How We Lost The Election And Saved Our Souls | Unpublished

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Nicholas Ellan's picture
Kelowna, British Columbia
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How We Lost The Election And Saved Our Souls

November 8, 2015

My reflections on working the 42nd federal election for the NDP.

Dear fellow New Democrats,

I remember the precise moment I knew we were losing the election.

It was the beginning of October and I checked in with my mother’s campaign manager to see how they were feeling. They told me a terrible secret. Unfortunately for us all, I do not keep secrets any more. A long time ago, I promised a friend I would stop lying to myself. The lies ended up killing him, and then I was stuck with the promise.

So I don’t do lying anymore, for better or worse. Not for anyone. I’d rather die. So it goes.

The secret was this: in September, Carol Baird Ellan had attended an all candidates’ debate sponsored by BROKE, Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion. At that debate, she had made a promise to the crowd: if Stephen Harper’s government was given another mandate, she would join her fellow citizens and Burnaby’s mayor Derek Corrigan in protest, and engage in civil disobedience to stop the project.

Her remarks were picked up by the Vancouver Sun in a September 21 article on the event. A one-line quote in page two of an article in the Technology section. Coincidentally, this was her birthday. What a present to receive.

After the publication of this remark, the provincial campaign manager contacted the campaign office. He threatened to not file her nomination papers. Only days before the deadline. What a an excellent joke of a present. A staffer with our petty provincial office, threatening to not file the nomination papers of the former chief judge of the provincial court of British Columbia. On her birthday!

Over one quote in a right-wing rag. Over a promise she had made to her community. That was true. Completely 100% true.

Her manager lost a day fighting with PO to not do this terrible thing they were going to do. Eventually he won the fight and she remained the candidate. But apparently, they promised to not speak out on environmental issues any more.

For me, this is too terrible a secret to keep. I kept it for the rest of the campaign, but that was long enough. Afterwards I asked her: “When you made that promise, were you telling the truth?” She said yes. That project must not go forward. And so I knew what I had to do, too. Tell the truth.

When I began writing about the disaster of our vetting in this federal campaign, the secrets kept piling up. People spoke to me, and they told the truth, too. Candidates were being threatened in ridings all over BC. The threats were the same, and over similarly trivial remarks. The bullying was systemic. The culprits the same small group of individuals. A candidate threatened for swearing. A candidate that had their volunteers poached on E-Day. A candidate that, a candidate that, a candidate that. The candidates told me everything. And many of them told me that while they were proud of the campaigns they had run, they would never run for us again.

I couldn’t blame them.

After those conversations, I gave our party a simple ultimatum: explain why they had done this terrible thing. I wanted to know the thought process behind it. Instead they lied to me, and said it had never occurred. Some people quit. Others refused to respond to emails. (Some had never begun to respond to emails in the first place.)  The very person who our candidates had fingered flat out lied to me. “I find that highly unlikely,” they said to me, and then wrote me a letter attacking my character.

So according to the NDP’s provincial office in British Columbia, all of our candidates are liars, including my mother. They don’t know what they are talking about. The party knows better. And I am a disruptive and troubled individual for asking a simple, honest, question. The question was: “Why?”

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to carry through the rest of this campaign, head held high, with a broken heart. To encourage my comrades to soldier on. But I did it, because it was the right thing to do. Solidarity is a principle I understand. And I do the right thing. That’s who I am. That’s what I do. And the result in BC was better than elsewhere. Because we worked hard, every day, and in some cases even told the truth.

And the right thing to do now, is to come clean with everyone. We lost the 42nd federal election because we deserved to lose. We lost because we were cowards, and thought that the only way to win was to behave as badly as everyone else. We lost our way.

So I’m glad we lost. “Don’t say that,” admonished one candidate. But I have to say it. Because it is true.

But: courage, my friends. It is not too late to build a better party. The founders of the New Democratic Party once had a dream, a dream of a fairer and more democratic society. A dream where we lift people up, instead of ordering them around. A dream where we work together.

It is a dream I still possess. And one I am happy to share.

On one of the last days of the campaign, a young Osoyoos First Nation mother came in to express her gratitude for our work. We talked about the numerous legal obstacles she’d faced in escaping her abusive ex-husband, and how difficult it was to access justice. And how she’d overcome the system, and was living well and working hard and raising her child. And what she had learned from the experience. And at the end of our conversation she said to me, “I believe people are fundamentally good at heart.”

“I know,” I told her, holding back tears. “I know.”

A couple days later I met with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and he told me one thing: “Speak from the heart, and you can never go wrong.” I know, Stewart. I know.

So there you go, my friends. The truth. Hopefully the truth will set us free.

And for those who remain among us that think lying to people will get them into government, well: good luck with that. I recommend being true to yourselves. But you’re going to do whatever you’re going to do. That is your right as citizens of a free and fair democracy.

I will not lie with you.