Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Canada's left: a credo

Some things I believe:

1. Canada's left consists not of the NDP and no one else, as Jack Layton would have us believe, and not of the NDP, the Liberals, and the Greens, as Jason Townsend would have us believe, but of the NDP, a few Liberals, and some Greens. This complicates matters beyond the quick fix many leftists (of whatever stripe) are looking for.

2. The potential future in government of voices from Canada's left (as defined above) depends not on the NDP snuffing out the Liberals, as Pat Martin would have us believe, and not on the Liberals snuffing out the NDP, as Jason Cherniak would have us believe, and not on the NDP snuffing out the Greens, as Duncan Cameron would have us believe, but on learning how to find common ground within our political diversity. This complicates matters even further.

3. The best model for finding common ground isn't forming a "big tent" party, as John Ryan would have us believe, but allowing for diversity of opinion and separate political identities within temporary government coalitions. These temporary coalitions wouldn't look like the Liberal-NDP cooperation within 2005's Liberal minority government, but like coalition governments as they tend to exist in European parliaments such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. This model would require a change in our political culture to make it less antagonistic and more cooperative, and the surest and best way to precipitate this change would be the implementation of some form of proportional representation on the federal level.

4. The very best thing for Canada's left would be the election this fall of a Liberal leader who agrees with me about 1-3. That leader wouldn't even have to be a leftist himself, but someone who sees value in the left and is respectful of different political opinions. Unfortunately, there seems to be no one like that in the race. (For a short time I thought Gerard Kennedy might be that guy, but he isn't.)

5. Having leftist voices in government is a good goal, but having genuine leftist voices (rather than a whole slew of centrists in leftist clothing) on the federal scene at all is still more important in the long run. If--for whatever reason--this can't work out in the way I outline above, we can't let that failure lead us to succumb to the siren song of the big tent. Many laws and policies we take for granted today began as wild ideas from the left, and any big tent (whether it's called the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party of Canada, or the Liberal Democrats of Canada) would lead to the marginalization and silencing of leftist voices. Without real leftists on the federal scene, no one would ever come to realize that many of those so-called wild ideas are actually practical and implementable. This, above all other reasons, is why I am a member of the NDP.

6. A lot of people of all political stripes think 1-5 contradict each other. These people are wrong.


George said...

I fully agree with you. This may hard to believe coming from a conservative, but I agree with your article.

There's nothing worse for the political process than politicians who say they are A when in fact they are B. We need politicians who are what they are: i.e., true conservatives, true social democrats, etc., and not those wishy-washy types that no one ever knows what to do with them.

So many Tories are not real Tories, but Liberals in Tory clothes. At the same time, we see left-wingers masquerading as Liberals and vice-versa. You can play through all possible permutations and combinations - it's out there.

That's why I recently wrote a column where I said that I'd rather take the NDP over the Liberals, because with the NDP, by and large, you know what to expect.

Jason Townsend said...

I may be too late for the comment to get noticed, IP, but I appreciate where you're coming from with your resevations; I just don't share some of the standards and assumptions that go into it.

I don't, for example, think that a party has to be full of fully-vetted, officially progressive MPs for to be a progressive party.

I don't think that the previously adequate "Liberals implementing policy first favoured by the CCF/NDP" model is really adequate rigth now. We face what is, in a way, a sort of surreal crisis of the Canadian left, as progressive views come under threat in the midst of a prosperous and successful Canada that embraces progressive ideals more than it ever has.

I do, notably, think that PR and a coalition of Liberal, NDP and Green parties is the best way forward. I think that politically and democratically, the way to do this is with a mixed member preferential voting/PR system. It'll be hard as hell to get.

I honestly, sadly, don't believe we can get it through a grassroots bottom-up effort - that's why you hear me argue for a faustian bargain between the parties for a better democracy. But always remember, this means convincing the LPC to make the NDP hugely more competitive, above all. The NDP with whom we fight a continual, bad-blooded civil war on the left.

It's a tragic cycle really - it's hard to contemplate a politically one-sided reform because we act like ancestral enemies, and we act like ancestral enemies because we haven't had this reform.

I will keep up my efforts to advocate electoral reform, but I believe we need a lot of peace, love and understanding between these parties as well, because it's a goddamned hard sell sometimes when the NDP can't say a word about Harper without prefacing it with lambasting us evildoers.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I am advocating a way of adopting a PR system that has come quite close to working in several provinces, and may yet in B.C. (where they're going to have another kick at the can in conjunction with the next provincial election), Ontario or New Brunswick: a citizens' assembly to choose a new system, followed by a referendum. You are advocating a way of adopting a PR system that has never been tried, and never even come close to being tried. Exactly which one of us is out of touch with the reality of how a new system might be implemented?

And by the way, you might want to actually have a look at the available data before throwing around accusations about the NDP being unwilling to criticize Harper without also criticizing the Liberals. Not to mention ignoring the plank in your own eye on the way the parties approach each other.