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NDP Leadership: A Return to Politics as Somewhat Usual

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A few weeks ago I rolled out of bed on a Monday morning and went to the inter tubes to get the news. The news about Jack Layton was a kick in the gut though looking back we should have known it was closer than we wanted it to be.

Then, after what seemed like mere hours following an amazingly moving and somehow uplifting state funeral, it was back to politics – not politics as usual mind you, but real politics, the kind of politics that is not bean bag. The NDP leadership campaign has begun with the entry into the race of Brian Topp. Topp was joined at his Monday announcement by former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent and Quebec MP Francoise Boivin.

Topp’s candidacy does not puzzle me, but I don’t understand why it has been given as much weight as it has. He may be the world’s best campaign manager but I, like many others apparently, don’t know if he has any of the retail political skills it takes to get elected dog catcher, let alone MP or PM. The present contest will help answer that question, but I don’t know why the party would pick Topp over someone who is already, without question, well positioned to consolidate the gains made in Quebec.

To old school NDP eyes, Mulcair may be tattooed with dozens of question marks, but if the criterion is to AT LEAST keep the gains of May 2, he should be able to fill the bill.

It seems like Peter Julian, Megan Leslie, Romeo Saganash, Niki Ashton and a few others (along with Topp and Mulcair) should make for a substantial and lively debate. Pat Martin should stick to attacking Conservatives. There will be no merger as we understand the term, although some level of coordination might be attempted.

It will also be interesting to see how all the provincial elections interact with the internal contest. Gains are expected in Newfoundland and Labrador and perhaps PEI. Manitoba may re-elect the NDP. Ontario at last seems almost ready to forgive. A Stephen Lewis like outcome (20 to 30 seats) would be a real boost to the Federal Party.

Written by slothropia

September 13th, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Will the NDP Pay a Price for Standing on Principle?

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Come closer children and I will tell you a tale from long, long ago.

Just under 41 years ago to be precise. In October of 1970, FLQ (Front du Liberation du Quebec) militants (terrorists?) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte (Laporte was eventually murdered by his captors). On October 16, 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties and broadening military and police powers of arrest and detention.

The imposition of the War Measures Act was broadly popular across Canada, but there was also significant and vocal opposition to the move. The new Democratic party, led by Tommy Douglas, the Greatest Canadian, gave Parliamentary voice to that opposition. The immediate reward for this principled stand was condemnation of Douglas and his party by pundits, politicians and many citizens.

Eventually however, anger cooled and the NDP gained seats in the 1972 election. Trudeau’s Liberals lost seats and only retained power thanks to NDP support – which came with a price tag. In this case the anger was fleeting.

Elected politicians everywhere are sensitive to public opinion. Smart ones don’t need polling to know how their constituents feel about an issue. They read their mail and email and phone messages. They listen to voters.

Elected politicians would rather have their constituents’ support than anger and disagreement. On the other hand, some elected politicians sometimes find it necessary to take a principled but unpopular stand, thereby risking
defeat in the next election.

The NDP federal caucus returned to Ottawa to face the Conservative government’s back to work legislation, legislating an end to the lockout imposed by Postal Service management as well as the collective bargaining process. In response, the NDP staged a filibuster, allowing each of the 103 New Democrat MPs to speak during the debate on the legislation. One poll indicates that 60% of the public welcomed the back to work legislation the Government eventually pushed through Parliament. So that means the NDP will lose votes because they defended free collective bargaining, right?

Well, maybe, but not necessarily. New Democrat MPs took a principled stand and voiced the concerns of their base voters. Sometimes there is a reward in this world for doing the right thing. It also helps that as filibusters go this was a short one.

The NDP brand is, I submit, partly based on a perception that the party will (at least sometimes) act on principle even when it is not expedient. This creates a new and welcome problem for the NDP in the newly polarized world of Canadian politics.

