Monday, May 29, 2006

NDP - Never All Bad

I've gotten some response to my posts on the NDP convention (before and after) and my political obit of Jack Harris and I want to clarify something: I don't have anything in particular against the NDP.

I hesitate to offer the defense that some of my best friends are in the NDP (although that would be true). I will note, however, that in my humble opinion some of the greatest premiers of any province in Canada at any time would be Roy Romanow, Allan Blakeney and the matchless Tommy Douglas, all of Saskatchewan and all CCF/NDP.

Romanow took over his province after the destructive, corrupt and incompetent reign of Tory Premier Grant Devine who almost bankrupted his province. Romanow's bold and responsible policies brought them back from the brink. (His latest work in health care, though, I found disappointing and thin)

Allan Blakeney made a great contribution to the country through his wisdom and sage advice during the constitutional repatriation in the late 70's and early 80's.

I won't even go into my heartfelt respect for Tommy Douglas - a truly remarkable human being on every count.

Stephen Lewis, the former NDP leader in Ontario has been doing remarkable international work for years on the AIDS/HIV issue and it looks good on him!

On the federal level, the finest parliamentarian the country ever produced was widely respected Stanley Knowles. He was first elected for the CCF in 1942 and retired from politics as an NDP MP in 1984 when he was given the unprecedented distinction of being made an honorary table officer of the House of Commons by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. This allowed him to spend his retirement viewing parliamentary debates from the floor of the House.

When Knowles spoke on the traditions and procedures of the House, Speakers and Prime Ministers listened intently.

All of these remarkable people have their origins in the NDP or the predecessor organisation, the CCF, and they are all people who fit neatly into my personal pantheon of great political heros.

I have a confession to make: I have a sneaking and grudging respect for "Smiling" Jack Layton. Although he spent way too much of his book on the issue of bike use in the urban setting, he has the right idea for the leader of a political party - get more seats.

When Walrus Magazine recently ran an article by James Laxer (a hard left true believer in the workers owning the means of production) where he criticized the strategy followed by the Layton campaign last election, I knew Layton had to be a sensible guy by most measures.

From the NDP we always hear the list of glorious past accomplishments (Medicare, PetroCan, this, that and the other thing). But the fact is that very few of them were actually NDP accomplishments. Most were cherrypicked and implemented by other parties and governments (most notably the Liberals).

Just because you might have a bright idea from time to time does not mean that you are qualified to take power. Ideas are cheap and almost everybody has at least a few of them over the course of a day.

The real trick to achieving political power and staying there is in navigating the political shoals, avoiding the jagged rocks and making the compromise.

As hard as it is to believe, political compromise does not equate to betraying political principles. It's the difference between living in the real world and chatting the idle chit-chat in the downtown cofeehouses over a Fair Trade latte.

So far, the local NDP can't seem to ever get out of the harbour and that's why I'm so hard on them. Over the years, they have become smug and self-satisfied with their lonely place in the world. They want to become a successful political movement without actually making the political moves required to get there.

To get political respect, you have to go out of your way to earn it.

But rather than adapt to political realities, they prefer the world adapt to them. Rather than ask questions, they act as though they already have all the answers to fix this cold, cruel world.

The local party has yet to learn that their job is to gain power for the greater public good as they see it. Instead they have become the mouthpiece for an odd collection of self-interested trade unionists and become the home for every advocate of the looney left and well-meaning agent-for-social-change in existence.

Solidarity, Brothers and Sisters, as you march proudly arm-in-arm into the political abyss.

That is the dark side to ideological purity.

(Notwithstanding all the above, I still wish Peg Norman had run.)

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