How the NDP could save politics

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Back at the grind. Spain was wonderful, Barcelona is an outstanding, walkable city and San Sebastian is just about the most beautiful little town in the world. I’m still exfoliating from spending a day on the beach.

Not a lot of new content these days save for this, my latest column, whose details are somewhat anachronistic because I wrote this before the election, tuning the language to ensure it would still work after the fact. It does… kinda.

Whatever your political views, few can deny the outstanding show the NDP put on in the May 2 election. It’s likely to change Canadian politics in every dramatic ways.

By Jesse Ferreras

A ho-hum election has drawn to a close.

Competing for attention with the Royal Wedding and the Stanley Cup playoffs, the election has not generated many interesting stories. Sure, former PMO advisor Bruce Carson is a shady operator with a lust for young female escorts. Yes, Bev Oda is an impulsive cabinet minister who doctored a document instead of just rejecting her staff’s recommendation.

And yes, Stephen Harper runs a semi-anarchist government that was put on trial in the court of public opinion for disrespecting the very Parliament he helps administer.

But all of that happened before the election. Few stories emerged to affect the vote itself… until its dying days.

What at one point seemed like a stagnant election, returning the Conservative Party to a minority government with the Liberals as their Official Opposition, has offered us a new possibility: the NDP as the leader among the opposition parties.

Looking at CBC’s Canada Votes website in the days before the election, we found the NDP riding high by almost any measure we had. EKOS Research had the NDP climbing from under 15 per cent popularity when the writ dropped to just fewer than 30 per cent on April 26. By way of comparison, the Liberals had dropped below 25 per cent and the Conservatives went from around 37 per cent on April 18 to 34 per cent on April 26.

All other major pollsters told a similar story.

Ipsos-Reid had the NDP going from just over 18 per cent on March 24 to almost 25 per cent on April 21. The Liberals sat at around 21 per cent in that poll. Leger Marketing was more modest in its projections. It saw the NDP going from about 19 per cent when the writ dropped to about 22 per cent on April 18.

Indeed – for at least a few days before the election was over, even an NDP government seemed plausible enough to scare Conservatives.

This is going to sound effusive – but I have a feeling that the NDP as the Official Opposition could be just the thing to fix Canadian politics, relatively speaking.

Since the Conservatives were elected as the governing party in 2006, the political scene has changed from sheer dominance by a single party to a spitting match between a right-wing coalition that wandered too long in the political wilderness and a centre-left party that believes it is divinely ordained to govern Canada – “the natural governing party,” they have called themselves in the past.

Watching Question Period is like a schoolyard brawl at recess. The two main parties barely let each other finish a question. They make animal noises and shout obscenities to drown each other out. This may be great for reporters and pundits covering the Hill, but many have complained that civility has been lost in our politics.

I believe the NDP could be the solution.

With the NDP as the Official Opposition, you have the groundwork for a real battle of ideas in Ottawa. On the governing side, we have a right wing party that holds up fiscal responsibility and government accountability as its values – however little they might actually act on them.

On the other side, you have a left wing party, fervently dedicated to social justice that has been dismissed for so long as a palatable alternative.

The reason that I think the NDP could bring civility to Canadian politics is very simple: they and the Conservatives don’t hate each other.

When you look at Question Period these days, you’re not seeing an exchange of ideas. You’re watching a blame contest, with the Tories deflecting all questions from the Liberals to reflect badly on their record in government. Their methods are an expression of severe frustration at being kept out of government from 1993 to 2006, and at being demonized as evangelicals and “scary Conservatives” for all those years.

Warren Kinsella, a Liberal strategist, continues to be proud that he used a Barney the dinosaur to mock Stockwell Day’s religious beliefs during the 2000 election.

With the NDP as the opposition, you essentially take away the hate. The Tories could castigate the NDP for some silly policies but they have no record in government to fall back on.

But beyond that, the Tories and the Dippers have even demonstrated an ability to work together. When the Prime Minister stood to deliver an apology for the residential school policy from the floor of the House, he thanked a number of people for urging him to do it – among them Jack Layton, the NDP leader.

Whether civility in politics is necessary is open to debate. We don’t elect our politicians to sit in the House and drink tea together. But since Harper became Prime Minister we’ve seen Parliament Hill devolve to such a level that its incivility eclipses that of the Americans – and that’s really saying something.

I welcome more civility in politics. And the NDP could well be the thing to make that happen.

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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