If there is a serious challenge to the conservatives in the next federal election, it will come from the NDP. The Liberals are too disorganized, demoralized and broke to do much more than merely survive (usual caveats of changing nature of politics apply). The New Democrats will try to expand their base of support through various tactics, including perhaps a moderation of style if not of policy. Or rather, they will try to change some Canadians’ perceptions and image of the party.

Still, if anyone asks my opinion (they won’t) i would say that it is important that the NDP remain true to itself and its principles, sometimes in the face of public opposition, or risk being lumped in with all those other, more cynical parties and politicians.

Incidentally, several provincial sections of the NDP are enjoying increased popularity since the election, at the expense of both Liberals and conservative parties. This is reflected in polling, most, but not all, of which was conducted before the filibuster began. With several provincial elections penciled in for the fall of this year, we should know soon what effect the federal realignment will have on politics in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI.

Final Thoughts on the Federal New Democratic Party Convention

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Even from 3000 miles or 5000 kilometres away it was obvious the Federal NDP convention was a pretty giddy affair. After 75 years of crushing defeats and moral victories the NDP is now, after the May 2 election, one of the two largest parties in Canada. As Official Opposition, the NDP is now the “government in waiting.” Delegates and supportive observers had a lot to celebrate.

It was interesting to see many of the new Quebec MPs contributing to the debate. Corporate Media International (CMI) pundits keep predicting that internal tensions between the NDP’s Quebec wing and MPs and supporters from the rest of Canada will eventually wipe out gains in both places, but what I saw was delegates from all regions working on policy that they believe would benefit all Canadians.

There were a couple of surprise (to me at least) in the final debates during the closing plenary on Sunday. The resolution to remove the word ‘socialism’ from the preamble to the party’s constitution was tabled. The other surprise was that the resolution that would forbid any discussion of a merger with the Liberals was defeated.

These two decisions will no doubt be interpreted by CMI as a pragmatic move to the centre by the NDP. Others will reply that it is just a growing and increasingly successful NDP trying to adapt to its new position by modernizing its rhetoric and looking for ways to work with other parties in order to advance its ideals.

The day after the end of the convention, NDP MPs were back in Ottawa ready to oppose the Conservatives back to work bill aimed at CUPW workers. I will discuss the NDP filibuster in a succeeding post but for now will just observe that the NDP brings a very different style of opposition than that provided by the Liberals.

Written by slothropia

June 27th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

NDP Convention 2011: Hebert says NDP Should Make Nice with Libs

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Chantal Hebert has come to the aid of her beloved Liberals, warning that unless the NDP merges with what’s lefty of the Liberal Party, bad things will happen:

Many of the Quebecers who supported the party for the first time last month bring a strikingly different perspective to some fundamental tenets of modern NDP dogma.

To most Quebec voters, for instance, medicare is not an icon, just a social program that needs some fixing.

Many of them supported Brian Mulroney’s 1988 free-trade accord with the United States and the subsequent NAFTA agreement. Few think the 1982 patriation of the Constitution was cause for celebration.

Beyond their attraction to Layton, their connection to the NDP is based on their collective desire for a progressive federal government.

On that basis, there is no place where the concept of a formal rapprochement between the Liberals and the NDP is more popular than Quebec.

As I have written and said more than once, progressive Liberals are more than welcome to join the NDP (and perhaps some already have). Right wing Liberals have already shown which side they are on by voting Conservative to prevent an NDP government. That leaves a handful of “centrists” in the middle of the road, where road kill is frequently spotted.

In a sense, the NDP convention this weekend will make the party a little easier for at least some Liberals to support by replacing the word “socialist” with “social democratic” in the preamble to its constitution. Such a resolution will be voted on on Sunday and I have no doubt it will pass. I also have no doubt that NDP delegates will continue to oppose consideration of any merger with the Liberals.

So far the resolutions presented to the plenary session have found easy passage. I has also been fascinating to see Quebec delegates, including a host of Quebec MPs, so frequently at the debate microphones. So far, no issues have divided the delegates along regional lines, at least not in the plenary. No doubt Layton and Mulcair are hoping it stays that way.

