Former Star Candidate Abandons NDP for Grits

Worth A Look, Role of Government, Frontier Centre

Paul Summerville, the former Bay Street economist who became a star candidate for the New Democratic Party in the last federal election, has defected to the Liberals because he is disillusioned with the NDP’s economic policies.

Mr. Summerville said he parted ways with the NDP over the summer in order to support the Liberal leadership campaign of former Ontario premier Bob Rae. He would not elaborate on the reasons for his departure from the NDP, but in a blog posted on his Web site he was critical of the NDP’s stance on the economy.

Mr. Summerville says that if the NDP is to be taken seriously it has to accept the market economy is “a necessary evil but an indispensable part of the engine of prosperity and by implication, justice. In addition, the party must accept the fact that Canada does not, and never will have the capacity to rewrite the rules of engagement in the global economy. … Consequently, saddling the party with anti-trade, anti-corporation, anti-market rhetoric just perpetuates its marginal status at federal level.

“The reality is the party has not grasped the nettle and has not said the market economy is essential to a healthy Canada period. Being unable to grasp that leads to discussions about ending the independence of the Bank of Canada, for example.”

He also called for the NDP to distance itself from the anti-Israel stance of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario branch and its leader, Sid Ryan.

In an e-mail yesterday, he expressed particular skepticism about a draft resolution to be debated this weekend at the NDP’s convention in Quebec City that called for an end to the independence of the Bank of Canada “presumably for higher inflation and a lower dollar.”

Brad Lavigne, communications director for the NDP, said he disagreed the party was heading in the wrong direction. “In terms of a progressive vision for the economy, the Liberal party has no credibility. … It is not a vehicle that can bring about progressive change,” he said. He added political parties should not be judged on motions submitted to the membership for consideration.

Mr. Summerville, a 48-year-old former chief economist at RBC Dominion Securities, was unveiled to much fanfare by NDP leader Jack Layton before the last election as the candidate for the Toronto riding of St. Paul’s. He was beaten into third place by Liberal leadership candidate Carolyn Bennett, and Conservative candidate Peter Kent, but was widely considered to have fought a good campaign, taking nearly 20% of the vote in an unwinnable riding.

NDP chat groups have debated what one contributor called “the Paul Summerville effect.” Some party members felt his candidacy was in conflict with the party’s core socialist values. However, others felt he gave the party economic credibility.

“If the NDP is going to get elected, we need more Paul Summervilles in my opinion,” wrote one New Democrat. “We might not agree with everything he says, but frankly do we agree with everything Jack Layton says? Credibility is key for electoral victories and Summerville could help with that.

A recent poll suggests the party is struggling to hold on to its support, however. A Decima poll reported by Canadian Press this week showed national support for the NDP at 14%, down from 17.5% in the federal election last January.

The poll also shows a sharp increase in support for the Green party, which doubled to 10% since electing a new leader two weeks ago. The Greens are traditionally seen as drawing on the same supporters who back the NDP, and a continued rise in their popularity would represent a serious danger to the party.