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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Post election - Part 1

Why the NDP's win is a loss for progressives.

Looks like the old Chinese curse has come true - Canadian politics are about to get interesting.

A Conservative minority is hardly the apocalypse, but there are some developments in this election, that if they prove to be trends, may be disastrous for the progressive movement and by extention for the country. Among these trends are the rural-urban split, the resignation of of Paul Martin and the lack of a new generation of leaders in the Liberal Party, and the counter-intuitive notion that what is good for the NDP is bad for progressive politics.

First, lets look at the gains made by the NDP.

Canadian lefties will be excited by the fact that the NDP got 50% more seats and boosted its share of the popular vote to 17%, bringing it to 29 seats and dominating in Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, Halifax and Winnepeg, as well as gaining seats in Northern Ontario. Once again, the number of people in Quebec-- socially the most progressive province, or so we are told-- who voted NDP is about the same as the attendance at a Montreal Expos home game. In fact, it could be the same people.

Jack Layton did very well on the campaign trail and now has his wife, Olivia Chow to cover his back in Parliament. The NDP will continue to thrive under his leadership and may even expand their number of seats further in then next election. Layton would like to see the NDP emulate the British Labour party by moving to the center and absorbing all the progressives from the Liberal Party.

Which is the problem, since the Labour party in Britain is now slightly to the right of the American Democrats on many issues and seems to exist, much like the Canadian Liberals, simply to hold onto power as long as possible. When such centerist parties are in power for a long time, you eventually get a populist conservative movement that unseats them and seriously screws things up for people (see: Thatcher, Margaret and Mulroney, Brian) The NDP are a long, long way from ever forming a govenment, but starting with this election, they are splitting the vote sufficiently to allow the Conservatives to waltz into power as long as they keep their nuttier members quiet and don't scare people enough to get them to vote strategically and unite behind one party.

In this sense, Layton is the best friend Harper ever had and the biggest threat to progressive politics in long time. Because he will succeed, as he has in this election, just enough to make sure the Conservatives win instead of the Liberals.

As we've seen with Reagan, Mulroney, Thatcher and Bush Sr. and Jr. when the conservatives win, they move the center to the right for years after they leave office. The Trudeau Liberals and JFK and Carter Democrats were not considered especially left-wing for their day, they were mainstream political movements. Today, the right-wing noise machine would consider them to the left of Fidel Castro. Even if Harper is only in office for a couple of years, the middle of the road is going to veer right, the only question is how far?

Nor is Layton about to become any kind of power broker in the House of Commons. The Liberals could and did bargin with him, but the Conservative will not. To them, he is the ideological enemy even moreso than the Liberals. The Liberals today are very much cut from the same cloth as Joe Clark style red tories - probusiness centerists who don't want to rock the boat too much. Harper can deal with such people without offending his neo-con and social conservative base. He cannot afford to be seen giving anything to the "gawdless soshlusts" and "union zombies" and "ivory tower intellectchuls" of the NDP. To the average Alberta redneck, the NDP is the devil, the Liberals are just "damned easterners."

Layton may have won, but it is Harper who is going to get the prize.

3 comments:

canuk said...

A thoughtful and informative analysis rev. Considering some of the pundits were predicting a Con majority (how apt that the shortform for Conservative is CON), this Canadian "lefty" and avid NDP supporter is cautiously relieved by the results.

I have met and discussed many of the issues held by the NDP with Jack Layton along with my MP Joe Comartin and I honestly believe he will do as an effective job as possible to hold the far-right members of Harpers' caucus in check.

What really bothers me is the possibility of the right leaning Liberals (and there are some) combining with like-minded Cons to force their narrowminded view of morality on the rest of us. If this happens then I agree with you that the Progressive movement in Canada will suffer

LeoPetr said...

the NDP [..] boosted its share of the popular vote to 17%

All the way up from 16%. The Liberals lost this one on their own.

Layton would like to see the NDP emulate the British Labour party by moving to the center and absorbing all the progressives from the Liberal Party. Which is the problem, since the Labour party in Britain is now slightly to the right of the American Democrats on many issues and seems to exist, much like the Canadian Liberals, simply to hold onto power as long as possible.

So, is your argument is that the NDP should not try to form the government because it would become as bad as the Liberals, and should instead step aside so that the Liberals can stay in power perpetually? How is that any better for progressive politics?

Amanda said...

Yes this is a very interesting and well written analysis.

I'm also curious if:
"your argument is that the NDP should not try to form the government because it would become as bad as the Liberals, and should instead step aside so that the Liberals can stay in power perpetually? How is that any better for progressive politics?"

Perhaps I'm naively optimistic that the NDP aren't planning on moving anymore towards the centre but rather they'll continue being the most effective choice for lefties (leaning and far) while keeping the far-right in check.