Written by slothropia

June 18th, 2011 at 8:28 am

NDP Vancouver Convention Will Not Be as Wild as Hockey Riot

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But it will be significant.

The party of J.S._Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, Agnes Macphail and Ed Broadbent has at last become the government in waiting. The party has displaced the Liberals as one of the two major parties in Ottawa and now convenes in Vancouver for the first time since achieving their new, elevated status.

I will be checking in on the convention from time to time over the weekend (thanks CPAC.ca) and adding my superfluous and redundant $.02(cdn) worth as needed. It would be a lot more fun if I could be there, at least as an observer and mingling with all those delegates, giddy at the prospects of their party. But I’m stuck here inside of Mackinaw and will depend on the kindness of the inter tubes to stay informed.

One person who knows way more than I ever will about the NDP is Robin Sears. Here is part of his take on what the New Democrats need to accomplish this weekend:

Layton and Co. need to achieve three tasks to make this gathering of the faithful as important to their launch into the new Parliament as Harper Inc.’s was for the blue team last week. None of them are being seen to move the party to the economic centre at this convention. That will continue to happen, but not in the febrile atmosphere of an NDP convention, thank you very much.

Read the whole thing to get the big picture.

Written by slothropia

June 17th, 2011 at 8:12 am

Canadian Federal Election Opening Bids Part III: Jack Layton and the Oranges

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Canada’s New Democrats have never formed or been a part of a federal government. They have formed plenty of provincial ones though, in five provinces and one territory, stretching from Yukon to Nova Scotia.

Still, the NDP remains the third party in terms of its share of the popular vote nation wide and the fourth in terms of number of seats in the House of commons. Will that change in this election? Coming first is unlikely, but the NDP seems to think it can make significant gains on May 2. It sees a possibility of (first) passing the Bloc in number of seats, and, if all falls into place, catching and passing the Liberals. If this were to occur, and if the Conservatives fail to gain a majority and further if the Cons lose enough seats, Jack Layton COULD be in a position to head a minority or coalition government. This is what you would call a “long shot”.

I am not suggesting that any particular outcome is probable, but it looks from here as though the NDP has set its political and electoral goals higher than they have for any previous federal election.

The CBCMI (Canadian Branch corporate Media International, which includes the publicly owned CBC) is working hard to convince Canadians that the election is a two way race between the Liberals and Conservatives, and in part of the country that is true. Evidence for this desire can be seen in the media buzz that erupted when Harper suggested he would be willing to debate Liberal Leader Ignatieff one on one. Harper later withdrew the suggestion (the making of which was a mistake on his part), but for a day or so media tongues were wagging, in large part because Ignatieff accepted the “challenge”.

But there are two other parties in the House of Commons, just as there will be when the dust settles on May 3 (I predict no Green candidate will be elected); and while a plurality of ridings will see a Liberal Conservative horse race, a growing number will experience another configuration. In the words of the brilliant :

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his Liberal counterpart Michael Ignatieff seem to want a two-way debate, but during the last election there was a two-way battle between their two parties in just 135 of the country’s 308 ridings.

This figure represents just 44% of the seats in the House of Commons, a recent low. The number of two-way fights between the two old-line parties had been as high as 60% of all ridings in the 2000 election (including the Canadian Alliance and/or Progressive Conservative parties), but then dropped to 162 in 2006 and 154 in 2004.

Meanwhile, the number of ridings where the Conservatives and NDP faced off rose to 70 in the last election — at 23% representing the fastest-growing group of races. There had been only 14 such races in 2000.

Liberal-NDP contests in 2008 represented 30 ridings, or 10% of the seats, a number that is down from the recent high of 45 seats in 2004, but up from the 25 in 2000.

In Québec, the number of BQ-Liberal contests stood at 35 in the 2008 election, down from 71 in 2000; while the number of BQ-Conservative contests came in at 27 in 2008, up from 2 in 2000 (both of them Progressive Conservative).

