The NDP is a dysfunctional party made of varied and strange components, but in essence can be broken down to two major factions, the radicals and the pragmatists. These factions are personified by Layton's two deputy leaders, Libby Davies and Thomas Mulcair. Davies represents a Vancouver riding with one of the highest poverty and drug-addiction rates in the country. Her radical faction includes a Socialist Caucus that openly admires Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and has been involved in demonstrations where speakers have called for violent revolution in Canada. They have other anti-capitalist and anti-globalization advocates playing ideological guides for the movement in the informally NDP-affiliated think tank, The Council of Canadians, headed by activist Maude Barlow. The radicals also have members like Windsor MP Joe Comartin who recently acted as a sycophantic stage prop for British fanatic George Galloway at a rally at the York Region Islamic Society.
The New Democrats' sane, social democratic faction represented by pragmatists like Foreign Affairs Critic, Thomas Mulcair, has been trying to keep a lid on the radicals. Mulcair, MP for the Outremont riding in Quebec, knows the overwhelming majority of the public would be alienated were they to hear about the direction the NDP radicals want to take Canada.
Never was this internecine conflict more apparent than when Davies' extremist views about Israel were inadvertently exposed in a YouTube interview in June 2010. In it she expressed support for the boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign targeting Canada's mid-east ally, and she made statements suggesting she questioned Israel's validity as a country.
The exposure of Davies' views couldn't have come at a worse time for the NDP. Jack Layton had both the Conservatives and the Liberals on the ropes with embarrassing questions and attacks over their deal to conceal parts of the Afghan mission files. The information in them, which covered a period that spanned Liberal and Conservative governments, was potentially damaging to both parties. The NDP was revelling in the moral superiority given to them by the agreement of Harper and Ignatieff's parties to suppress the release of the Afghan documents.
Both the governing Tories and the Liberals immediately pounced on Davies' blunder. Harper and Bob Rae were part of a chorus calling for Layton to fire her. And rather than exploiting his opponents' vulnerability, Layton was now spending all his time doing damage control because of Davies. Appearances on TV to distance himself and the party from Davies' statements and a personal apology to the Israeli ambassador became Layton's unwanted priorities for the end of last summer's parliamentary session.
Layton and Mulcair told Davies, in no uncertain terms, to keep her mouth shut about Israel and anything that could drag the party into more unwelcome controversy.
But Davies' wasn't fired as deputy leader for a clear reason. She is the mother figure to the radical element in the NDP who, though a minority, punch well above their weight in the party when it comes to activism and organizing. Diminishing Davies' role would have been taken badly by a critical if potentially humiliating component of the party.
Now that the country has been launched into an election campaign, there are still question of how damaging new revelations about Davies and her faction will be to Layton.
There is a convergence of 9-11 conspiracy theorists and anti-Israel fanaticism in the deranged fringes of society. Canadians may be somewhat more sceptical about Layton's judgement when they hear that one of his deputy leaders has espoused 9-11 conspiracy theories as well as taking stridently anti-Israel positions.
Generally ignored at the time, Libby Davies introduced a 9-11 conspiracy petition into parliament in 2008. One thing to consider is that it is typically unheard of for an MP to introduce a petition to parliament if they disagree with its premise. For example, Davies isn't going to introduce a petition requesting that abortion be re-criminalized or that immigration numbers be reduced.
But even then, there's a pro forma means by which an MP will introduce a petition to parliament which gives them plausible deniability. They say they're introducing it on behalf of constituents and then read the petition verbatim.
Davies doesn't just introduce the 9-11 conspiracy petition in the routine manner. It was signed by only 500 delusional oddballs scattered across this nation of 35 million and she doesn't read it verbatim. She summarizes it and presents it as if it contains facts to which Canada's Parliament must be alerted and act upon.
Davies' own words introducing the petition are:
"It draws the attention to the House of the following, that scientific and eyewitness evidence shows that the 9-11 Commission Report is a fruadulent document and that elements within the US government were complicit in the murder of thousands of people on 9-11, 2001. This event, the petition points out, brought Canada into the so-called War on Terror that has changed the domestic and foreign policies for the worse, and will have negative consequences for Canada."
Layton is trying to play a difficult balancing act between his party's factions. But by keeping Davies prominent in order not to alienate the NDP's most ferverent activists, Layton risks alienating the rest of Canada's voters and calling his judgement into disrepute.
UPDATE MAY 5: Thomas Mulcair just proved me wrong about one thing - evidently there is no rational wing in the NDP.