Centre of the Continent

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Practical Socialism

I have always been what I like to call a “practical socialist”. To me this is an important distinction and is one I saw the party edging towards in the past election. Those who want to vilify the NDP from both the left and the right are accusing the party of becoming more “Liberal”. Now that’s with a capital “L”. In truth the NDP has always been “liberal” and that’s with a small “l”. What is really happening is a move towards a practical centre.

As a youth I might have originally embraced the Liberal Party but long before any public sponsorship scandal I was privy to some of the nasty inner workings of that party. As I grew older I joined the NDP because I was convinced that there was a higher moral standard within the party and while not perfect, happily I was right. I am anti-Liberal not because all of their ideas are wrong but because the party is corrupt. I am anti-Conservative for the same reason AND their ideas are wrong. I don’t and never have supported every policy the NDP puts forward but I do support the core ideals, principles and priorities.

The key word is priorities. One of the most logical statements I heard Jack Layton make during the last election was when he was asked about better funding for post-secondary education. The NDP would make it a priority to help students get their education “as funds and the economy allows”. That is a practical commitment. Not a promise that may or may not be able to be kept given economic conditions. That is what I think voters started to tune in to and will continue to identify with.

Socialism is an ambiguous word — as is liberalism and conservatism. It will always be true that a party considered in the extremes of any ism is unlikely to ever gain power in a rational society. Exceptions of course made in the case in crisis or revolution and then you typically find one extreme replacing another. The Reform Party and the Alliance had to come towards the centre and become the less threatening and more familiar Conservative party. Realistically, the same will happen with the NDP. This will anger the groups like the socialist caucus within the party but (I hope) they will still be welcome and will stay.

What I have always appreciated is that I am allowed to have a different opinion within the NDP and that opinion has been respected and valued. That doesn’t mean there aren’t rules at election time and that I would undermine a democratically chosen candidate. During a campaign it’s time to put small differences aside and fight for the common good. When that’s done I continue with the debate and discussion.

A good example of this is the fact that I believe in a reformed senate and not it’s abolishment. I agree, however, that in it’s current form it is deeply flawed and should have no say in my governance. There should be a second body of elected legislators with a different mandate from the Commons to assure certain balances. I’m allowed to feel that and if given the chance I would champion my ideas for consideration but I support decisions made by the party as a whole.

Honestly this legitimate move towards the centre while maintaining the core beliefs is a good thing. Within a global market economy it is impossible to govern any other way. A left-leaning party with a deep social conscience is an achievable and worthy goal.

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Positive Politics

HocPeople don’t change their political stripes very often. There will always be the protest votes and those who have no permanent affiliation but of those that make a consistent party choice, that choice rarely varies. Only two overall factors can affect change –one is negative and the other is positive. The latter has the ability to be much more long-lasting and should be preferred.

Major Scandal

The scandal must be big and it must be verifiable. It also must have credible connections to the upper echelon of party leadership. This is where the idea of plausible deniability comes into play coupled with overall responsibility. The Liberal sponsorship affair is just such an example. There were links to Prime Minister Chrétien and his own riding and such blatant pork-barrelling that nation and especially Quebec severely punished the Liberal party. Then finance minister Paul Martin was caught in a no win situation. Either he knew about the misappropriations and he was guilty or he didn’t and he was incompetent. We all know that those MP’s in government tend to get more attention for their ridings but this is not usually as much political as it is a result of being “in the loop”. The governing party has the resources and the clout to get things done. It just means that if you do have a non-government MP in your riding that is still accomplishing things, hang on to that MP. He or she has somehow found the respect and or the connections to get things done from outside the inner circle and that is pretty amazing. All that being said, former senator Larry Smith learned very quickly that even if this truth is the norm, we don’t want a campaign based on it. Everyone knows politics are what they are – just don’t be a jackass about it.

Back room stories of alleged visits to shady businesses don’t sway the population. Even a convicted fraudster in your staff doesn’t tend to be the weapon over-zealous pundits would want it to be. Look deep enough into the backgrounds of any group you will find something you don’t like and political parties are certainly no exception. They are large organizations and the voters are smart enough to know that the actions of one don’t necessarily represent all. Eventually a large number of smaller issues can build up but it’s only when the minor transgressions demonstrate a systematic issue with the party itself that an electorate will take any discernable action.

An Exciting Vision

Promoting fear of some calamity whether real or imagined only serves to rally the supporters you already have. Calling into question the “hidden agenda” of your opponent usually flops. In Canada, any personal attack is usually ignored. Pulling ancient quotes from YouTube, while fun doesn’t discredit any current policy statements effectively. Politics are fluid. What the media labels a “flip-flop” might be a genuine change in policy based on a new reality or in light of new information. I don’t trust a politician that speaks in absolutes.  There are certain moral and ethical exceptions but in terms of policy “never” is a dangerous word. Ignatieff learned that when he categorically ruled out the idea of a coalition. For all of the rhetoric, in the end only Conservatives feared a Liberal/NDP Coalition. Canada was likely fine with it. What voters did not like was his choice to not consider it.

What the NDP did right in the 2011 election was rise above the slop that was being slung and offered something new. Actually, just something that had not been seen in a long time. Jack Layton remained focused on his policies and his ideas. Whether a voter agreed with those ideas or not was not what made the campaign work. The story that Ignatieff had worked in the United States or Britain didn’t matter to Canadians. The debate over fighter jets didn’t matter. We need jets and they will be expensive – move on. What was important was not what New Democrats were against but what they were for. As much as the other parties wanted Canadians to believe that the NDP platform was based on fantasy, Layton was very clear on how the ideas were to be accomplished. It was about prioritizing and not about fixing everything overnight. Healthcare, education and the general wellbeing of Canadians. Positive messaging delivered by a trusted and dynamic individual. To be sure he got his legitimate shots in towards the other leaders but they were usually fact based and never about the opponents’ personalities.

I sincerely hope that this will mark the end of American style mud-slinging in Canadian politics. It serves no legitimate purpose and has poisoned Parliament itself. It is time for all Honourable Members, all parties and all Canadians to limit political debate to real issues. The tabloid editorialists can continue pandering to the lowbrow tantrums of the angry. They are free to do so and I need a good laugh every once and a while. I prefer rational and stable forums for the sensible argument of political ideas.

Now that we have seen the example of what can be it is time to demand it of all politicians and their organizations. Hold them accountable for not only what they say but for how they behave in the House of Commons. If I want to hear partisan screaming matches I’ll go to a hockey game.