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Stiles' Fight Is About More Than Jama
On The ONDP's Civil War
This all could have been avoided if they’d just had a fucking leadership election.
The reverberations of the whole Sarah Jama incident keep ticking on, but this time, of course, we have a fun subplot to the events, which is that one of the ridings which called for Marit Stiles to resign is fighting a byelection at the end of the month. The NDP need to keep Kitchener Centre, and the NDP EDA in that seat has called for Stiles to resign. And I can’t think of anything other than one central point – this all could have been avoided if the NDP had just allowed a proper leadership election last year.
Because as much as it’s easy to take this fight at face value, this isn’t about Israel, this isn’t about Gaza, and this isn’t really about Sarah Jama – what’s roiling the NDP right now is the fight they punted a year ago, coming back to bite them in the ass. And properly acknowledging that this fight was always inevitable is key, because otherwise we might see their neighbours in the Alberta NDP make the same mistake.
At first blush, what the Ontario NDP is fighting about is nominally Israel, Palestine, and whether or not Sarah Jama should have been booted from caucus for her statements on those topics. That she was booted from caucus not for saying anti-Israeli things but for lying to her fucking leader shows the extent to which we’re willing to make this about other things than what it actually was. (Also, this is only tangentially related, but holy fuck Jama’s online defenders think little of her. The infantilizing narrative about her is nauseating – she chose to defy her leadership! She chose give them a false copy of the speech she was to give! She was fully in position of the facts and chose to make a stand. The idea that she is some victim is bullshit, because it removes her agency for her own choices she freely made.)
But the reason it’s clear what this really is is that you’re seeing EDAs not just disagree with the decision, but go for the leader’s head. If Stiles had some form of mandate – say, from a vote of the full membership, in a contested election – then the party apparatus would be compelled to shut up. Hell, even Jagmeet Singh’s 81% leadership review score keeps many of his internal critics quiet publicly, because of the belief that he has a mandate, even if they might disagree.
The Ontario NDP have no such loyalty to Stiles for a simple reason – she was imposed on them. Say what you will about Bonnie Crombie – and lord knows I have and will again – if she is the choice of the Ontario Liberals, she will be the leader the party has chosen after a vigorous process. She will be what the party wants, beyond the shadow of a doubt. (This fact will mean I vote NDP in 2026, but still.) The Ontario NDP never got to decide what they should be after Horwath, because Stiles was imposed on them. And now, parts of the party are fighting back.
I’m on the record as ambivalent on internal party democracy as something worth protecting institutionally – I don’t care as a matter of principle if parties trample over their members. It’s up to parties to decide how much their internal democracy matters, and to enact a price for the lack of it or not. But in this case clearly the NDP’s pushed their members too far, and there is a price to be paid.
Hilariously, if I were running the show I’d just run the leadership election now, but there’s no way Stiles would agree to it. What she does need to do is find some answer to tell her left flank that it’s her party, and they can take it or leave it. What Stiles is fighting is not the anti-Israel left, but the anti-electoralist left, and Israel is merely the issue that caused this to blow up.
The great divide on the left isn’t just policy, but entirely about philosophy. What is the dividing line between staunchly partisan left wing Liberals and the partisans to their minor left? It’s not much – I doubt Nate Erskine Smith disagrees much on policy terms with, say, Kristyn Wong-Tam, but what they disagree about is much more visceral. Going back to the CCF and even the old Progressive Party, membership in non-Liberal forms of left wing politics has always been rooted in a belief that the Liberals were both insufficiently radical and too willing to compromise. That divide exists now, but it also exists within the NDP, especially in places where the NDP has (or is trying to) replace the Liberals.
The problem for Stiles is that she’s trying to turn the Ontario NDP into a party for the broad centre and left, as opposed to a party firmly of the left. She is trying to broaden the tent, and there are people for whom winning the most number of seats is not the objective. Whether the NDP is about being a place for people to Speak Truth, or whether it’s a vehicle to defeat Doug Ford at all costs, is a huge part of this fight.
People like Sarah Jama and those opposed to the NDP’s decision to boot her view politics as about truth telling and principles, while the Stiles leadership very clearly views the only important principle as being in a position to win the 2026 election and end the Liberals as a fighting force. Everything Stiles has done in the last 6 months – including, impressively, avoiding the bait when the Tories floated the Parents rights stuff a few months back – has been about those two central goals. And there’s part of the party that’s under the impression they signed up for something else, and they’re pissed.
At the end of the day, Sarah Jama is an irrelevance – if she even bothers to run again in Hamilton she’ll get sub-10% as an independent. But the group of people Stiles is fighting aren’t really fighting about Jama, or about Israeli actions in the West Bank. Stiles’ internal critics want the fight they were deprived of when Stiles was acclaimed. That’s the fight the NDP has to get ready for, because the anti-electoralist left will need to be crushed if there’s to be any chance of Premier Stiles.