Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

A good week for the NDP

I like what’s going on with the NDP right now, and not only gun registry wise. During tricky and trying circumstances, they’re nonetheless showing a verve and confidence that I was not expecting.

First, Saskatchewan. Jack Layton’s convened his caucus in Regina, which some might consider very hostile territory. But they’ve done well to remind everyone that the party has Farmer-Labour roots, was born in the Prairies, and that Saint Tommy Douglas belonged to both Saskatchewan and the NDP. New Democrats aren’t exclusively urbane smart-asses, they’re a worker’s party that belongs in the Prairies. And why not? They are polling ahead of the Liberals in Saskitoba, after all.

This Saskatchewan-themed week seems to suggest 1) the New Democrats may be looking to a genuine 308 strategy, and won’t write off any corner of the country as infertile ground, and 2) they know the long gun registry has been a tightrope through a windstorm for them, and they are going to have to reach out to rural voters in more ways now. Even unwhipped support for the gun registry could hurt the NDP in rural Canada, so they need to look for other ways to engage them. The caucus meeting, and the Tommy Douglas statue business are at least an early declaration of intent.

Second, the long gun registry itself. Jack seems to have done the impossible: convinced enough of his members to vote to save the registry which is a huge turnaround from NDP free votes on first reading. If this sticks, it is a massive success for Jack Layton. He knew he couldn’t whip his caucus like the Liberals and CPC could, as a lot of NDP support in northern B.C. and rural Manitoba is soft and volatile.

Giving caucus a free vote inflamed some NDP supporters (for a time, me too) as a limp sort of non-strategy. An abdication of real leadership, and timidity in the face of hard decision. But that isn’t the way the approach has panned out – Layton’s been able to articulate a principle higher than simply “should long guns be registered” – he’s articulated a grassroots democratic principle of empowering constituent MPs to consider policy implications as well as local opinion. It was a risky decision, as it could have drawn the NDP as disunited and impotent in advancing its interests. But Jack’s power to persuade, rather than whip, is an asset to his leadership, and the party looks more considered and more democratic as a result. It contrasts nicely against the authoritarianism of the big parties.

Some argue that, by saving the long gun registry, the NDP (and Liberals) would suffer a pyrrhic victory, handing the Cons a hot-button issue, and allowing Harper to enjoy whipping up anti-registry “gun freedom” rhetoric long into a future election campaign. That doesn’t worry me – such rhetoric is not going to convert centrists and lefty folks, it’s not going to get women or any of the cities on his side, and it won’t assist in any quest for a Reform Party majority government. Canada is not Tea Party Land.

Finally, they’re polling at 16% in Québec. That’s just one point behind another well-known federalist party, the Conservatives. I’m going on about the 308 strategy thing, but if we saw the NDP really hammering on this and working seriously for Québec gains, that would be thrilling. Naive? Maybe. But I see room for them to draw the Bloc as arrogant luddites who wrongly assume Quebecers aspirations are no more complex than the sovereignty question. The NDP are real social democrats who believe you get a fair and prosperous society by having a big society….. anyway, I’d like to see them nurture these growing numbers in QC.

I’ll be accused of weirdness to be so impressed by recent New Democrat movements when, overall, they’re not enjoying any polling surge, and have indeed bled support to the establishment as the gun registry debate’s taken its toll. But I think they’ve weathered the storm well, and should reap dividends before too long.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. Rick Barnes says:

    I agree! You have have captured the moment well. Every time you think Layton is off on the wrong track he ends up being on the right one and influencing the final decision.

    Remember Taliban Jack? He used discussion over the whip on the Gun Registry, he used reason over fake patriotism on Afghanistan.

    The future looks good.

  2. polygonic says:

    Cheers Rick – yes, I love the moniker “Taliban Jack.” I guess now we need to add “Taliban Barack,” “Taliban David Cameron,” and even “Taliban Hamid Karzai.” Talk about ahead of his time…!

  3. […] The worst-case is worse, as expected, with a projected seat count of 14. This is the imaginary figure (but maybe not so imaginary) that has NDP supporters trembling a bit. Most pundits are blaming the NDP’s ultra-democratic long-gun registry approach, which is understandable. It’s tempting to say that Layton should have whipped the vote and should have declared that the party line was the line caucus must tow. Perhaps it would have stemmed some of the current bleeding. But, I think it was kind of an audaciously democratic move, and one which differentiated the NDP from the Liberals, so I see it in a positive light. […]

  4. […] have steady popular support, at least, is encouraging. I’ve hoped this might come about for a long while – to sustain it, Jack’s best have Lac-St-Jean and Gaspésie on his travel […]

  5. […] doesn’t do things by halves, does it? Some of us have begged and implored the NDP to focus its energies on Québec: to play to its social democratic […]

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