How the NDP can take power
NationalPost.com – news/fullcomment
Aug 6, 2011. Conrad Black
The commotion over Nycole Turmel, acting leader of the New Democratic Party, having been a paid-up member of the Bloc Québécois and Québec Solidaire, illustrates the highly predictable (and widely predicted) problems of that party being an instantly made, Quebec-dominated, Official Opposition.
About 55% of the NDP federal caucus consists of Quebec MPs, who were not really vetted at all before being elected. In the election earlier this year, NDP candidacies went to some undergraduates, non-partisan gay activists, notorious separatists, as well as at least one person who had yet to set foot in her constituency when notified of her election. It was a little like the recruitment of Progressive Conservative candidates in Quebec in 1984: At the time, it was generally assumed that the Liberals would retain their long stranglehold on the province, and in the early days, PC nominations in many of the French Quebec constituencies went to completely improbable people; poteaux (posts), they were called. In one case, a Purolator delivery person arrived during a constituency-association meeting with a package from federal Progressive Conservative headquarters, and was nominated as the party’s candidate and duly elected.
Quebec sometimes has changed its parliamentary delegation in overwhelming riptides of votes. Following the elevation of the country’s first French-Canadian leader of a major federal party, Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1887, the Liberals pulled almost even in Quebec with Sir John A. Macdonald, the chief father of Confederation, principal architect of Anglo-French co-operation and of a joint political leadership (with Sir George-Étienne Cartier). This was Sir Wilfrid’s first election as party leader and Sir John’s last. Laurier won the next four general elections and had large majorities in Quebec.
He was defeated only in 1911, on the question of liberalized trade with the United States, when the Quebec Nationalist leader, Henri Bourassa, split his vote in Quebec. And with the imposition of conscription by the Conservatives in the First World War, Quebec became almost entirely Liberal, federally, with only a few interruptions, until 1984.
That was the status quo shattered by Brian Mulroney when Pierre Trudeau retired. But then his own party fragmented with the desertion of Lucien Bouchard and much of the Progressive Conservative Quebec caucus in Mulroney’s second term. The Bouchard-led dissidents became the BQ, and after Bouchard became Parti Québécois premier of Quebec, and the sole surviving Progressive Conservative from Quebec in 1993, Jean Charest, became (and remains) Liberal Premier of Quebec, the BQ lumbered purposelessly on, a separatist party representing a non-separatist (if not ravingly federalist) province, in a federal Parliament. This year, almost all that party’s MPs lost to the NDP, a federalist party, but one that has appeased the nationalists of Quebec for all its history (going back to the 1960s, when the New Democrats really were new).
In 1967, the kindly founding leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas, whitewashed Charles de Gaulle’s outrageous incitement to the separatists from the balcony of the Montreal City Hall as the ex tempore comments “of an old man at the end of a gruelling day.” (It has since been confirmed that de Gaulle’s provocation — which included his comparing his just-concluded drive from Quebec City to Montreal in an open car to the liberation of France, in which 80,000 Canadian soldiers participated — was planned long before with malice a forethought, as was obvious to those of us who were present.) The NDP’s current footsie game with the separatists — which includes advocating restrictive unilingual language laws in federal offices in Quebec and other sops to the Quebec lingua-fascists — must therefore be seen as part of a long-running pattern.
If it wants, and has any vocation to be, a durable major party, the NDP should drop the jaded New from its name (and not restrict itself with another adjective such as “Social”); get a serious leader in the event that Jack Layton is not in a position to resume his duties — someone whose career is not a rubble heap of unacceptable associations like Ms. Turmel, or an apparently universally unacceptable personality like Thomas Mulcair; adopt a program that casts a net to the centre; and be prepared to spend at least one more election convincing the Liberals, united as they are only by an insatiable addiction to permanent incumbency, to join them in merger, as Stephen Harper enticed the Progressive Conservatives into the Canadian Alliance. At that point, Liberal Democrats would do as a name, and they could win.
For the present, Quebec once again has a very strange group of federal MPs. History indicates that they won’t last long, but their party, having won the lottery, could do better than its Quebec antecedents if the NDP managers can grow into their new role as national political strategists and not just the carpers and scavengers that they have been since their now Aged Democratic Party was the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (of Western farmers and labor organizers). The elevation of Ms. Turmel, however, does not incite optimism.
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