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Sarah Jama's Sanctimonious Self-Destruction
On The Former Dipper's Disaster
Frankly, what did she expect?
Sarah Jama rose on the floor of the Ontario Legislature to speak against her being censured and gave a completely different speech to the one she had agreed with her leadership to give. She lied to the leadership of her party, and now people are trying to make the patently absurd claim she’s the victim of her own booting from the Ontario NDP caucus. And I’m surprised that smart people seem to be missing what appears to me to be the bleeding obvious.
Whatever your view of this (and trust me, you could not pay me enough to litigate this in public), she was told that her status in caucus was conditional on her not surprising the leadership anymore, and then she gave a speech referring to Israeli “apartheid” and “occupation”, which were not in the text shared with the NDP leadership. No shit she got tossed from caucus.
The reason I’m not litigating the merits (pardon the pun) of this issue is that I’m deeply unqualified to say what should and shouldn’t happen from here. I’m anti-Hamas, pro-civilians living, and anti-war crimes, but that’s what everyone with a brain should be. But while it’s the case that on the surface Sarah Jama’s fight with the NDP is about whether or not Hamas’ actions are in some way justified by Israeli actions, both past and present, it’s just the latest in an emerging fault line in the NDP more broadly. Jama wants the NDP to be an activists’ collective where she can say whatever she wants so long as it’s in the name of supporting her principles and ideals, and Marit Stiles wants to win the next election.
And that, my friends, is a fight I am actually very qualified to write about, so let’s dig in.
I’ve written a lot in the federal context about how the NDP is a marriage between economic left wingers who oftentimes don’t have the greatest social values and socially progressive urbanites who unironically say the words safe spaces, but in the places they’ve replaced the Liberals they’re also a marriage between pragmatists and true believers. Wab Kinew barely sounded like a Dipper in winning in Manitoba earlier this month, and the great fight inside the Alberta NDP that nobody’s talking about publicly is whether to replace Notley with Naheed Nenshi running on ideological nothingness or a true believer who will keep the party dedicated to its roots.
In Ontario, the Liberals haven’t necessarily been replaced, but the NDP would very much like to replace them, and are finally acting like it. The NDP are trying to be a party that can win the next election, and again, whatever you think of their chances of doing so, they’re setting themselves up to at least try. And that’s a difficult thing to tolerate when you want the NDP to be what they are federally – a place for unelectable purists to feel morally superior than others.
What Jama wants the Ontario NDP to be is a place where she’s allowed to opine on the world and the province as she sees fit, an Occupy-style collective with no leadership and therefore no mechanism to criticize or hold her accountable. It’s a nifty proposition, and nice work if you can get it – she was a Dipper from Hamilton Centre, possibly the safest seat in the province – but it’s not what the NDP have decided they’re about. They’ve decided they want to be about doing shit and not saying shit.
I know that some in my readership will disagree, but there is no value in moral superiority from politicians. Jama’s freely entitled to voice her opinion, of course she is, as a citizen of this country. But she is not entitled to voice any opinion free from consequence. Freedom of expression dictates the government can’t toss her in jail for saying something that I thought was dogshit – it doesn’t mean the NDP have to continue to associate themselves with her indefinitely. (That she was censured is anti-democratic and should be denounced, however, and I’m glad the ONDP still voted against it.)
Would those criticizing the NDP blanche at attacking, say, Leslyn Lewis for meeting with a German Nazi? Of course not, because when it’s the right, the left has no issue with using the views or actions of a singular member to paint the whole group with that brush. But when it comes to Jama, there’s this weird belief that the NDP in some ways owes her something, as if she didn’t stab them in the back.
At the end of the day, the NDP has every right to try and win the next election, and someone who can decry on the floor of the Ontario Legislature the Israeli apartheid but can’t bring herself to say Hamas did anything wrong (beyond attacking Israel for collective punishment for the “actions of Hamas”) is an electoral liability. The reason, of course, that Jama refused to say anything more is the same reason her initial statement led with a paragraph of airquotes context on the history before decrying unattributed violence – she refuses to say the violence was unjustified. But more importantly, she views her role as some sort of truth teller as above her responsibilities to anyone else.
At the end of the day, Jama will never end up doing much of anything to enact any form of structural reform and actual aid to the people in Ontario who need it. I’m not sure Marit Stiles will either, but I know for damn fucking sure that Stiles has a better fucking chance of being remembered for any form of substantive achievement than Jama does, because Jama doesn’t get that doing shit is more important than feeling good about yourself.
The reason I’m pissed at Jagmeet Singh is that I want a left that actually can achieve electoral outcomes, because a stronger left – especially in places where they are the ultimate opposition – is a good thing for the vulnerable and the needy. If Bonnie Crombie becomes the Ontario Liberal Leader I’ve voting NDP and I won’t feel bad about it for a single second, because they are in the midst of remembering that they need to be a serious party to win office.
Jama, on the other hand, will go down as an irrelevance, never achieving anything of any substance but martyrdom in her own mind, a principled failure that will have done nothing to advance the issues she came into activism and then politics to advance. We need serious people attempting to do serious things in this country and province right now and the NDP have cut ties from a deeply unserious person who views politics as a vanity project to show your purity, and not a mechanism to help people.
If you’re standing with Jama right now you’re exposing your vacuousness and your sanctimony, because any project that views lying to your leadership and daring them to remove you from caucus as worthwhile is a project that has decided that helping anyone is too difficult and therefore not actually a priority. And in 3 years when she is ingloriously sent back to the obscurity her uselessness and sanctimoniousness deserves, we will all be better off for it.