I often ask people casually about their views on Federal politics. Almost without exception (the exception typically being young people who, if they have a view at all, tend to speak glowingly of the Green Party [but don’t know who leads it, and won’t vote for the most part]) the discussion turns on Conservatives and Liberals. People may not like Dion or Harper, but they know who they are.
I ask “what about Layton?” or “what about the NDP?” and I get a different answer. I get the platitudes about “well, Layton’s a good man, but…” or “well, I like a lot of what the NDP stands for, but…” — where the “but” inevitably leads to “… he/they are not going to get elected”.
I don’t understand this. I have never refused to consider or vote for a person or party simply because I believed they would not be elected or form government. There are those who consider that “wasting” my vote. I don’t: my expression of electoral sovereignty isn’t tied up in winning, but in rewarding good people and good policy proposals with my support.
In other words, it’s not a two-way race between Blue Cs and Red Ls, nor between the current Prime Minister and current Leader of the Opposition.
(I can say that, in the six ridings I have voted in, I have never voted for a Federal Liberal candidate: always to this point there have been better policy options on offer in other parties’ platforms, and better candidates for my riding running under other banners. The day may one day come when a Liberal will receive my vote, but that hasn’t happened yet. [Neither have I thought highly of any leader of the Liberal Party from my first election in 1972 onward relative to their competitors for power, although I almost never let the leader influence my vote.] But I have voted Progressive Conservative, New Democrat, Green, and Libertarian, at various times, all of these consistent with my Red Tory values centred in fiscal prudence, social libertarianism and investment in the infrastructure of the nation.)
Jack Layton has been someone whose leadership I have admired, from the first time he became my alderman in the City of Toronto. I believe he understands — much better than his opponents — the Canada we have become. I think it possible that he understands the balancing act needed to reconstruct our nation’s infrastructure around a post-cheap oil world without destroying things in a rush to be a politically-correct green, nor with a head-in-the-(oil)-sand approach that “this too shall pass”. I think it highly likely that an NDP Government would be one of fiscal rectitude, for the NDP, never having formed a national government, would need to guard against being thought spendthrifts more than any other party.
The NDP, as with all other parties, has no shortage of loons, loud-mouths, single-issue-zealots and the like on its benches. To consider Harper’s Conservatives worthy of support one must look past the elements of his “big tent” party and ask “will this zealot’s issue likely become a matter of a Government bill?” (Note that Stéphane Dion assumes that Harper is tarred by the company he keeps — witness the “abortion debate” he wants — and fails to note how he is tarred by the company he keeps [Paul Szabo, Robert Thibault, Dan McTeague and Garth Turner come immediately to mind, although for very different reasons].) To consider the NDP worthy of support, I must do the same: what issues are likely to become matters of Government action, versus those that are the pet peeves of long-standing members of the caucus? I think that Layton, like Harper, has this question well in hand: there will likely be no “idiotic” laws passed under either of them to appease their zealots.
Layton himself is certainly not flawless. But he has generally conducted himself honourably. He has been willing to change his mind when presented with rational reasons to do so. He has stuck by his positions (even those with which I do not agree) regardless of their popularity. He has provided effective Opposition — far more so, I think, than the Official Opposition has! — and has recognised when it was in the NDP’s interest to support the Government of the Day as well. In other words, he and his caucus have done their jobs.
The NDP has certainly been positioning itself to move up in the House to at least Official Opposition. (That is, of course, a much more likely outcome at this point than Government — but, as Ontarians of 1990 know, the margin that shifts a party from third place to first is not large: only a few more ridings need topple in three-way races to gain the seats, and a “surprise” new Government.) But Layton is far more ready, I think, for that outcome than Bob Rae was in 1990 in Ontario.
Our Federal politics is in deep need for further realignment. One phase of this has completed, with the Reform insurrection against the Progressive Conservatives leading to the rebuilding of the parts into the Conservative Party we see today. Now it is time for that same process on the other side of our political spectrum, and it will take Canadians being willing to vote NDP to trigger the process.
Without it, the same-old, same-old will persist in Canada. The Liberals will continue to believe power, patronage and plunder is their right: they are not a party that understands either renewal or alternation of power. As long as they are like this, we will live with minorities, for the Conservatives appeal not to a majority of Canadians, but an insufficient minority of them — and under Harper’s leadership that group has lost most of its potential growth thanks to incessant campaigning. We need a breakthrough.
We need to say “Layton for Prime Minister?” “The NDP in Government?” … “Why not?” They’re mature and ready. Are we?