Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The NDP's Wounds are Self Inflicted. They Tried to Move to the Right

According to Eric Grenier, who I admit needs a history lesson if he's suggesting that a 7 point spread assures a victory:
The New Democrats have slipped to 15.5 per cent nationally, and are now projected to win only 21 seats, representing a loss of 15 for the party. The Bloc Québécois, with 10.1 per cent support nationally but 40 per cent in Quebec, would win 53 seats, while the Greens are up only slightly to 8.3 per cent.
These low numbers for the NDP suggest that they may once again back Stephen Harper, so they don't have to face the electorate. But instead they should look within the party and ask themselves what went wrong.

I think they started a downward spiral five years ago when Jack Layton allowed himself to be seduced by Stephen Harper. Since then the rocky relationship has Layton often acting as irrationally a jilted lover.

And in the process he has abandoned the party's core principles, and gambled away his integrity.

A Bit of History

Both the NDP (originally the CCF) and the Reform Party (now calling themselves the Conservative party of Canada), began as Western protest movements. The difference was that the Reform represented big business, while the NDP, under Tommy Douglas, represented the little guy, fighting for social justice.

When the Reform Party had their first electoral success in 1993, it has always been thought that they did it at the expense of the PC Party, when Brian Mulroney's coalition self-destructed. But that's not true. In the West, where both parties were born, it was more often at the expense of the NDP.

According to Laurence Putnam, who wrote a paper for the Fraser Institute on the subject:
The Liberal gains in the West during the 1993 election came chiefly at the expense of the PC Party, whereas most Reform party gains came chiefly at the expense of the NDP, as was witnessed in Lorne Nystrom's shocking loss in the Saskatchewan riding of Yorkton-Melville to Reform challenger Garry Breitkreuz .... British Columbians who supported the NDP in the 1980's and supported the Reform Party through the 1990's did not expediently shift their political views from the left to the right, but rather they were voting for the populist, anti-establishment party that best represented their views at the time. (1)
Using BC as an example: Putnam says that in 1988, the NDP won 19 seats, but in 1993, only 2. The PCs went from 12 to 0, while the Liberals from 1 to 6.

So in many ways the Reform and NDP were the same, but with a different set of goals. And as a result the NDP was more palpable to central Canada, while the Reform had to hide their agenda if they wanted to make inroads.

And under greats like David Lewis and Ed Broadbent, the NDP remained focused. They would schmooze either side to get what they wanted, but the things they wanted, were for the betterment of Canadian society. It was comforting knowing they were there.

But Then it Changed

I think the first mistake that Jack Layton made was in 2004, when he agreed to join a coalition engineered by Stephen Harper, who had already garnered the full support of Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc. It failed, but only because then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson gave Paul Martin an opportunity to fix it (2).

Not by allowing him to prorogue to save his job, but by tweaking his throne speech, so that the opposing coalition no longer had any grievances.

The second sell out for Jack Layton and the NDP was when they agreed to take down Paul Martin on the very day that Kyoto was being ratified, because Stephen Harper convinced them that if the Liberals could get this done, they would look good to the Canadian public. For Harper the agenda was killing Kyoto, but for Layton it may have been the promise of an electoral truce. (3)

The two parties agreed not to attack each other, which didn't sit well with all candidates. When the "In and Out" was allowing ad buys in single ridings, some Conservatives complained that their biggest challenge came from the NDP, and yet the ads only went after the Liberals.

The 2005 deal left a viable childcare plan on the table and squashed any attempt at addressing climate change. So how can Jack Layton possibly criticize Stephen Harper over either one of those things? Or in fact for any of his destructive actions? He helped to put him on his throne.

And after posturing with how many times the Liberals voted with the government, when Michael Ignatieff finally said he was pulling the plug, Layton ran for cover and voted with the neocons.

The NDP have to decide where they're headed. If they are going to the right, as it would now appear, they should let their followers know. Otherwise, they should tap into their hidden Douglas, Lewis and Broadbent, and start acting like the NDP.

You won't beat Harper by being Harper. He's too good at it.


1. An Analysis On The Differences Between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada & The Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, by Laurence Putnam As prepared for the Fraser Institute, December 2002

2. Heart Matters: A Memoir, By Adrienne Clarkson, Viking Press, 2006, ISBN: 10-978-0-670-06546-3

3. Losing Confidence: Power, Politics, and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy, By Elizabeth May, McClelland & Stewart, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-7710-5760-1, Pg. 2-7