Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Third Way blues

Yesterday, conservative blogger Greg Staples made some recommendations to the NDP: jump on the same Third Way bandwagon that's long since barrelled through the UK, Germany, and the U.S., and with the Liberals harmed by Gomery, you might just find yourselves RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS running the country. This isn't a new idea; it seems to come up every time the NDP has a halfway-decent poll showing. And I'll hand it to you people, some of you almost manage to make the Third Way sound desirable. Of course, "position yourselves as the Party of the Left" sounds a lot cooler than "sacrifice a good chunk of your principles for the promise of power," which is how it ended up going with the social democratic parties in the UK and Germany, and with the Democrats in the U.S.

Greg asks whether the NDP wants power, or is content with being the party that forces the Liberal Party to enact liberal policy. Well, I won't speak for any NDPer but myself, but I'm quite honestly okay with never seeing power on the federal level if the alternative means a drift to the centre. There's already a centrist party in Canada; the last thing we need is another one. Working to make sure the Liberals stay liberal is far from ideal, but it's preferable to becoming the Liberals and leaving a sucking vacuum to the left of us. If we can remain a strong voice for the issues we care about, whether in opposition or in a coalition--and actually force some of our ideas to be implemented--who but the most self-serving of power-mongers can really object to that?

Look, I came here from a country that had its Left trampled by the Third Way, and I didn't head north just to watch the same thing happen to the NDP. I don't want to live in a country where there's no real left-wing party and the Left has to hold its noses when they vote. Been there, done that, hated it, ditched that sinking ship. If staying true to our core principles means being accused of being too lazy to govern and wanting to maintain our sense of "smug, self-satisfied, moral superiority" by Greg Staples' commenters, then so be it. I've seen the reality of the Third Way, and I reject it.


kurichina said...

The Third Way, furthermore, is a bad electoral strategy. It worked in the UK because there wasn't a credible centrist party. The Liberal party was, to borrow Thatcher's already borrowed expression, a "dead parrot". The Liberal Democrats have rebuilt as a left alternative mostly because of Labour's shift to the right, especially in regard to issues of civil liberties.

As for Germany, I'm less knowledgeable, but I think it's important to note that Germany has a system of proportional representation and that in that context, the so-called "Third Way" hurt them. They had to form a coalitions with the Greens and see their centrist policies moved back left to govern. Now, in a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats, they may be more comfortable. (Or, half of them will be anyway.)

Neither Germany or the UK is comparable to Canada. The "Third Way", as Giddens described it was basically a 'campaign from the left and govern from the moderate right' strategy. In in the UK, it combined a high focus on media presentation and image with as little discussion of policy as possible. The Liberals have that space already tightly sewn up in Canada. The best strategy for the NDP, therefore, is to counter that communications strategy by undermining the ability of the Liberals to get away with making implicit promises in media image that they cannot keep in policy. I think we've made some great leaps in accomplishing that, especially in Ontario. The other, is to continue to build a dialogue towards electoral reform, because that's the only way a party like the NDP, whose support is regionally diffuse, will achieve any long-term significant goals.

I was quite happy to see "Third Way" used correctly, btw, unlike Premier Klein's erroneous appropriation of the term.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm incredibly busy at work this week, but I thought it was important enough to address this issue that I dashed off this post. I should have gotten you to guest-blog it instead. :-)

By the way, you're in Edmonton? Do I know you? If I don't, I should!

James Redekop said...

I generally vote with having a Liberal government with an NDP opposition in mind, for a couple of reasons. First off, an NDP government is extremely unlikely unless the party abandons principles for power, and if they do that, I might as well vote Liberal (at least the Liberals have some experience with being the government). Secondly, every government has failures and scandals -- but if they were to happen to an NDP government, it would tar the party for years to come and make it very hard for them to even maintain status as an opposition party.

