Layton for PM? Why Not?

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?

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7 responses to “Layton for PM? Why Not?

  1. Ready? I think not. Even Harper’s cabinet is incredibly thin with almost 25% of his MPs being rookies (and more if one goes back to 2004).

    In any case, Layton is not going to quadruple his seat count in the next election. It is not even clear his seat count will go up. The next Prime Minister will be either Harper or Dion.

  2. Catherine:

    I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but it saddens me.

    At some point we as Canadians should open ourselves to different possibilities. This will cause a ripple effect through the established big parties. But it takes a willingness to actually vote for those alternatives, and as long as look at this as “if my vote doesn’t go to a (potential) winner it’s wasted” we won’t break out of a very stale and decrepit established set of choices.

    No wonder the number of people who just don’t vote continues to rise, when change is forestalled.

    I say this, by the way, as a person who makes a monthly donation to the Conservatives. Even the CPC needs serious change. (Don’t get me started on how deep the rot is in the Liberals. Nothing rots the heart of a party faster than success without effort.)

    So it’s time to think unthinkables, say I — for the good of all parties.

    As for thinness in the ranks, yes, there is. There’s thinness in Liberal ranks, too, masked by familiarity. Goodale is no Martin; Rae no Manley; etc. We seem to be surviving despite thinness in office — and we would were a surprised Layton find himself asked to form a government, too. It would, in other words, be no worse than it was for Stephen Harper in 2006. I can cope with that.

  3. Indeed, why not? Let’s be honest here: Layton could not do any worse than Harper and Flaherty have done with their budgets. And he would certainly be truly angelic compared to dysfunctional Dion.

  4. Things have changed dramatically since this article was posted, and we now see that anything can happen.

    I think time will reveal that Layton is the architect of this current coalition proposal. He established his credentials as a strategist and a consensus builder during his time on Toronto Council. In a party that has a reputation for ideology, he is a guy who gets things done with a thoroughly pragmatic approach, but without compromising his principles unduly.

    As to wasted votes, that is a problem of our voting system. Winner-take-all means that most of us vote for people who don’t get elected, and we end up “represented” by people we voted against. About 400,000 Conservative voters in Toronto and Montreal elected nobody in this past election, while a similar number of Liberal voters in Alberta are also unrepresented. Not to mention the 940,000 people who voted for the Green Party.

    This is easy to solve. Most industrial democracies use proportional voting systems, so that almost every vote actually helps to elect somebody.

  5. Oh, my, Wayne, how things have changed, indeed!

    Layton knows that he is the winner out of this coalition idea: nothing will help his party more than six MPs as Ministers, showing that the NDP is ready for the responsibility of government. (I do wonder if the Liberals have thought this through, because they are the ones this will hurt.)

    I liked Layton on Toronto City Council — voted for him, even — and as you can tell like him as NDP leader (even though I’d rather see him as Opposition Leader than on the Government side right now). He thinks well past the needs of the moment.

    As for PR, the key question there is “which kind of PR”. I favour STV (as I’ve written about before) over anything with a party list, such as MMPR. I also favour adopting the German convention: a confidence motion does not take effect until an alternative wins a confidence motion. This stabilises the coalitions that emerge.

    I also know personally that “I didn’t vote for you” syndrome, as my candidate failed to win election in my riding. Malheursement, my MP is still my MP, even though I find her appalling.

    Thanks for joining in.

  6. I like STV myself, but I don’t have a problem with party lists. Almost all of us vote on the basis of which party we want to support, or which leader. Some people claim to vote on the basis of the local candidate, but listen to the shrieking if he dares switch sides!

    Most major industrial democracies, countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Holland, elect every single one of their MPs from party lists, and they rightly consider themselves great democracies.

  7. I lived in Holland for a year, and think highly of the Nordics as well.

    My objection to party lists is simple. I’d like to see MPs (MLAs, etc.) be more independent. Not just more free votes: more refusing the whip. Anything that reduces the power of the party as a punishment machine on Members is thus a good thing in my book.

    STV does not enhance party power; party lists do. Simple as that.

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