point to craven political interest, others will point out that he was in talks with the Greens after he was nominated by the NDP and others will even point out to the fact that the Bloc had been courting him for a very long time. All of those things are legitimate comments given the circumstances. If you wanted to boil this all down to that, as it has been with so many others who have made similar leaps in the past, you could and many probably wouldn’t bat an eye.
The problem here is that I don’t believe that any of that matters in the grand scheme of things. The facts out there (including in a leaked Conservative riding poll that Quebec media was talking about) were that he was going to lose his seat running as a New Democrat and lose badly. That riding poll at Nantel running 5th. Fifth folks, think about that. Also take into consideration he barely held on in 2015, winning with only 31% of the vote when the NDP was at 25% in the province. Add to that the fact that both the Liberals and Bloc have put star candidates up against him, things are looking over grim.
So for me, as much as I like Pierre, he’s someone who I had already written off and assumed that we were going to lose him from the NDP caucus come October 21st. In my own mind, he was already gone because the electorate was going to choose to go in another direction and given his leanings, seeing him no longer be an NDP member after wouldn’t have shocked me either. So for me, this was already baked in.
Now does running for the Greens change any of this for Nantel? I don’t think so. In that riding poll the Greens were still running fourth, with the Liberals far ahead at over 40%. This change of party colour doesn’t change those facts at all and won’t make that all go away. It gives the Greens a bit of a bump, but not as much as if Nantel hadn’t been tossed from the NDP caucus for exploring this change to begin with. But beyond that, it will not change the Greens standing in Quebec.
But for the NDP, this should hurt and should bring a bit of internal reflection about where the party is at. To his credit, Jagmeet Singh seemed to do everything he could to try to make Nantel at home under his leadership, so this isn’t a case of major personality clashes and usual skullduggery. This wasn’t a decision based on anger, but more based on their own assessment of the situation. That fact should trigger some reflection on if this relationship could have been salvaged and if it would have been worth it.
While there should be some reflection, the party can’t dwell on this; Nantel wasn’t the first person to leave a caucus and he won’t be the last. The party needs to move forward and do what it can to be ready for the election. This story hurts on a few levels, but it’s far from fatal for the NDP. The final outcome of the campaign will not hinge on this defection, but how the party bounces back from it will go a long way to determining the end result. I’m sad to see Pierre go but it’s time to keep the eyes on the prize. There’s a lot to do before the writ drops in a few weeks and for the New Democrats, they simply don’t have time to dwell. It’s time to pick themselves up and to keep moving forward, because nothing will be gain about crying over this spilled milk.