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Why Buzz had to go

Thursday, March 9, 2006

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I happen to sit on the Executive of the Ontario New Democratic Party (representing Southwestern Ontario), so I was one of the people who had the responsibility to deal with the not insubstantial matter of Buzz Hargrove’s membership in the party. You may have heard about our decision.

Part of the reason that I haven’t written about the matter in my column until now is that I wanted to focus on other matters. Frankly, after the embarrassing manner in which he had injected himself into the campaign, I didn’t feel the need to give him any more of the attention that he so clearly craves.

As well, I’ve always tried to maintain a line between my political activism and my writing. Of course, I’m always going to write about issues that I care about but, for the same reason that you’ll never see a column headlined “Scott Piatkowski for City Council”, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to use my column as a pulpit while the matter was still to be decided. Now that the first opportunity for Mr. Hargrove to appeal has been declined and the Executive’s decision has been overwhelmingly supported by the party’s Provincial Council, I feel that I am able to comment more freely.

If you’re hoping to find out juicy details about the backroom discussion, I’m afraid that you’re going to be disappointed. Notwithstanding that some of the discussion has already been leaked (albeit in a way that was highly misleading), I made a promise to keep those details private. I have kept and I intend to keep that promise.

What I can comment on is why I personally believe that we made the right decision – indeed, the only decision that we could have made under the circumstances. When a person joins the New Democratic Party, they sign a statement acknowledging that they are “not a member or a supporter of any other political party.” Every year that Buzz Hargrove signed his membership card, he agreed to that condition again.

But, Hargrove clearly couldn’t (or wouldn’t) adhere to that fairly simple condition and, in doing so, he effectively renounced his party membership. What the Executive did in suspending his membership simply confirmed the divorce – while giving him the opportunity to admit his error and to promise that he wouldn’t repeat it. The fact that he’s stated that he will not agree to the conditions set by the Executive (exactly the same conditions he had promised to meet when he first signed up and every year thereafter) only confirms that he does not belong in the party. Before and since making the decision, members of the Executive had plenty of input from party members (both solicited and unsolicited), and the vast majority of that supported that position.

I’ve heard suggestions that the suspension is a slap against the entire Canadian Auto Workers union, including those members who defied their President and campaigned for the party in so -called “unwinnable” ridings. That’s not the case. While there are certainly CAW members who are now rallying around their leader, I’ve heard from plenty of others who understand the Executive’s decision (albeit, not quite as many who were willing to be critical of his actions before the suspension was announced).

This isn’t about the decision of CAW Council, which called for strategic voting. As wrongheaded as that strategy was, Buzz Hargrove went far far beyond it. He actively campaigned for the Liberals. He appeared at press conferences in front of the Liberal campaign backdrop. He metaphorically and literally embraced Paul Martin and presented him with a CAW jacket. He personally endorsed and campaigned with Liberal candidates, and allowed his name and photo to be u sed in their pamphlets and on their websites.

I’ve also heard questions about the process used in making the decision. That process is set out in the party’s constitution, and it clearly gives the Executive the duty to apply discipline at the first available opportunity (and, given that the January Executive meeting was cancelled due to the campaign, February’s Executive meeting was the first available opportunity). Why wasn’t there an investigation? No investigation was needed, as Mr. Hargrove’s actions were not exactly a secret. He had defended them in the pages of The National Post during the campaign and in the pages of The Globe and Mail three days after the election.

Did he have fair warning that this was coming? As a longstanding member, Buzz Hargrove knows about the party’s disciplinary procedures. He would know that the Executive would be required to deal with his actions, with an appeal being heard by Provincial Council. Surely he couldn’t have missed the public calls for his expulsion made during the campaign. That, and the fact that a member of the CAW’s national staff sits on the Ontario NDP Executive and was present at the meeting, tells me that he was fully aware of the process. Moreover, even if that weren’t the case, I didn’t hear him giving any “notice” to the NDP or to any of the individual candidates that he was about to repeatedly stab us in the back?

There’s no question that Buzz Hargrove abandoned any claim to NDP membership during the election campaign, just as David Emerson left the Liberals after the election campaign (incidentally, it’s amusing to look up Emerson’s reaction to Hargrove’s actions during the campaign). The only difference is that no one is arguing that David Emerson still has a future in the Liberal Party.
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  1. Posted by: john h on Mar 19, 2006 @ 12:12am

    I imagine Buzz is actually better off without living with the yoke of the NDP on his shoulders. Just recently he stated what most people have known for a long time; union leaders have very little impact on how the membership votes and so when the union leaders claim that their members support the NDP they look like fools.
    Wow, there's a revelation! The good news is that it turns out leading people who aren't following isn't solely a CSA thing!

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