While electoral strategy is often likened to a chess board, in Canada it looks much more like a game of Chinese checkers. Four or five parties, and a number of notable independents, simultaneously wage battles against a subset of their opponents in different parts of the country.

There may be one campaign, in other words, but there are many different battlegrounds within it.

Follow the link for statistical evidence.

The most relevant statistic (to understanding NDP strategy) Pundits’ Guide offers here is the number of Conservative/NDP races in the 2008 election. Part of Layton’s stump speech has been the assertion that in a large chunk of Canada it is the NDP, not the Liberals, who are in a position to defeat Conservatives. And of course one thing Liberal and NDP supporters agree on is that it would be bad for the country to endure another Conservative government, especially if the Cons were somehow able to achieve a majority.

In other words, Layton is arguing for a new kind of strategic voting, at least in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, The Northern Territories and parts of Ontario (and selected ridings elsewhere). Rather than flock to the Liberals to stop the Cons, Layton is arguing that in the aforementioned regions, voters should first look at the party that is able to more forcefully challenge the Harpists – and that is Layton’s NDP.

The NDP Leaders’ tour in the early days of the campaign reflects this strategy. While Ignatieff feels the need to spend much of his time where the NDP has already defeated the Conservatives, Layton is going after Harper more directly.

BTW, the Liberals released their platform today (Sunday, 4/3) and their poaching on NDP property continues, per Murray Dobbin:

The Liberal party released its comprehensive election platform today and it reminds me and a lot of other people of the Red Book trumpeted by Jean Chretien throughout the 1993 election: full of left of centre policies, reflecting the values of fairness and equality and stealing Liberally from the NDP last election platform. It worked for the Liberals in 1993. And then, of course, they very quickly turned the book of promises into a book of lies.

While I have never seen a detailed analysis comparing the Red Book to other election promises, for sheer shamelessness it should have received an award. Almost none of the “promises” were ever kept and the Liberals under finance minister Paul Martin implemented the largest cuts to social spending in Canadian history and at the end of their time in office implemented the biggest tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations in Canadian history. Perfect book ends for the Red Book – gutted social appending and tax cuts for the privileged.

Meanwhile, the NDP approaches its platform differently from the Grits. At http://www.ndp.ca/platform, their is a platform page with the following statements:

Leadership you can trust
It’s time for a leader who will get things done for you and your family. Jack Layton’s New Democrats will work with others, stop the scandals and get results. Together, we can start fixing Ottawa – right now.
Making life more affordable

New Democrats will reduce the cost of everyday essentials like home heating. And we’ll ensure that every family takes home more of every paycheque.
Rewarding job creators

Under Stephen Harper, your tax dollars went to companies shipping Canadian jobs overseas. New Democrats will target investment to small businesses and companies actually creating jobs right here at home.
Improving front-line health services

New Democrats will take concrete steps to train more family doctors. We’ll improve homecare. And we’ll make your prescription medicines a little more affordable.
Putting families first

New Democrats will strengthen pensions. We’ll make childcare and education more accessible. And we’ll improve EI to make it easier for families to care for ageing loved ones.

If there is a problem with the NDP it is that it is vague while being pragmatic to a fault. There are no dramatic promises here, certainly nothing is going to be nationalized by a socialist NDP government. However, Layton and his party may be able to sell a little sizzle as the campaign goes on by releasing details of programs they would use to implement their promises.

As the campaign began, NDP prospects looked bright, based on several inputs not necessarily including public horse race polls. Candidate recruitment, at least in some regions, has been very fruitful. Consider, for example the star candidate just announced in norther Quebec, Romeo Saganash. Furthermore, it looks like a lot of work has been done before the election was called to put strategic ridings on an election footing.

Perhaps most significantly, the NDP will be able to spend more during this campaign than on any other. Which simply means t hat the NDP will be more competitive with the Liberals and Conservatives than it has ever been before. This does not automatically mean that the NDP will achieve its goals, just that it has put itself in a position to do so.

Written by slothropia

April 3rd, 2011 at 7:24 pm