Friday, May 11, 2012

The rise of the NDP

10 years ago the idea of the New Democratic Party running Canada's federal government was simply laughable. Today, it is closer to reality than ever (other than the fact that the election is 40 months away, most likely). Check it out on the Huff Po.

Eric Grenier is one of the best bloggers in Canadian politics, if not the best one, and he has his thumb on the pulse of the nation right now. The Harper Conservatives have been slammed over and over for their hamfisted handling boldfaced lies about the F-35 purchase program. I argued, previously, strenuously, that Canada needs to replace her aging CF-18s, but lying to Parliament about the costs of any program is simply wrong. The F-35 probably isn't necessary for what we need, and the costs are definitely prohibitive, and that's causing the Conservatives to drop in the polls, as well as causing the NDP to rise.

But this isn't the only reason for the NDP's continued rise. The Harper government has been losing face consistently, but the new-faced NDP led by Quebec's Thomas Mulcair has been sounding stellar. Mulcair is an even hand on the tiller that Jack Layton so cautiously piloted for a decade, and he's continued the NDP on their upwards course. He isn't someone who appears dangerous; physically, he's very similar to Jack Layton - the genial face of the Canadian everyman. He speaks French (and his residence in Quebec is certainly a boon to the NDP in that mercurial province as well), and he speaks calm, cautious, but principled progressive in both of Canada's official languages.

In short, Mulcair is providing the sort of progressive leadership Canada has been missing since the retirement of Jean Chretien. The Liberal leaders since Chretien (Martin, Dion, Ignatieff, and now Rae) are all very flawed politicians. Martin was old, uninspiring, and, quite frankly, left with a bag of dirty tricks from the Chretien years. Dion was an earnest politician and generally nice man who was simply unfit for the charismatic duties of leadership. Ignatieff was painted as a foreigner and didn't have the personality to break out of the stoic, scholarly, visiting-professor role that the Conservatives painted for him; finally, Bob Rae is another elder statesman who is best known for running Ontario into the ground 20 years ago. He speaks strongly, but simply doesn't have the ability to appeal to most Canadians.

The rise of Jack Layton was partially because of the lack of a Liberal alternative, but partially because he cultivated a very careful image of strength and progressive ideals. Layton slowly moderated the far-left NDP into a centre-left party who's platform was only distinguishable from the Liberals in certain areas. And he provided the NDP with a modern Canadian face. A man who was not daunted by French or English speaking (by all accounts he was inspirational in both languages), who was not daunted by losses or by victories, a man who embraced Canada's multicultural identity and the future. This image was potent, and it worked, especially in Quebec. All that being said, Layton's image (removed from the reality, of course) was denied to the NDP when he died of cancer last year.

Mulcair's emergence as leader was more of a coronation, as he led the leadership polls from day one, it seemed, and held a constant lead at the recent NDP convention. As Grenier has pointed out, Mulcair has done his job to continue the moderation of the NDP (which was the cause of most of his opposition at the convention). Mulcair is conducting the NDP as the party of the Official Opposition in a way that is dignitary, very Government-like. He's teaching a party of young idealists to act like seasoned leaders. It is an attitude that Canadians are taking well to, and with the Liberal convention over a year away, may very well lead to the official end of alternating Conservative and Liberal governments.

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