With the NDP as a strong opposition party, they can play Jimminy Cricket to whoever's in charge while being protected both the corrupting influence of power and the backlashes that can destroy a governing party.

Anonymous said...

In 20 words or less:

I want to vote for the NDP. Not Liberals in NDP clothing.

Anonymous said...

Now, I am not an NDPer, but have you really characterized the choice properly? Given the realities of FPTP, and assuming that voters are distributed along a spectrum, you could exceed the Libs with only another 5-10% of voters, added to the 20% you already have. Does this really count as giving up your soul? Is the question (and this was asked of the Reform party and current Conservatives as well) really about giving up your principles to appeal to voters, or is it really that, once the NDP achieves power, adapting NDP policies to the actual objective reality of the world would necessitate a move to the right? Look at Bob Rae for an example - is he a sellout or a realist? And if the problem is that NDP principles are at odds with the actual world, how sensible is it to want to hold on to them?

This doesn't even consider the question of whether an NDP "conscience" party can actually get the Liberals to implement your policies. Sure, you can make them spend more money, but when it comes to actual outcomes, "the more you tighten your grip, the more they slip through your fingers". Look at Jack's budget - how much money has actually been spent and how much good has it done?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Good points.


Or the NDP in Liberal clothing, which would arguably be worse.


I honestly don't know whether courting and winning another 5-10% of the voters would constitute giving up our soul, since I don't know what it would take. What I do know, though, is that I don't want the NDP to position itself as the party of the centre-left in a Third Way-style "realignment." It hasn't helped real leftists elsewhere, and it wouldn't help us here, either. And as for whether we should give up our ideals if they don't match the mainstream, I frankly don't see the logic in that. Even if our ideals only match those of 15-20% of Canadians, that's still a good chunk of the country that needs to be represented by somebody.

See, I think several viable parties, rather than just two, is a good thing that makes for a healthy country across the political spectrum. You mentioned that the Reform-style conservatives faced the same choice, and if anything, I'd say that makes my argument rather than yours. Where does the far right in Canada have to go now? They get to hold their noses and vote Conservative, half of whose policies they only support grudgingly. And if that party manages to eke out a win (something they haven't done yet), even they will still have to land firmly in the centre to get anything at all accomplished, leaving the far right completely disenfranchised. Much as I disagree with them politically, I actually feel a little sorry for them, because it's exactly how things were for me when I lived in the U.S.

kurichina said...

IP: Thanks! :) I don't believe we know each other. I've only just returned to Alberta after several years in other provinces and countries. ^^

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, that just won't do, will it? :-) Email me at when you have a chance, and let's have lunch, at least.

alice said...

"Greg asks whether the NDP wants power, or is content with being the party that forces the Liberal Party to enact liberal policy."

This is the kind of all-or-nothing, anything-short-of-winning-is-losing approach that the U.S. system suffers, and that the Canadian Conservatives (in all their permutations) encourage with their rhetoric, but that our Parliamentary system does not actually create.

Currently, our government comprises members of four political parties. Together, they govern. The party with the most seats has the a great deal more power than the others, but it is misleading to claim that only through winning can any party gain power.

Being "the party that forces the Liberal Party to enact liberal policy" is part of the role that the NDP plays in government. Tugging the Liberal Party to the right is currently part of the role that the Conservative Party plays in government. Both parties will continue to do what they can to gain as many seats as possible and thereby expand and maintain their power, but not achieving a greater number of seats than any other party does not equal having no power.

I, too, would rather have a party that by and large represents my views and concerns through action in parliament and in their constituencies than a party that shifts and twists to gain numbers, leaving, as the original post says, a sucking vacuum to the left. Right now the NDP has a function on the left. If they took the so-called Third Way, no one would be there to perform that function.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Once again, a commenter writes something better than my post! I should just hang up my hat and turn this blog over to you folks. :-)

Mark Crawford said...

Well, at least you have a commenter! I had a good discussion on my blog, once, about health care reform ( but that was about it.